Jeffery Goldberg is usually not worth paying attention to but recently, certainly accidentally, he has spelled out the type of scenario that drives Israel's and the West's (on behalf of Israel) desire that Iran not only meet the normal obligations of the NPT to not build a nuclear weapon, but in addition that Iran not have what Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and many other NPT-non nuclear weapons states have, legal nuclear weapons capabilities.
Examined closely, Goldberg makes an argument exactly opposite from what he is trying to make, but that might merit a closer look.
But I'm beginning to question the seriousness of some of the players in this drama: If Iran's nuclear program is actually unacceptable, then why the hesitancy to sanction Iran's Central Bank? I know the reason, of course: Such sanctions might lead to a spike in gasoline prices. But either you think Iran's nuclear program is the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America, or you don't.First, Goldberg believes the US should suffer economic consequences of sanctioning Iran's central bank because Iran's nuclear program is the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America. That raises the question of what if the sanctions Goldberg recommends do not actually slow Iran's nuclear program?
It is perverse but the scenario Goldberg later spells out also demonstrates that the more the US is willing to sacrifice to prevent Iran from having legal nuclear weapons capabilities like other countries, the more that US sacrifice confirms the strategic value of those capabilities particularly to Iran.
Imagine the following scenario: Hezbollah launches a serious attack on Israel's north. Israel begins to retaliate. Iran, coming to the defense of its Lebanese proxy, makes a not-so-subtle threat: If you invade Lebanon, we will respond, without saying how. At the same time, Israeli intelligence learns that Iran is mating nuclear warheads to their fissile cores. Do you think Israel is going to wait to pre-empt a possible Iranian nuclear attack?My first observation is that Israel may well not have better options for attacking Iran in the indeterminate future of this scenario than it does today. As of today, Israel does not have any option that would destroy Iran's nuclear program. Even the US, according to bombing advocates, could only set back Iran's program for a short period while also making it more likely that Iran actually eventually would build a weapon.
But let's add more flesh to Goldberg's scenario. Hezbollah's serious attack was prompted by what? An assassination attempt on Nasrallah? Israel bombing Beirut or the Bekaa valley? If Goldberg is imagining that just out of the blue, Hezbollah began attacking Israel's north that just confirms how unserious he is. On the other hand, the scenario Goldberg is spelling out does show how, for Zionists more serious than Goldberg, an Iranian legal nuclear weapons capability could deter Israeli provocations against Lebanon that otherwise would have been considered.
Now let's look at the Iranian threat: "If you invade Lebanon, we will respond."
Goldberg may not realize this, but Israel does have the option of not invading Lebanon.
And now to the core of Goldberg's scenario: "At the same time, Israeli intelligence learns that Iran is mating nuclear warheads to their fissile cores." We see Goldberg is not imagining Iran entering his scenario with deployed nuclear weapons. He is imagining Iran being capable of, in response to what it considers a provocation, producing fissile material that it could use in a relatively short time to produce a weapon. Many states that are non-weapons members of the NPT have that capability right now.
Members of the US nuclear policy community have as far as I've seen been completely unable to produce a coherent justification for their insistence that Iran must not have legal nuclear weapons capabilities. They acknowledge that it is legal and that many other countries have it, but for reasons they refuse to put into words, they believe countries in Israel's region should not have those capabilities. This scenario that Goldberg presents is ultimately their motivation. They believe Israel must be able to attack anyone in its region who opposes Zionism without fear of an eventual response.
So we see the treat Goldberg imagines for Israel. Hezbollah would have more options and Israel's ability to "retaliate" by invading Lebanon would be complicated by Iran having legal nuclear weapons capabilities. Where is the threat to the US though? Goldberg says US consumers should pay higher gas prices, not even expressing confidence that these higher gas prices would actually accomplish the intention of coercing Iran to give up legal nuclear weapons capabilities. But nothing about Goldberg's scenario makes Iran's nuclear program the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America.
What does the United States intend to threaten Iran with that makes it so important that Iran not have a legal stock of fissile material? When Goldberg says that it is worth harming the US economy which is gingerly recovering from a recession he may be speaking solely on behalf of Israel, hoping Israel maintains the ability to invade Lebanon. But if Barack Obama agrees, it is reasonable or at least prudent for Iranian planners to assume Obama agrees because the US hopes to gain the option of attacking Tehran, occupying or militarily breaking Iran apart.
Goldberg's spike in gas prices would be far more likely to cost Obama his second term in office than they would be to cause Iran to relinquish its rights and agree with Goldberg that no country in Israel's region can have legal nuclear weapons capabilities. What does the US have planned that taking such a risk might be worth the cost to Obama? If Obama is willing to take that risk, he is telling Iranian planners that legal nuclear weapons capabilities may one day save their country.
Members of the Western nuclear policy communities from unnamed analysts up the President Barack Obama are constantly lying about the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. When they say "nuclear weapon" in the context of Iran, they are deceptively redefining that term to mean legal nuclear weapons capabilities such as those Japan has. But they lie so they don't have to answer the question, why, specifically, is it so important that Iran not have legal nuclear weapons capabilities.
Goldberg comes as close as anyone I've seen to addressing the real question, at least from Israel's point of view.
Until the US side can say to Iran, in public, that this is why we want to prevent Iran from having legal nuclear weapons capabilities that other NPT signatories have, the US is leaving Iran with no choice but to assume that the US is ultimately motivated by a desire to compromise Iran's sovereignty.