For the second time in a few months, we have seen a crazy Israel-about-to-attack-Iran story spread around the globe. I don’t want to go into all of the details, but this tale is an example of how the media has lost it completely due to a combination of laziness (reporters don’t really do research or check sources), agenda, ignorance, and good old sensationalism. Partly, too, it arises from the mass media’s struggle to deal with the Internet media era and the Internet media’s struggle to achieve decent journalistic standards.
A couple of months ago, the media reached a similar level of hysteria on the basis of three stories:
• A Jerusalem Post article, which could have been published just about any time in the last five years, saying that the Israeli air force is practicing for an attack on Iran.
• An interview with a former Israeli intelligence official who opposes attacking Iran saying that Israel had decided not to attack Iran but he is worried the prime minister might want to reopen discussion of the issue.
• A sensationalist article in an Arab newspaper with no Israeli inside sources speculating that an attack is going to happen.
Out of this, the media constructed a narrative claiming something was going to happen that wasn’t. It was quickly shown to be wrong but no lesson was learned.
We’ve just been through a second phase of hysteria over a supposedly imminent Israeli attack on Iran. It started when a Washington Post columnist not known for his accuracy claimed that the U.S. defense secretary had said that Israel was about to attack Iran. This was immediately accepted as if the cabinet member had said so publicly, even though the supposed statement was completely unproven. The man in question, Leon Panetta, denied the story.
A few days later, President Barack Obama told reporters he knew Israel was not going to attack Iran. Think of what that means. Israeli leaders and American intelligence assessments are reporting that no attack is imminent. If Obama knows it, Panetta does too.
It’s true that a respected Israeli journalist, based on interviews he conducted, wrote an article concluding that there would be an attack. But to me, the evidence he gathers suggests that the Israelis are simply concerned about Iran and are trying to influence Western policy. Meanwhile, the journalist completely ignores Israeli statements suggesting that an attack is not imminent, the most important of which is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent statement that Israel would only attack if Iran had deliverable nuclear weapons, which it won’t for a long time, and even then Israel might not attack Iran at all.
The bottom line is that these stories lack common sense — there are many good reasons why Israel won’t attack Iran now. To its credit, the Los Angeles Times just published a story noting that the Israelis are “bemused” by all the hysteria.
People have written about why Israel should not attack Iran but very few have written about why Israel would not attack Iran at this time. There has been indifference to all of the totally knowable factors involved regarding this decision. What does that say about the media?
Barry Rubin’s latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.