1. Get the shelters ready, and the popcorn: Iran-US tensions got kicked up a notch with the downing of a drone that Tehran claims invaded its airspace, and which the US says was just minding its own business in the Persian Gulf.
- Israelis are understandably on edge about tensions spiraling out of control and the press is watching the situation as closely as if Israel were directly involved, with the story being at the top of the media agenda.
- “Winds of war,” reads the top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
- “Gulf tensions are worsening,” reads the top headline in broadsheet Haaretz.
- Writing about a massive drill simulating war with Hezbollah, TOI’s Judah Ari Gross notes that “Israeli and Western intelligence officials this week warned that Hezbollah, acting on behalf of Iran, might seek to attack Israel in an effort to put additional pressure on the United States as part of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing struggle with the White House over the crippling economic sanctions put in place following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year.”
2. U-turn and consequences: A New York Times report — that the US had planes in the air to attack Iran and called them back — is at the top of nearly every news website on Friday morning.
- “Nighttime drama,” the Walla news site terms it.
- On Twitter, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro worries that the leak about Trump getting cold feet may end up resulting in “an even stronger strike.”
The effect of the leak may be an even stronger strike. I was for one, but unhurried, at a time of our choosing, carefully calculated to impose a price but avoid an escalation. Now need to worry that his ego and need to prove reports wrong will mean an escalation. https://t.co/J4W5z8NAxL
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) June 21, 2019
- But defense researcher Jeffrey Lewis contends that the whole story may be a fabrication just to send a warning message to Iran.
I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?https://t.co/LZMeZAoYOD
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) June 21, 2019
- On the other side, right-wing philanthropist Adam Milstein claims that the story is being pushed by Iran.
#Trump Admn. is brilliantly utilizing the Main Stream Media to disseminate misinformation to confuse the #Iranians. If the US had Planned a Retaliatory Strike on #Iran, but Called the mission off, would they really share this info with @nytimes https://t.co/f1pnfuBx77
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) June 21, 2019
3. You yellow, Trump? In any case, Trump is already apparently being egged on by Israel with the help of the media here.
- A report on Channel 13 news, citing unnamed Israeli sources, claims that Israeli officials are worried that Iran will be emboldened by the US not taking a strong enough stance.
- According to the report, the Israelis became concerned once Trump changed his tone and began talking about the shoot-down as a stupid mistake.
- In Yedioth, columnist Shimrit Meir goes straight for the jugular, writing the tautology that “you’d need to have a Trump-level lack of understanding of the region in order to say ‘I don’t think they did this on purpose.’”
- Israel Hayom columnist Oded Granot predicts that the sides are nearing a military confrontation, and surmises that Iran is trying to take advantage of Trump, in a column that could also be read as a form of goading the White House.
- “The Iranians are relying on internal opposition in the US to sending more troops to the Gulf, to Trump’s basic desire to get out of the Middle East, on the fact that he just launched his presidential campaign and on the fact that his acting defense secretary just quit. [Ayatollah] Khamenei assumes that for these reasons, now is not a bad time to sting the US without being stung back,” he writes.
4. Iraq all over again: In a widely shared Twitter thread, former deputy national security adviser Eran Etzion writes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is basically joining the most hawkish wing of the Republicans in pushing Trump into a war, and blames the Israeli media for helping it along, specifically citing the story about Israelis worried that Trump isn’t tough enough.
- Writing that the situation is reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, only with even worse intel, he writes that Israeli security officials are actually worried about Israel being blamed for pushing the US into another war in the Middle East.
- “Israelis, be alert. There’s someone trying to pull a fast one on you. Media, open your eyes. Ask questions. Don’t trust, verify.”
5. Blame Israel: It may already be too late. Al-Monitor writes that “the EU, Russia and regional actors like Oman will undoubtedly weigh in to calm the waters, but others like Israel and Saudi Arabia could egg the president on.”
- “Israel is a driver, and also a possible target,” writes Nahum Barnea in Yedioth. “Together with the Saudis and others in the Gulf it is pushing the Trump administration into a confrontation. And it’s really the main instigator.”
- Others are more subtle: Fox’s Tucker Carlson is quoted by The New York Times as saying that “the very people — in some cases, literally the same people who lured us into the Iraq quagmire 16 years ago — are demanding a new war — this one with Iran. The president to his great credit appears to be skeptical of this. Very skeptical.”
6. Bolton and Begin: In Haaretz, though, Amos Harel writes that it’s not really about Israel at all, but rather sanctions and National Security Adviser John Bolton.
- “The United States, by means of its withdrawal from the agreement, the presentation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12-point plan against Iran, and the imposition of sanctions on companies from third countries that trade with it has created a new regional reality. It’s doubtful that Trump himself wants a war with Iran. However, the dynamic of escalation does not necessarily depend on what the sides want,” he writes.
- In The Conversation, scholar Doreen Horschig surmises that Israel might just go ahead and hit Iran first without waiting for the US.
- “Israel has a counterproliferation policy, called the Begin Doctrine, which allows it to wage preventive strikes against enemies with weapons of mass destruction programs. Using the Begin Doctrine as a justification for preemptive strikes, the Israeli government has for decades quietly decimated nuclear and chemical facilities across the Middle East,” she writes.
- “History suggests other countries are unlikely to actively deter Israeli military aggression in the guise of nuclear nonproliferation,” she adds. “While European powers will recognize preemptive Israeli strikes on nuclear facilities as a violation of international law and of the sovereignty of Israel’s neighbors, they also see Iran’s nuclear program as a grave global security concern.”
7. Welcome distraction: Against the backdrop of the region stumbling into war, a bunch of countries will gather next week in Bahrain, just a stone’s throw from Iran, to talk about making peace, kinda.
- Looking at a copy of the agenda posted online by journalist Ben Caspit, who calls it “The dullest ever,” JTA’s Ron Kampeas writes that “there is little evidence that the meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday will reveal a plan. In fact, the sessions, featuring experts, suggest that Kushner, is, well, looking for ideas.”
Bahrain’s draft program. The dullest ever. No significant speakers, no real vision, not even any arab treasury minister (yet to be announced…). Huge disappointment (yet to be announced). pic.twitter.com/ch6mAUpAJ8
— Ben Caspit בן כספית (@BenCaspit) June 19, 2019
- Maybe nobody will notice? “Anxious chatter about the escalating back-and-forth between the US and Iran is drawing attention away from what many observers were already describing as a pointless exercise,” Nahal Toosi writes in Politico.