To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I wonder what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had first discussed them on talk radio. Having found myself at the center of a bizarre series of stories claiming that Israel is planning to attack Iran in September as a result of some speculative answers to a talk-show host's questions, I think I now know.
Last week, my friend Ian Masters, who hosts the Los Angeles talk-show "Background Briefing", called me up to talk about the Arab spring, and especially what would happen if Israel were to attack Iran. He was struck by the comments of recently retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan, saying that an increasingly paranoid and isolated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering launching a reckless attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, and doing that soon. Would an Israeli strike put a spike in the Arab spring? That was unknowable, I said, but the resulting crisis would certainly give repressive regimes the excuse to crack down a lot harder on the street.
On air, we got into it with Syria, but then quickly moved to Dagan's comments. I noted there have been other recently retired senior Israeli security officials who'd said much the same thing, including the well-respected chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. So far so good, but, as these things go on radio, fact quickly turned to speculation. I offered that Israelis of this stature don't wash dirty laundry in public unless there's a serious problem, and therefore that I doubted that these comments were all part of some grand, calculated bluff to intimidate the Iranians to give up their nuclear program under threat of being bombed.
Warming to the subject, I chattered on about how I'd heard there was a "warning order" at the Pentagon to prepare for a conflict with Iran. I was about to add that that this was not unusual; there are warning orders all the time, and it could have nothing to do with Israeli or anything it was or wasn't planning for Iran. (Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, after all, is accusing Iran of being behind the sharp uptick in deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.) But time was short, and the host needed to finish up for the next guest.
This was a wide-ranging speculative conversation on a local radio station, two like minds kibitzing, as media pundits so often do, with no inside information to back our interpretations of the significance of the flood of former senior Israeli security officials warning that Netanyahu is crazy and likely to do something rash. "If I was forced to bet," I ventured, "I'd say we're going to have some sort of conflict in the next couple of months, unless this is all just a masterful bluff — which I can't believe the Iranians would succumb to — I think the chances of it being a bluff are remote." Not exactly claiming to know any more than any other tea-leaf reader.