Is Israel Hoping for a US Attack on Iran?

JERUSALEM — Preceding the U.N. atomic watchdog’s report on Iran’s nuclear quest, a flurry of reports about Israel increasingly tilting toward preventive military action against Iran highlights U.S. military support of Israel but tests its influence over its ally.

On Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to report that Iran has carried out experiments for developing nuclear weapons including explosions and computer simulations of explosions.

Either public diplomacy or policy, psychological warfare intended to advocate harsher international sanctions or preparation for international endorsement of military action, the wave of speculations raised even more speculations as President Shimon Peres addressed the media reports.

Appearing on Channel Two’s prime-time news on Friday, the president urged “the other nations of the world to act. … It’s time to stand behind the promise that was made to us, to fulfill their responsibility, whether that means serious sanctions or a military operation.

“It may well be that comments on the topic serve their own function,” he added elliptically.

Peres didn’t depart from the customary all-options-are-on-the-table shared by Israeli and U.S. spokespeople. “No decision was made,” he cautioned.

Yet it’s left the international community, particularly the U.S., wondering whether Israel is on the brink of deciding in favor of such a unilateral attack.

The frenzy was ignited a week earlier by Nahum Barnea, Israel’s foremost columnist, in the mass- circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth: “Have the prime minister and defense minister settled on a decision, just between the two of them, to launch a military attack on the nuclear facilities in Iran?”

Was Barnea’s question mere prescience, or was he all too well-informed? Next, the media was abuzz with conjecture of a potential military action on Iran.

Hence, the report by the liberal daily Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been busy sounding members of his inner cabinet about such strike.

“It’s best not to talk about how complex and intricate this strike is,” Eli Yishai, interior minister and head of the religious Shas Party, confided to a group of supporters. “This operation leaves me sleepless.”

The somber, somewhat obscure confession was meant to instill gravity among his fellow Israelis. And there might have been an ulterior motive — to instill urgency among not only IAEA, but more specifically U.S., officials.

Meanwhile, the Israeli air force concluded comprehensive drills on long-range attacks at the Italian NATO base Decimomannu (Sardinia).

According to Barnea, the question of whether to attack or not to attack Iran “distresses foreign governments, which find it difficult to understand what’s happening here.

“On one hand, there are mounting rumors of an Israeli move that will change the face of the Middle East and possibly seal Israel’s fate for generations to come; on the other, there’s a total absence of public debate. The issue of whether to attack Iran is at the bottom of the Israeli discourse,” Barnea remarked.

Indeed, U.S. officials noted “a substantial reduction in Israeli pronouncements” on the issue, “both public but also private through diplomatic and defense channels,” according to U.S. sources cited in Haaretz.

So, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta came to Israel a month ago, it appears that the visit’s backdrop stemmed from a sense that the U.S. administration didn’t have a clue where Israel was headed vis-à-vis Iran.

Yet, Panetta received no clear commitment — either from Netanyahu or from his counterpart, Ehud Barak — that Israel would refrain from attacking Iran without prior coordination with the U.S.

The two Israeli leaders were vague about Israel’s intentions, as if Iran’s nuclear ambivalence (in some simulation of Israel’s own nuclear ambiguity) had influenced them to shroud their intentions in uncertainty.

But the evasiveness may simply have been aimed at pressuring not only Iran, but also the U.S.

The issue of tight coordination on Iran lay at the heart of the relations between the two countries.

When in 1981 Prime Minister Menachem Begin gave the green light to the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, he did it without giving advance warning to President Ronald Reagan. Israel’s defense establishment was consulted, but Begin overrode their opposition.

In his memoir, Decision Points, published a year ago, former President George W. Bush recalls the Israeli airstrike in September 2007 on the Syrian nuclear reactor near Deir e-Zour. He writes: “Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert hadn’t asked for a green light, and I hadn’t given one. He had done what he believed was necessary to protect Israel.”

But Syria is not Iran.

Besides, some in Netanyahu’s inner cabinet believe that if a military action is a necessity, Israel will be better off if the U.S. launches it.

Do the bilateral relations suffer from lack of mutual trust, especially as Israel has, for the past three years, failed to engage in meaningful peace talks with the Palestinian Authority?

Is Israel becoming an embarrassment, or worse, a liability, for U.S. interests in the region, with the U.N. ready to endorse Palestinian statehood, but the U.S. ready to use its veto power at the Security Council?

Not necessarily.

The depth of U.S. commitment to Israel’s security has never been demonstrated so forcefully as during President Barack Obama’s administration, though Israel didn’t meet the presidential hope that in assuaging Israel’s security fears, Netanyahu would become more inclined to overcome his reticence vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

A demonstration of this commitment could be perceived in the announced “largest” and “most significant” joint maneuver in the two allies’ history.

Speaking to the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro declared, “Our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before,” adding that Israel’s military edge was a “top priority” for the U.S.

“We support Israel because it is in our national interests to do so,” Shapiro emphasized, echoing a recent report by the Washington Institute titled “Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States.”

“If Israel were weaker, its enemies would be bolder. This would make broader conflict more likely, which would be catastrophic to American interests in the region,” Shapiro added.

(Inter Press Service)