Heavy Grows Israel’s Finger on the Trigger

P5 +1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) and Iran failed to secure a breakthrough at the third round of talks in Moscow last week. Meanwhile, Israel’s trigger finger remains itchy. On May 17 Michael Stott of Reuters reported:

“I think they’ve gone into lockdown mode now,” the senior Western diplomat said. “Whatever happens next, whatever they decide, we will not find out until it happens.” …

“I think they have made a decision to attack,” said one senior Israeli figure with close ties to the leadership. “It is going to happen. The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them.”

Also, on June 22 at Christian Science Monitor, Scott Peterson reported the comments of Sergei Markov, a Kremlin adviser, who said:

[T]he talks need a “more clear advance and quicker developments” if they are to forestall a conflict [and] there is a “quite high” chance of an Israeli attack on Iran in July or August — just months before the U.S. presidential election in November.

Why exactly does Israel see the American elections as, at best, a window of opportunity, or, at worst, a deadline for mounting an aerial attack on Iran?

Part of the reason, according to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic in May, is that when Netanyahu solidified his coalition, he dodged his own election this September and, with all parties on board, is able to proceed.

A month earlier, at Slate.com, Fred Kaplan wrote:

In fact, if the Israelis really are intent on attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities, they’re likely to do so before this November’s American presidential elections. If they started an attack and needed U.S. firepower to help them complete the task, Barack Obama might open himself up to perilous political attacks — for being indecisive, weak, appeasing, anti-Israel, you name it — if he didn’t follow through. It could cost him the votes of crucial constituencies. If the Israelis tried to pressure the United States into joining an attack after the election, Obama would have … more flexibility [about whether or not to attack].

Many are tired of hearing the charge that Israel, or more to the point, its American supporters (read: campaign contributors) “drive” U.S. foreign policy. But, after three rounds of P5+1 talks with Iran, one can be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that the United States has lost sight of its own goals toward Iran because of the overriding imperative to arrive at an agreement that will keep Israel from attacking Iran.

One can’t help but wonder what U.S. policy toward Iran would look like shorn of the need to prevent that from happening, as well as the perceived need to present a front toward Iran that’s sufficiently bellicose for Israel’s Americans supporters.

Originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

Author: Russ Wellen

Russ Wellen writes for Foreign Policy in Focus.