The Obama administration does not know Israel's intentions regarding potential military action against Iran, and the uncertainty is stoking concern in Washington, where the preferred course for now is sanctions and diplomatic pressure.Reuters of course does not consider how Washington is treating Israel while Iran moves forward with its nuclear weapons program.
Although Israel remains one of the United States' closest allies and the two countries' officials are in regular contact, U.S. officials have a "sense of opacity" regarding what might prompt an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, and about when such an attack might occur, according to a senior U.S. national security official.
Two key U.S. senators acknowledged on Tuesday that there are gaps in U.S. knowledge about Israeli leaders' thinking and intentions.
"I don't think the administration knows what Israel is going to do. I'm not sure Israel knows what Israel is going to do ... That's why they want to keep the other guys guessing. Keep the bad guys guessing," said Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator John McCain, the senior Republican on the committee, echoed Levin's view: "I'm sure (administration officials) don't know what the Israelis are going to do. They didn't know when the Israelis hit the reactor in Syria. But the Israelis usually know what we're going to do."
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Reuters in an interview he did not know whether the Jewish state would give the United States notice ahead of time if it decided to act.
A former U.S. government official said: "There are plenty of instances when the Israelis have undertaken action without informing the United States first. So not always should we assume a level of coordination (between Washington and Israel) in advance on all issues."
Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA expert on the Middle East who has advised Obama, said, "Israel has a long history of conducting military operations from Baghdad to Tunis without giving Washington advance notice."
Riedel said the White House wants to send Israel a strong message that the United States does not expect to be blindsided by its ally. "Obama wants Bibi to understand unequivocally he does not want a repeat performance in Iran," he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.
The Obama administration suspects that Israeli leaders have marked out for themselves certain "red lines" related to Iranian nuclear progress which could trigger Israeli military action if they are crossed, one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But Obama administration policymakers are plagued by a "sense of opacity" in their understanding of where the Israeli red lines are drawn, the official added.
TNR has an interesting article about just that topic:
Over the weekend I had the privilege of sitting in on the 8th annual Saban Forum, a high-level, Brookings-sponsored dialogue between Israeli and American officials (current and former) along with journalists, intellectuals, and representatives from other countries in the Middle East.
...I came away from the two days with a dark and disturbing conclusion: There is a gulf between Israel and the United States that could have momentous consequences in 2012. When American officials declare that all options are on the table, most Israelis do not believe them. They have concluded, rather, that when the crunch comes (and everyone thinks it will), the United States will shy away from military force and reconfigure its policy to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. This is an outcome that no Israeli government can tolerate. For Israel, the Palestinian issue is an identity question: What kind of country will Israel be and what kind of life will Israelis lead? But the Iranian issue is an existential question: Will Israel and Israelis survive?In other words, if Israel believes the US will truly do everything necessary to stop Iranian nuclear weapons from being developed, it has no reason to hide anything from the US. But if the US is actively opposing military action, the indication is that it opposes Israeli military action as well, so cooperating with the US would (from Israel's perspective) endanger Israels' very existence.
In his opening remarks, the Secretary of Defense restated President Obama’s declared position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions that “we have not taken any option off the table.” During the question period, however, he offered a long list of reservations against the military option: Some of the targets are very difficult to get at, and even a successful attack would set back the Iranian program by no more than two years. The Iranian regime, now approaching pariah status, would be able to mobilize renewed support at home and abroad. U.S. interests in the Middle East would be subject to retaliation. The fragile economies of the United States and Europe would be gravely disrupted. And worst of all, the ensuing conflagration could “consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.” Whatever Panetta’s intention, Israelis heard those remarks as a declaration of his opposition to the use of force against Iran, even if that country was on the verge of producing nuclear weapons. (The administration’s reluctance to go along with sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran—a matter Israelis raised repeatedly during the meeting—only adds to its credibility problem.)
During a break, I button-holed a knowledgeable, highly respected former Israeli official and asked whether he thought that the military option was still on the table for the United States. No, he replied, the United States had shifted to a containment strategy two years ago. Another former official, equally knowledgeable and respected, shook his head in dissent. No, he said, it was one year ago. While I didn’t meet all the Israelis in attendance, I talked with quite a few and didn’t encounter a differing view. And it was not a hard-line group: Supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu were in a distinct minority in the Israeli delegation, a fact that occasioned humor on both the Israeli and American sides.
...Of course, Israel’s beliefs about American intentions toward Iran may well be mistaken. But it is a fact that they hold those beliefs and will continue to do so unless the Obama administration can persuade them that the use of military force remains a live option.
Reuters reporters are of course not quite educated enough to understand this.
And their quote of McCain is interesting. He says that the US did not know in advance of Israel's bombing of Syria's secret nuclear reactor. In fact, the US was informed ahead of time.
Senior U.S. officials said the U.S. military was not involved in the attack, and the U.S. government, although informed in advance, did not approve it.Also notable is that the attack on the Syrian reactor was not done when Netanyahu was in office - but Olmert.
"Israel made the decision to attack," a senior administration official said. "It did so without any so-called green light from us. None was asked for and none was given."
(h/t R-MEW, JW)