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Monday, September 03, 2012

US throwing Israel under a bus?

This report from YNet, if true, is really bad news:
The United States has indirectly informed Iran, via two European nations, that it would not back an Israeli strike against the country's nuclear facilities, as long as Tehran refrains from attacking American interests in the Persian Gulf, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday.

According to the report, Washington used covert back-channels in Europe to clarify that the US does not intend to back Israel in a strike that may spark a regional conflict.

In return, Washington reportedly expects Iran to steer clear of strategic American assets in the Persian Gulf, such as military bases and aircraft carriers.

Israeli officials reported an unprecedented low in the two nations' defense ties, which stems from the Obama administration's desire to warn Israel against mounting an uncoordinated attack on Iran.
This comes on the heels of the US' very public scaling back of a joint military exercise with Israel:
The United States has reduced the size of a joint military exercise with Israel that was originally billed as being of unprecedented size, TIME Magazine reported Friday, citing "well-placed sources in both countries." The reduction, although officially attributed to budgetary restrictions, the scaling back of the exercise was put into the context of Washington's opposition to a military attack on Iran's nuclear program.

The annual exercise, Austere Challenge 12, was originally slated to include some 5,000 US troops, according to TIME. Instead, the United States will send anywhere between 1,200 and 1,500 troops, TIME reported.

Washington will still send the Patriot missile defense systems it planned to, but the crews that man them will not arrive, TIME reported.
And that in turn came while US General Martin Dempsey said he doesn't want to be "complicit" with an Israeli strike on Iran.

Even dovish Ha'aretz' Chemi Shalev slammed that remark, saying that effectively the US was goading Israel into a unilateral strike:
If I didn’t know any better I would assume that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey is trying to goad Israel into attacking Iran. Otherwise, why would he go to such great lengths to try and persuade them that Israel is on its own and can rely only on itself?

Because that is the net effect of Dempsey’s statements in London last week, especially his yet-to-be-properly-explained use of the word “complicit” as in "I don't want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.” Complicit? As in what – war crimes?

Even if one accepts the validity of Dempsey’s assertion that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would “delay and not destroy” Iran’s nuclear program, and even if one understands the need for him to spell out the Administration’s belief that such an attack would “thwart” the “international coalition” – whatever that means – his use of the word “complicit” is somewhere on the scale between unfortunate and way out of line. And to make matters worse, despite the days that have passed, it has yet to be explained or retracted or apologized for, as the Wall Street Journal correctly pointed out in its Friday editorial.

[O]ver the past few days, the [Israeli] public has been bombarded by discouraging news that cannot but harden its attitude. After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that confirmed Israel’s worst fears about Tehran’s accelerated nuclear drive; after the disappointing pilgrimage of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other world leaders to Tehran, and the ludicrous endorsement of Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear programs by the 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM); after the reports of the U.S. decision to scale down, for whatever reason, its participation in the joint Austere Challenge 12 military exercise; after all of these blows, Dempsey’s spiteful choice of word was a virtual coup de grace. The much-abused cliché “the whole world is against us” was driven home, as was Hillel’s guidance – mistakenly attributed in the GOP platform to their own elder, Ronald Reagan – “if I am not for myself, who will be?”

Perhaps Dempsey suffers from the same chronic misunderstanding of Israeli public opinion that afflicts many others in the Administration, including the White House. Administration officials have possibly misinterpreted the superficial newspaper headlines that “most Israelis are opposed to an attack on Iran”. Perhaps they mistakenly believe that by upping the ante and maintaining the pressure, they are strengthening the hand of those opposed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to convince the Israeli cabinet that time has run out. Perhaps they are paying too much attention to pundits in both countries who claim that the U.S. needs to “bare its teeth” in order to get its point across.

If so, they are misreading the situation. Most Israelis, in fact, are not opposed to a military attack on Iran at all. Most Israelis are convinced, in fact, rightly or wrongly, that military force is the only way that the Iranian nuclear drive can be stopped. The number of Israelis who support an Israeli attack now together with those who prefer an American attack later combine to form an overwhelming and unassailable majority.

But most Israelis are rightly afraid of the consequences, especially if they decide to go it alone. And they know full well that the U.S. will do a much better job. So as long as they believe that there is an outside chance that the U.S. might carry out the task, or at least lend its formidable hand to an Israeli strike, they are willing to give more time to diplomacy and sanctions. As long as they believe that when push comes to shove, the U.S. will “have Israel’s back”, as President Obama has promised, they will continue to press Netanyahu and his cabinet to accommodate the Administration and to give peace a chance, if Washington really insists.

Dempsey’s harsh language may very well be understood by Israeli decision makers as a shot across the bow that cannot be ignored, but the popular interpretation will be that Israel cannot rely on the U.S. and needs to take matters into its own hands.

If President Obama wishes to dissociate himself from his army commander’s tone, explicitly or not, his upcoming speech at the Democratic National Convention provides a good and possibly last opportunity. If he continues to maintain his excessively low profile, as he has until now, many Israelis will be persuaded that he too does not wish to be “complicit”, and that Israel must take its fate into its own hands, before it’s too late.
And this is from the WSJ article mentioned:
The irony for the Administration is that its head-in-the-sand performance is why many Israeli decision-makers believe they had better strike sooner than later. Not only is there waning confidence that Mr. Obama is prepared to take military action on his own, but there's also a fear that a re-elected President Obama will take a much harsher line on an Israeli attack than he would before the first Tuesday in November.

If Gen. Dempsey or Administration officials really wanted to avert an Israeli strike, they would seek to reassure Jerusalem that the U.S. is under no illusions about the mullahs' nuclear goals—or about their proximity to achieving them. They're doing the opposite.

Since coming to office, Obama Administration policy toward Israel has alternated between animus and incompetence. We don't know what motivated Gen. Dempsey's outburst, but a President who really had Israel's back would publicly contradict it.
Indeed, it appears that the administration is remarkably tone-deaf in understanding how Israelis think and how to reassure them. Nothing symbolizes this more than sending Patriot missile systems to Israel- without sending the support teams necessary to man them.

Finally, even AP realizes that Iran's public statements against developing nuclear weapons doesn't preclude them building them except for the last screw.
Iran could be shaping its nuclear ambitions after Japan, which has the full scope of nuclear technology - including the presumed ability to produce warhead-grade material - but has stopped short of actually producing a weapon. It creates, in effect, a de facto nuclear power with all the parts but just not pieced together.

More than two years ago, Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani essentially embraced Tokyo's nuclear model during a visit to Japan that included a stop in Nagasaki, of the two cities destroyed by American atomic bombs World War II.

Larijani met with Japanese officials and praised the country's nuclear program as a symbol of a third path that dates back to the 1970s, when then Japanese Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata told reporters that Japan “certainly” could possess nuclear arms “but has not made them.”

The major difference, however, is Israel and other U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia. They would have to adapt to a huge balance-of-power shift with Iran on the doorstep of having nuclear arms.

Following Japan's path would allow Iran to push their nuclear technology to the limit while being able to claim it has adhered to its international pledge not to develop a bomb.

Yoel Guzansky, an Iranian affairs expert for Israel's Institute of National Security Studies, believes Iran could be adopting a Japan-style policy to reach a “nuclear threshold.”

“Israeli can't live with the uncertainty of a nuclear threshold state,” he said. “Iran could push over (to weapons capability) at any given moment.”

This is where Iran might seek seams in the unity of the West and its allies: Could some live with an almost-armed Iran rather than risk a war that could send oil prices skyrocketing and risk spilling conflict across the region?
This official Iranian ambiguity seems to be enough to split the West between those who see things clearly and those who want to keep their heads in the sand.

The tragedy is that the US, from all indications, seems to be moving to the latter category.