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Is an Israeli Strike on Iran Inevitable?

The Associated Press is getting some attention for its article alleging that Israel will not warn the U.S. if it decides to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kimberly Dozier reports:

The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations with U.S. officials, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack, said one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to convince them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.

It seems unlikely Israel would do this unless the Obama administration is requesting plausible deniability–something indicated by the second sentence in that quote. As usual, it’s doubtful the unnamed source knows as much as the reporter would like him to know, but the administration should be furious with this particular leaker. Telling reporters the Obama administration believes an attack on Iran would only be a temporary setback and is therefore inadvisable is that unnamed source’s way of telling Iran that all options are not on the table, and that the credible threat of force has either been removed or is in the process of being removed from the equation, thus undermining any negotiations the administration insists it wants to hold.

That’s not the only way this unnamed source is attempting to sabotage the Obama administration’s Iran policy. Later on in the article we learn that Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and his Democratic counterpart, Dutch Ruppersberger, met with the Israeli leadership as well. According to Ruppersberger, they discussed “presenting a unified front to Iran, to counter the media reports that the two countries are at odds over how and when to attack Iran.”

One presumes the Obama administration’s anger at this unnamed source will be tempered by their ability to find humor in Ruppersberger explaining to the Associated Press the U.S. and Israel are trying to present a united front for an article about how the U.S. and Israel are unable to present a united front.

This wouldn’t be the first time there was confusion about Israel’s coordination with the U.S. about such a strike. In Ronald Reagan’s diaries, the former president writes of Menachem Begin after Israel destroyed the Osirak reactor in Iraq, “He should have told us & the French.” In an entry a week later, he writes:

We have just learned that Israel & the previous Admin. did communicate about Iraq & the nuclear threat & the U.S. agreed it was a threat. There was never a mention of this to us by the outgoing admin. Amb. Lewis cabled word to us after the Israeli attack on Iraq & now we find there was a stack of cables & memos tucked away in St. Dept. files.

Jimmy Carter was an especially nasty politician, but sometimes I can still be surprised by how willing he was to subvert and disrupt American security–concerning something as serious and dangerous as nuclear proliferation in the Middle East–in a vengeful fit about losing the election.

But if the current administration is really unwilling to launch or support a preemptive strike on Iran–as the AP’s source and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta keep insisting–they will be wholly reliant on other means to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Those means will be weakened significantly if Panetta and other administration officials keep telling reporters the Iranian leadership has nothing to worry about. Those means will be further weakened if President Obama continues trying to water down Iran sanctions and opposing sanctions that garner all 100 votes in the Senate.

If Obama persists in his efforts to prevent tough Iran sanctions and keeps signaling to Iran his administration has taken military action off the table, the president is unlikely to find much success at the negotiating table. All of which would, in turn, only encourage the Israelis to take action themselves.



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