When General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters yesterday that Israel and the United States are on “different clocks” regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, he was doing more than stating what has already become obvious. Dempsey’s purpose in saying so publicly was more evidence that Washington is determined to ward off pressure from Israel to abandon its complacent attitude toward the Iranian threat. But it is also just one more instance in which the Obama administration has sought to create more daylight between U.S. and Israeli positions on security matters. While the president and his advisors think they are trying to teach the Netanyahu government a lesson, the main effect of this public disagreement is to encourage the Iranians to think that they don’t have to worry that much about either Israel or the United States.
Washington is frustrated because the Israelis won’t shut up about the consequences of a Western policy that has allowed the Iranians to keep refining uranium and getting closer to their nuclear goal. Dead-end diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions have merely played into Tehran’s hands and the Israelis have been vocal about the fact that they are not going to simply stand by and wait patiently until Iran accumulates so much nuclear material stored in hardened underground bunkers that it will be too late to do anything about it. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is said to believe that moment will pass within a few months rather than the years the Americans say it will take. But rather than work with the Israelis and give them some concrete assurance that the president meant it when he said he would not allow Iran to go nuclear, the main reaction from the White House has been pique at Netanyahu’s chutzpah and public signals indicating the Israelis are on their own. This strengthens the security of neither the U.S. nor Israel. All it does is illustrate Mitt Romney’s point about the foolishness of the administration’s Middle East policy.
As the Times of Israel reports, General Dempsey spoke about the issue while on a flight to Afghanistan and acknowledged that Israelis view the issue differently from the Americans:
“They are living with an existential concern that we are not living with,” he said, according to AFP.
Dempsey added that he and Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz spoke on a bi-weekly basis to coordinate intelligence, despite gaps in understanding how close Iran is to the point of no return.
“We compare intelligence, we discuss regional implications. And we’ve admitted to each other that our clocks are turning at different rates,” he said.
This is a critical problem for which the Israelis are being blamed in the world press since they are viewed as troublemakers or provocateurs because they refuse to allow the Obama administration to go on pretending that diplomacy and sanctions have a chance to change the minds of the ayatollahs. But the problem with this view of the situation is that no one in Washington is prepared to seriously argue that the current Western policy has a chance of success. Washington is continuing to act as if the failed P5+1 talks can be revived or that sanctions will miraculously bring Tehran to its knees. But the only purpose of this pretense is to stall the discussion about Iran until after the November election when presumably the president will have the “flexibility” to propose an even more generous deal to the Islamist regime.
But even if we were to assume the president is sincere about his desire to stop Iran, his decision to allow administration officials to publicly express their disagreement with Israel is undermining any chance that diplomacy could ever succeed. So long as the Iranians are convinced the Americans are focused more on squelching Israeli self-defense than on halting their nuclear program, they are the ones who will show patience. They don’t think Obama is serious when he pledges that he will neither accept nor seek to merely contain a nuclear Iran. Nor do they think he will ever use force against them.
As in its past gaffes on the Israel-Palestinian diplomatic process, the daylight that Obama has opened between Washington and Jerusalem is merely serving to sink any hope that the goals he claims to support can be accomplished. The more American officials talk about Israel and the U.S. having “different clocks,” the more certain it is that the Iranian leadership thinks they can run out the clock on Western diplomacy and achieve their nuclear ambition unscathed.