Can Obama Hold Israel Back from Striking Iran?
The US president Barack Obama has mounted a round-the-clock siege on Israeli decision-makers at all levels to straitjacket them against supporting an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
An Israeli security official told DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources he has never seen America using such direct and roughshod tactics for imposing its will as this US administration has set in train.
He declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation he described:
"Lately, whenever I have a meeting with an Israeli colleague, I have to wait until he finishes talking to some American official ahead of me," he said. "And when I walk out the door, I find another American waiting to go in."
According to our Washington sources, their contacts at the National Security Council and Pentagon believe they have persuaded Israel's Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi there is no need for Israel to attack Iran and, should one arise, it would be better for the US to carry it out.
The general was in the US in the second week of March at the same time as US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel was dogged by a major flare-up in US-Israeli relations over the announcement of new building in an East Jerusalem suburb.
The crisis overshadowed his talks with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and kept them out of the news, so that his presence in the United or States went practically unnoticed.
Israel's top soldier's tone on Iran is milder
However, Israeli military circles monitoring the Iranian issue acknowledge that, since visiting the United States, Ashkenazi's rhetoric on Iran in closed forums has toned down noticeably. He says mildly that no option, including the military one, should be taken off the table, without elaborating.
His temperance has, in contrast, made the hawks in the army and the Israeli defense establishment more vocal, although they only criticize the Chief of Staff in private. Some of them maintain his trouble is that he does not understand the Americans – in particular, diplomats and their nuanced behavior. In the middle of a crisis with Israel's leaders, US officials showered Ashkenazi with pomp and high honors. A straight up soldier, he did not catch onto their ulterior motive, which was to persuade him of the expedience of canceling or at least delaying an Israeli strike against Iran.
According to one source, the Israeli general interpreted the US official openness he met on matters they no longer discuss with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as channels available for dialogue with the right interlocutors.
"That's where he's mistaken," said the source. "He thinks he made real headway in Washington, but when the moment of decision about attacking Iran comes around, he'll find himself receiving the same treatment as any other Israeli in authority."
Describing the mood current in top Israeli military and intelligence quarters, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report them standing ready to embark on a military operation against Iran the moment they receive the order from government authority. A high-ranking military official told our sources, "They (i.e., the Israeli military brass) know that they can do it and they want to do it."
Israeli military is able and willing
By "they know," he means intelligence is already to hand on the targets which must be hit to disarm Iran's bomb program. It also means that Israel's generals are full conscious of the tactical difficulties inherent in the operation and its cost in terms of loss of military lives.
"They can" means that the IDF possesses the right manpower and weapons systems to execute the operation and achieve its objectives. If the Obama administration had hoped a military embargo would restrain Israel, "It came too late," said the source. (See the first item in this issue on the Obama-Netanyahu Impasse.)
"The IDF already has everything it needs to go forward with the attack. That the IDF may lack certain resources if the fighting moves into another phase is an argument that does not affect the initial strike. No one in Washington or Jerusalem can see round that corner," said the source.
The assertion "They want to do it" attests to the Israeli government's appreciation that the moment for the attack is near. Missing it when it comes means that it will be too late; Iran will have acquired a nuclear weapon.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report that administration officials realize that this perception has come to dominate the thinking of a substantial part of Israel's military leadership, and this has prompted the US rough-and-tough tactics for deterring them. Calling an Israeli attack off altogether is clearly out of the question, so Washington is applying itself to obtaining a postponement.
The scenario US officials are painting to dissuade Israelis from attack mode is simple:
US anti-war lobbyists: What about the follow-up?
Let's say Israeli missiles and its air force successfully attack and destroy key elements of Iran's nuclear weapons program, they say. Keep in mind that Iran has had plenty of time to prepare for a strike by you or by us, and will therefore have set up alternative facilities for getting their military projects back on track within one or two years.
So what happens then? Another strike? And if so, by whom? And who will undertake what we call in military jargon the follow-up?
The IDF and the Israeli Air force would be burnt, say the US persuaders. After exposing their assault tactics, they would need two or three years for developing new methods and building fresh assault resources.
The Obama administration refuses to attack the Iranian nuclear program now and would certainly not undertake a follow-up operation.
Given these considerations, Obama's men argue, an Israeli attack will leave Iran stronger than ever and more immune than before to military strikes.