CIA chief visits Israel, mixed Washington assessments on Iran
Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta visited Israel two weeks ago to explore Israel’s intentions with regard to a raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities and its alignment with Egypt and Saudi Arabia for this shared objective.
On the one hand, Panetta showed Israeli leaders with a new US report which estimates first, that Iran lacks adequate military resources to shield its nuclear sites from attack and, second, would pull its punches in responding to an Israeli strike. On the other, it is feared in Washington that by linking up with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Israel would be free to send its warplanes against Iran through the skies of its two Arab partners, without deferring to the United States.
(This potential partnership was first disclosed in detail by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 395 of May 8).
This report was also presented by defense secretary Robert Gates on May 5-6 to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh.
None of the three Middle East leaders took the report seriously because –
1. They could not make out if it was meant to encourage or deter an Israeli attack? Surely, the best time to strike would be before Iran acquires adequate defenses for its nuclear sites. Is that what the Obama administration is after?
2. Israel does not believe that Iran would emulate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein who refrained from hitting back after Israel demolished his nuclear reactor in 1981. Iran’s rulers are committed to massive retaliation or else face a degree of popular contempt that would test the regime’s survival.
Panetta and Gates alike returned home convinced that Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates are far more fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran than of clashing with the Obama administration over its policy of engaging Iran.
This understanding prompted a policy review in Washington, which is still going on.
One outward symptom of a possible reversal was the sudden announcement on May 8 that President Obama had decided to again address the Muslim world from Egypt on June 4, ten days after Mubarak visits Washington. On the same day, he also renewed sanctions against Syria, which, after weeks of diplomatic pursuit, he accused of sponsoring terror and seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Washington’s dawning appreciation that the rise of a nuclear-armed, terror-sponsoring Iran is the burning preoccupation of Middle East rulers, leaving the Palestinian issue for another day, will certainly make Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s talks in the White House next Monday, May 18, a lot smoother. The clash which otherwise would have been unavoidable may now be averted.