Cutting through the US-Israeli debate over where to put “red lines” for Iran, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Monday night, Sept. 3 that Iran would hit US bases in the Middle East in response to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities, even if the Americans were not involved in the attack.
Earlier Monday, the New York Times reported on the debate in the White House over whether US President Barack Obama should declare “red lines” for Iran beyond which the US would act, in response to Israel’s complaint that he has been too vague about how far Iran will be allowed to go.
But even if Obama did set a clear red line now, the NYT admits its credibility would be questionable: “The US and its allies have allowed Iran to cross seven previous red lines in 18 years."
The statement by the top US soldier, Gen. Martin Dempsey, last Thursday that America did not “want to be complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran was interpreted by the prime movers as meaning that US-Israeli discussions in the last two weeks on where to put the "red lines" were at an impasse.
In an attempt to contain the fallout from the Dempsey comment and put the dialogue back on track, the White House is sending CIA director David Petraeus to Jerusalem for more “red line” palaver with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
debkafile, which first disclosed his mission Sunday, Sept. 2, voiced doubts about his chances of success. Both parties to the debate know that the sands on a nuclear Iran are running out faster than they can talk. Roughly by the end of this month or early October, Iran will have enough 20-percent enriched uranium for its first nuclear bomb, overtaking any “red lines” and making them irrelevant.
Feeling the approaching heat, Netanyahu called a special cabinet meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 4 with the participation of the heads of Israel’s clandestine services, Military Intelligence, the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the Foreign Office Research Division, to hear their annual report.
It is likely to go on all day with updates on the situation in Syria, Egypt and Jordan – all weighty topics. But the agenda will certainly be topped with a detailed rundown on the current state of Iran’s nuclear program.
After that rundown, the prime minister and defense minister will enter the final decision-making stage on war against Iran.
At this critical moment, wit calculated timing, Petraeus is due to land in Israel.
Although the opponents of Netanyahu and Barak are fond of painting them as irresponsible adventurers ready to gamble with Israeli lives, it is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has now raised the stakes in this game of dare and slapped down the highest cards.
The red line he instructed the head of Iran’s Lebanese surrogate Hizballah to lay down was unambiguous and designed to leap over the range of steps the US was planning short of war to “forestall an Israeli attack, while forcing the Iranians to take more seriously negotiations…”.
Nasrallah’s pitch took the scenario straight into stage one of the war to come: “If Israel targets Iran, America bears responsibility,” he told the Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV Monday night.
“A decision has been taken in Tehran to respond and the response will be very great,” he said, citing “Iranian officials.”
Nasrallah carried a triple message from Tehran to Washington and Jerusalem:
1. Iran believes an Israeli attack will take place before the US presidential election on Nov. 6;
2. Tehran is drawing on a powerful deterrent: Lest anyone expected a low-key Iranian response to an attack on its nuclear facilities, the Hizballah leader put them right when he said, “the response will be very great” and “America bears responsibility.”
3. By putting Nasrallah out front as a leading Iranian spokesman, Khamenei signaled that Hizballah would take an active role in the coming conflict.
debkafile: The chatter about “red lines” in the last few days has therefore had the effect of stirring the Iranians into preempting them by a single sharp stroke.