Early Saturday, Nov. 17, US President Obama, in a phone conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself. He also spoke to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and urged him to persuade Hamas to accept Israel’s terms for a ceasefire.
So what happened to turn the notoriously prickly relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu into harmonious cooperation – defying dire predictions by Israeli politicians and media that the second Obama term heralded still more jarring discord?
debkafile’s analysts attribute the change to a single cause: Iran’s omnipotent supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has backtracked on his earlier consent to one-on-one talks with the US on its nuclear program, after it was acclaimed by US media on Oct. 20 in the run-up to the presidential election.
Friday, Nov. 16, Henry Kissinger, foreign policy guru to a succession of US presidents, laid Obama’s dilemma out plainly in the Washington Post: “The most urgent decision facing the president is how to stop Iran from pursuing a military nuclear program. The time available for a diplomatic outcome shrinks in direct proportion as the Iranian enrichment capacity grows and a military nuclear capacity approaches,” Kissinger wrote, adding: “We cannot afford another strategic disaster.”
While also aiming a dig at Obama’s first-term performance, Kissinger was warning him strongly that Iran is on the way to becoming a nuclear power and this must not be allowed to happen.
On Oct. 19, debkafile’s intelligence sources reported exclusively that Iran had finished installing in Fordo the last set of advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium to 20 percent purity. This would bring its program technically to a short hop before weapons grade. We also disclosed that the number of centrifuges in Natanz was being doubled to 6,000 to substantially expand its output of medium-grade enriched uranium.
Iran already has in place the technological infrastructure for quickly raising its 20-percent enriched stocks to the 90 percent bomb-making level.
American experts now estimate that this jump would take no more than two to three weeks from the moment a go-ahead order came down from Khamenei.
The advanced state of Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon was confirmed in the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report released Friday, Nov. 16, which stated dryly that it was “unable… to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
The release of this nuclear watchdog finding on Day Three of Israel’s Gaza operation against the escalating Palestinian missile war against the southern half of the country was not fortuitous. It also backed up Kissinger’s warning about the imminence of a “strategic disaster” for America if Iran was allowed to attain a nuclear capacity. There was no need to remind anyone that this disaster was even more imminent for Israel.
The implied corollary from the Kissinger proposition, that a form of pre-emptive military action has become unavoidable, leads directly to the rationale behind Obama’s support for Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The US president has evidently concluded that confronting Khamenei’s intransigence with the calibrated application of military measures which gradually strip Iran of its strategic assets is the shortest and most effective way to make him give serious thought to sitting down with the United States for nuclear negotiations.
One such indirect measure, the Syrian uprising against Iran’s ally Bashar Assad, fell flat: Assad is still in charge and fighting after nearly two years of a bitter, bloody civil war. The Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah pact remained as robust as ever before and Khamenei as far as ever from dialogue with Obama.
But then, a new opportunity presented itself in a big mistake made three months ago by the radical Palestinian Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip.
A Hamas delegation led by Mahmoud A-Zahar and Marwan Issa traveled to Tehran and Beirut and signed military and mutual defense pacts with Iran and Hizballah. This was revealed exclusively at the time by debkafile. After Assad’s patronage had melted away in the heat of the Syrian conflict, Hamas was acting to solidify its protection from Tehran.
Khamenei seized on the chance of enclosing the Palestinian extremists in an iron hug, welcoming it as a point scored against America.
After being assured of big-league support, Hamas proceeding to sharply escalate its war on Israel, driven hard to cross all former lines against violence by the late Ahmed Jabari, commander of the Hamas military wing (who died in an Israeli air strike on Day One of its counter-offensive).
From mid-October, Hamas gunmen and bombers started mounting cross-border attacks on Israeli military targets – not all of them successful.
On Nov. 8, they blew up by remote control a four-meter deep tunnel packed with explosives which ran under the border into Israel. The IDF spokesman reported that the blast was powerful enough to blow over heavy military vehicles stationed there. By sheer chance, those vehicles were empty and so no soldiers were hurt.
The next attack two days later was more damaging: On Nov. 10, an anti-tank guided missile fired from Sejaya struck a Givati brigade armored jeep driving past the Karni crossing and injured four soldiers and officers, one critically and two seriously.
That attack touched off a heavy barrage of Palestinian rocket fire against Israeli towns and villages. People there had begun losing patience with impotence of yet another government and military in the face of more than a decade of Palestinian on-and-off missile war.
Between the two episodes, the prime minister sent his national security adviser, Yaacov Amidror, to Washington to lay before Tom Donilon, President Obama’s close adviser and director of national security, the full picture of Hamas’s clandestine deal with Iran and Hizballah for the combined pursuit of their common objectives.
Obama thereupon gave Israel the green light for a major offensive in the Gaza Strip that would proceed in close sync with the White House.
After three days, in which hundreds of Israeli air sorties failed to stop the Palestinian missile offensive and its radius expanded to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Thursday and Friday, Nov. 15-16, the Netanyahu government announced the operation would be broadened and 75,000 reservists called up for ground action inside the Gaza Strip.
However, the nature and scale of this next stage is not solely up to the inner Israeli cabinet of nine ministers. It will be finally determined by what passed between Obama and Netanyahu in their conversation Friday, and subsequent bilateral conversations, including the one that took place later between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Obama has plainly decided to use Israel’s counter-terror operation against Tehran’s Palestinian ally in the Gaza Strip as a military threat to squeeze the Iranian supreme leader in to accept talks without resorting to direct American military action. Netanyahu is using this opportunity to rid Israel of a perennial terrorist peril, while also hoping it will at long last place the US president’s feet on the road to a military confrontation with Iran before it is too late.
US and Israeli interests converge in Gaza up to this point. For now, the situation is too volatile for reliable predictions about the duration and outcome of this partnership.