US President Barack Obama, by asserting Sunday, Feb. 5, he doesn't think Israel has made a decision on whether to attack Iran, indicated he preferred to keep Israel back from military action and set aside as a strategic reserve, while at the same time using the broad presumption of Jerusalem's assault plans to intimidate Iran into opting for diplomatic talks on its nuclear program.
To this end, the president directly contradicted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's statement six days earlier that he expected Israel to strike Iran in April, May or June.
In Israel, no knowledgeable source any longer doubts that the Netanyahu government has already reached a decision. It was instantly assumed that Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, whose appointment as the next Israeli Air Force commander was announced Sunday, would lead the coming operation against Iran.
Obama also said, "We are going to be sure we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this – hopefully diplomatically." debkafile's analysts report that by "lockstep" he meant the role to which he had assigned Israel in the massive disinformation contest underway between the West and Iran.
Tehran responded to this verbal assault with one of its own, publishing a paper which suggested for the first time that Iran would not wait to be attacked but was preparing pre-emptive action of its own against Israel. The paper spoke of a surprise missile offensive targeting Israel's military installations, which were said to be concentrated between Kiryat Gat and the South, and the central Lod-Modiin district in the center, which Iran considers to be the soft urban-military belly of Israel.
Two features stood out from the verbiage of the last 24 hours:
1. Iran has no intention whatsoever of abandoning its drive for a nuclear bomb. According to the information in Israeli hands, its program has passed the point of no return and capable of producing a weapon whenever its rulers so decide. This situation, American and Israeli leaders year after year had vowed to avert.
Iran underscored its negative on diplomacy by contemptuously refusing the IAEA inspectors visiting the country this week access to any of its nuclear facilities.
2. The US-led confrontation against Iran by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar has made Syria a major hub of the conflict, especially since the Russian-Chinese blockage Saturday of their UN Security Council motion to remove President Bashar Assad and end his brutal crackdown.
Israel has no role in this clash of wills, and President Obama is doing his best to keep Israel on the sidelines of the Iran controversy too, while he continues to angle for nuclear dialogue.
He was supported in this course by the veteran ex-diplomat Thomas R. Pickering who wrote in the New York Times on Feb. 2 that US relations with Iran remind him of the old Afghan adage: "If you deal in camels, make sure the doors are high" – meaning that to strike a deal, both President Obama and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would have to make concessions.
Obama's latest words indicate he is willing; Khamenei shows the opposite tendency.
Israel could if it so decided upset this unequal diplomatic applecart before it started rolling by a surprise attack on Iran without prior notice to Washington.
For the Obama administration the Security Council defeat was a major policy setback on top of reversals in Cairo.
Tehran in contrast was buoyed up by what it saw as the lifebelt Moscow and Beijing cast to rescue the Assad regime, for now at least, from the onslaught of its enemies and the stabilization of their Mediterranean flank to the west and direct front against Israel.
The Syrian ruler's fall would rob Tehran of its most powerful military ally for taking on Israel without direct Iranian involvement. It would also cause the Lebanese Hizballah's disempowerment as a military force. Severance of its geographic link to Tehran via Syria would expose the Shiite militia to Western and Arab diplomatic pressure and an Israeli attack.
Sunday, Feb. 5, Tehran followed up with a large-scale, three-week long military exercise in southern Iran opposite the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Ocean. The Iranians were showing Washington that after stabilizing their Syrian front, they were braced for any military surprises the US or Israeli might spring on their most vulnerable region.
Monday, Feb. 6, opposition sources reported that the Syrian army had redoubled its deadly artillery and mortar offensive against Homs and, for the first time, bombarded the national financial and business capital of Aleppo. French sources reported Syrian armored cars were attacking Zabadani between Damascus and the Lebanese border.
If all these reports are confirmed, it would mean that Bashar Assad is taking ruthless advantage of the respite granted him by the Russian and Chinese Security Council veto to stamp out the uprising against him once and for all.
On the diplomatic front Monday, the US-led Western and Arab camp was reported to be pushing hard for the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Internal Security chief Mikhail Fradkov to use their visit to Damascus Tuesday and compel Assad to abandon his brutal attacks, pull his troops out of Syrian towns and step down.
To this end, the Western-Arab bloc is trying to set up another Council session before the end of the week – hopefully to reverse its contretemps of Saturday.
The Six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers meet in Riyadh this week for another round of consultations on the Syrian crisis after the Security Council fiasco and failed attempt to deploy monitors in the war-stricken country.
The West is also threatening to supply the rebels with heavy weaponry, at the risk of an escalation to full-scale civil war. This is an indirect admission that only light arms were given the anti-Assad forces until now. By boosting rebel strength, the West would tell Moscow that tolerance for the Assad regime to continue to rule Syria had dropped to zero.
The Russians are being called upon to back away from their support for Assad and reverse the policy which actuated their veto vote at the Security Council. Whether or not this is realistic will become known as the week unfolds.