Last minute: In a dramatic U-turn showing Israel that Washington is serious about its military option against Iran’s nuclear program, Pentagon officials disclosed Thursday, March 1, that “military options being prepared start with providing refueling for Israeli planes and include attacking the pillars of the clerical regime. They include the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its elite Qods Force, regular Iranian military bases and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security."
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in Washington’s first public reference to possible joint military action with Israel against Iran.
These comments came in response to an Israeli request to the Obama administration to finally set red lines for Iran’s nuclear program and abandon its “shifting red lines” option. Washington was also asked to spell out US military contingencies in place of the tired “all options are on the table” mantra.
Two days earlier, on Feb. 28, the never-ending spate of American evaluations rolling out these days – for and against an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – produced an odd AP news agency dispatch: Its correspondent on intelligence, Kimberly Dozier, wrote that Jerusalem had decided once and for all not to notify Washington in advance of an attack on Iran so as to save Washington from blame for not preventing it.
And then the article ended with this paragraph:
U.S. intelligence and special operations officials have tried to keep a dialogue going with Israel, despite the high-level impasse, sharing with them options such as allowing Israel to use U.S. bases in the region from which to launch such a strike, as a way to make sure the Israelis give the Americans a heads-up.
The proposition that America would let Israel use bases for an action against Iran to which it is flatly opposed merely to discover when it starts is, on the face of it, even more outlandish.
And why would the Israelis use American bases if they wanted to save America from blame?
However, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, the AP “analysis” was far from foolish. Looked at sideways, its double meanings represented a trial balloon released by Washington to shed light on three sources of US anxiety, the foremost of which is whether Saudi Arabia and Israel have secretly gone back to military and intelligence cooperation for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
Failure to complain would implicate Gulf nations in colluding with Israel
1. By the improbable offer of US bases in the region for an Israeli attack on Iran, the Americans hope to find out if any Persian Gulf emirates have got in first by secretly offering their own facilities for this purpose. If so, Washington would feel compelled to draw Israel back into the US fold by an offer of full American cooperation for abandoning its Gulf option.
2. The US does not have extraterritorial bases in the Persian Gulf. Before offering Israel the use of the Gulf facilities at its disposal, Washington would first have to ask the emirs for permission. So what was the point of making this option public?
Because that was another trial balloon.
The Gulf emirates which host US military facilities were expected to respond to the article by asking Washington for clarifications with assurances that Israel was not offered bases located on their soil.
The administration expected to be illuminated by a process of elimination: The Gulf governments which didn’t ask for clarifications would be presumed to be secretly cooperating with Israel in the run-up to a strike in Iran, with military or intelligence support – or other means.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources disclose that to date, three Gulf nations have omitted to query Washington on the AP article: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi.
Our Washington sources were not surprised. Those very governments recently offered to place their air forces and air and naval bases at the disposal of a Saudi plan for military intervention in Syria. (See the separate articles in this issue on the Riyadh-Washington rift)
They would obviously be even keener to follow the Saudi lead for busting Iran.
Saudi air bases once offered for an Israeli strike on Iran
3. Saudi-Israel military and intelligence cooperation is not new – especially when it comes to working together to preempt a nuclear Iran.
Four years ago, senior Israeli officials held a series of secret high-level consultations with prominent Saudi princes, one at least attended by a prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to discuss the division of labor for an operation to cripple Iran’s nuclear program. National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who last year took over undercover operations against the Arab Spring, was part of the collaboration.
In this framework, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, Director of Saudi General Intelligence got together with Israel counterparts, including former Mossad director, Meir Dagan.
Over the past four years, the Saudis leaked reports attesting to their willingness to grant refueling facilities at their air bases to Israeli warplanes heading to attack Iran and open them up for emergency landings by any Israel planes hit by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles or damaged in dogfights. Saudi medical services were made available in case wounded Israeli air crews required treatment.
These reports were covered extensively at the time by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
One prominent item published in 2010 disclosed that Saudi Arabia had given Israel the use of tracts of desert land converted to landing fields with jet refueling facilities installed nearby.
Saudi-Israel cooperation back on track?
In recent months, Washington learned of a new round of meetings between the new Israeli Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo and high-ranking Saudi intelligence officials.
Washington was made additionally suspicious by the apparent overlap between messages addressed to the White House by the Saudi royal house and the offices of the Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Two out of three of those messages were almost identical: One called for the Obama administration to publicly warn Iran that failure to live up to preset terms for terminating its nuclear weapon program would elicit a military attack.
The other asked Washington to lay down red lines which Iran’s nuclear program was forbidden to cross – also on pain of a military strike.
The third message came exclusively from Riyadh and demanded American military action against President Bashar Assad of Syria.
Obama knows time is short for an Iran policy revision
President Obama knows time is running out for a decision on whether to accept or reject the demands for putting Iran on the spot coming from Saudi Arabia and Israel, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report. Saudi patience with Obama’s reluctance to confront Iran is more or less exhausted, as Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when they met in Tunis on Feb. 24.
Disappointed with Washington, Riyadh has turned its face toward alternatives, he said.
Israel refuses to give Washington any commitments to hold off attacking Iran or giving the administration advance notice of one.
The US president also understands that the speech he is invited to deliver Sunday March 4 at the national convention of AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in Washington is one of the most important events of his career.
Disappointing the audience of more than 14,000 Jewish delegates from across the United States, who are hanging on his words in expectation of a new strategy on Iran beyond sanctions and diplomatic pressure – may cost him their support for his reelection to the White House. It would also doom his summit with Netanyahu the following day to failure, thereby boosting the prospects of a potential Israeli-Saudi partnership for striking Iran.