Pentagon prepares “aerial refueling” for Israeli planes striking Iran

In a dramatic U-turn to show 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.
Earlier, Israel asked the Obama administration to finally set red lines for Iran’s nuclear program and abandon its “shifting red lines” option, as well as spelling out US military contingencies instead of using the worn-out “all options are on the table” mantra.
debkafile reported earlier Thursday on the deep discord marking the US-Israeli approach to the threat of a nuclear Iran:

Barring last-minute changes, US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will still be at profound cross purposes on Iran when they meet at the White House on March 5. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak flew to Washington to try and work out with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Wednesday, Feb. 29 a formula for bridging the widening gap. debkafile’s Washington sources report that notwithstanding their smiling embraces, Barak flew straight back home to inform the prime minister they had failed.

While still airborne, Barak heard White House Spokesman Jay Carney further sharpen Obama’s current tone:  “I think we have been clear about this – that any (Israeli) military action in that region threatens greater instability in the region, because Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq – we have civilian personnel in Iraq, we have military personnel as well as civilians in Afghanistan.”
Carney added “But our approach right now is to continue to pursue the diplomatic path that we’ve taken, combined with very aggressive sanctions.”

Senior American and Israeli officials said on Thursday, March 1 that this statement confirmed that the president had turned down two key Israeli requests:

1. To set final and absolute red lines for Iran’s nuclear program which, if crossed, would provide the grounds for the US and Israel to strike its nuclear sites. Israel maintains that Washington’s Iran policy can be summed up as “shifting red lines:” Whenever Iran moves ahead with another nuclear achievement, the US sets new “red lines” to avoid a confrontation. This enables Tehran to jump its nuclear program forward from one US “red line” to the next.
2. To stop reciting the mantra that “all options are on the table’ for stopping Iran gaining a nuclear weapon and moving on to more definite language for specifying American military contingencies. However, the attempt to formulate a new locution evaded the efforts of Panetta and Barak.
President Shimon Peres is due to meet President Obama Sunday, March 4 although the hour has not yet been set. Whether it takes place before or after the US President’s speech to the AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) National Convention opening that day in Washington is significant.
If it takes place after, it would mean that the Americans are no longer amenable to Israeli persuasion to give up their objections to an Israeli attack and they expect Jerusalem to respect the Obama administration’s demand to give sanctions and diplomatic pressure more time to persuade Iran’s leaders to pack up their nuclear weapon program.

Obama is waiting anxiously to see if the Iranians turn up for nuclear talks with the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany in Istanbul next month. To meet one of their conditions for coming to the table, the US stalled on leading the West and Arab powers into military intervention to overthrow Syria’s Bashar Assad.

But even if Peres gets to see Obama before the AIPAC speech, there is not much he can do to persuade the US president to accept a compromise formula that would save his talks with Netanyahu from digging the rift between them on Iran still deeper.
Thursday, March 1, senior American sources listed the US-Israeli schedule for the coming days:

Thursday: Former US presidential adviser Dennis B. Ross holds a background briefing on US policy for Iran with American journalists. Although he holds no official White House position, Ross is considered sufficiently influential and well-informed to outline the next stages of the presidential Iran strategy.

Sunday, March 4:  President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu both address the opening of the national AIPAC Convention in Washington. The extremely sensitive order of appearance has not yet been settled.
Jerusalem would rather Obama go first to give Netanyahu the chance to answer his comments. For that very reason, the Americans would prefer their president to follow the prime minister and so, in a manner of speaking, carve his policy in stone.

The White House is making every effort to make sure no public confrontation over Iran takes place between the American and Israeli leaders in their widely broadcast and televised appearances before an audience of some 14,000 Jewish delegates from across America.

Monday, March 5:  The Obama-Netanyahu summit at the White House.

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