Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are silent in the face of the avalanche of bad news coming in from official Washington.
The Patriot anti-missile systems scheduled for what was to have been the biggest joint US-Israel anti-missile drill in October will remain packed in tarpaulin because they come without crews; even one – much less two – Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense warships may not be dispatched to Israeli waters; and the number of US servicemen sent over for the annual exercise is to be cut by more than two-thirds to 1,500.
This downgrade of US participation in an annual war exercise with Israel is more than striking. It adds up to the dismemberment by the Obama administration of the entire intricate strategy US and Israel have built over years for the deterrence – and interception if need be – of any Iranian/Hizballah/Syrian missile assault on Israel.
The inferences are cruel: The US defense or second-strike elements – which had been slotted into place by the military strategists of the two armies – will not be there. Their absence slashes the time available for Israel’s alarm-and-interception systems to spring into action – the moment the engines of Iranian ballistic missiles heading its way are fired – right down from the originally estimated 14 minutes' notice.
It also means that Barak’s estimate of 500 dead in the worst case of a war with Iran must go by the board.
Netanyahu and Barak have clearly been rendered speechless by the high-powered US military, diplomatic and personal onslaught on Israel and its government. Even the smooth-tongued Tzahi Hanegbi, just returned to the Likud fold, found no easy way of whitewashing the debacle. “Defense relations with the US are deeper than ever before,” he said unconvincingly in a radio interview Sunday morning, Sept. 2.
Hanegbi is in Netanyahu’s confidence. His words may signify the prime minister’s decision to bow under the onrush of Hurricane Obama. There is of course another way: He could demand a retraction from the White House of the damaging comments by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey denigrating Israel’s military ability to seriously damage Iran’s nuclear program and his statement: “I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israel) choose to do it.”
This was a devastating detraction by America’s top soldier, who a week ago boasted he spoke regularly to Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, not only of Israel’s military deterrent ability but of the morality of its acting to preempt or delay a nuclear Iran.
(Collins dictionary: complicit: The fact of being an accomplice especially in a criminal act.”)
Yet US commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have chosen to let Dempsey’s words stand. The unavoidable inference is that they are complicit with Dempsey’s sentiments.
For a similarly brutal assault, the late prime minister, Mehahem Begin, reproved US Ambassador Samuel Lewis by retorting, “We are not a banana republic!” He sent his cabinet secretary Arieh Naor to recite his words in Hebrew and English to make sure they were fully understood in Washington.
By failing to follow his example, Netanyahu and Barak are bowing their heads before the Obama administration, a grave strategic error at the very moment when Israel needs to put its foot down, and one which augurs ill for the efficacy of their handling of the Iranian peril rising up just around the corner.