A final date has been set for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to sit down and talk to US President Barack Obama, chiefly about Iran. They will meet at the White House on September 27.
The two leaders may as usual only agree to disagree on their current bone of contention, which is Israel’s determination to forcibly disrupt Iran’s plans to arm itself with a nuclear weapon. However, their agenda is liable to fluctuate in the coming month in the light of rising Middle East turbulence in this unpredictable region.
Only this week, President Obama took a key step toward military intervention in Syria for stamping out the menace of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.
It is bound to have a strong ripple effect – as far as Tehran.
And two important reports updating the state of Iran’s nuclear program are due for publication before they meet.
The Obama administration does not buy Israel’s proposition that time for action for curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions is shrinking fast. Neither is the president offering any clear US commitment to stop Iran by force.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that the dialogue between US and Israel going forward on three high-powered tracks is therefore as fruitless as it is intense. It is led by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on one track; the two national security advisers Tom Donilon and Yacov Amidror on another, and: Ron Dermer and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, members respectively of Obama’s and Netanyahu’s inner circles, on a third.
Obama shuns advice for gestures to stay Israel’s hand
Our Washington sources quote informed US circles as warning that Obama is still leading Israel by the nose and spinning out time up until the Nov. 6 presidential election. They assert he has no intention of visiting Israel with a solemn pledge of American action against Iran, a step widely proposed for staying the Netanyahu government’s hand.
Neither does he propose taking up another suggestion to notify Congress in writing of his military intentions toward Iran.
The first to suggest these steps for breaking the present impasse was former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, a close confidant of Netanyahu, in an article he published in the Washington Post on Aug. 18 captioned, "Five Steps Obama Can Take to Avert a Strike on Iran."
Dennis Ross, President Obama's former advisor on Iran, took up the theme of a presidential visit to Jerusalem in an article in the same paper on Aug. 21. Ross is thought to be still privy to Obama’s thinking on Iran and probably checks with friends on the National Security Council before publishing his views.
Other writers don’t advise the president to visit Israel. They do urge him to make it absolutely clear to Iran’s rulers that, if they refuse to abandon high-grade uranium enrichment and continue to drive their nuclear program toward a weapons capacity, they will bring down on their heads an American military attack.
A former Bush administration's foreign policy architect, Nicholas Burns, now a professor of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, wrote in the Boston Globe on August 16: "The United States needs to take the reins of this crisis from Israel to give us more independence and protect Israel’s core interests at the same time. Israel’s concern that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose an unacceptable risk is completely understandable. We should reaffirm our determination to protect Israel’s security. But the United States, not Israel, must lead on Iran during the next year."
Elliott Abrams wrote on Wednesday, August 22, in The Weekly Standard, that it is time for Obama to be authorized to use force against Iran.
Authoritative updates on Iran’s nuclear program due for publication
It's been three weeks since former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said on August 2 that if he were Iranian, he'd be very worried about what could happen in the next 12 weeks. Since no one in Washington or Jerusalem contradicted him, Israel’s plan to go to war on Iran by mid-October stands, leaving only nine weeks for an attack.
Before then, the Washington Institute for the Near East Middle East Institution is due any day now to publish a report billed as the ultimate roundup of updated facts and figures on the state of Iran’s nuclear program after six months of research, interviews and composition.
Its authors are eminently qualified for the task: Simon Henderson, director of the institution’s Gulf and Energy Policy Program and Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and currently senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center.
The IAEA’s quarterly report is due for publication soon.
Washington sources suggest that the Henderson-Heinonen report may gainsay in advance any IAEA content offering President Obama more fodder for obstructing an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Much of the fodder offered till now has come from a military argument.
It was offered by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey' on Monday, August 20, on his way to Kabul.
"I may not know about all of their [Israeli military] capabilities but I think that it's a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities.”
Israel piqued by disparagement of IDF
His comments were taken in Jerusalem as reflecting the US president’s curt rejection of constructive suggestions for settling his dispute with the Netanyahu government. It was also taken as a cuttingly scornful disparagement of the Israeli Defense Force’s capabilities and reputation.
A very senior source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources that the general would not have gone to such lengths without being ordered to do so by the White House or the Pentagon.
Jerusalem therefore views his comments with extreme gravity and has come two conclusions:
1. If Obama administration has such a low opinion of the IDF, not much can be expected of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting next month.
2. By asserting publicly that the IDF cannot do the job, the administration appears ready for a fresh row with Israel instead of working together for an accommodation of their controversy through less public channels. The hard line against a US commitment for a military initiative gives Israel its greatest incentive to go it alone.
The top US soldier’s remarks did not go unanswered: A few hours after he spoke, former Israel Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. (ret.) Herzl Bodinger, broadcast the following message over Israel's TV channels:
“If you ask me, I think we should have bombed the [Iranian] installations in 2005, when there was only one site, and then we wouldn't be faced with all these questions…..We are very appreciative of American help and their support, but at the end of the day you stand by yourself, with your own fate. If we attack,” the former Air Force chief remarked, “missiles will fall here, but they will also fall here if the Americans attack.”
He went on to say: “The Chairman of the [U.S.] Joint Chiefs of Staff said this week that in his opinion Israel will not be able to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, but I think he isn't totally in the know about what Israeli forces are capable of. The Americans don't know everything about us.”