The first seeds of the US-Israel fall-out on Iran were sown six months ago. They were planted at the United Nations – paradoxically in the middle of a rare honeymoon period.
It was September 21, 2011, and Barak Obama had just delivered one of the warmest pro-Israel speeches ever heard from a serving US President at the General Assembly. For good measure, Washington leaked reports of a secret shipment of 55 heavy US GBU-37 bunker busters to Israel. Obama also promised to veto Mahmoud Abbas’ unilateral application for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood when it came before the UN Security Council.
Everything in Washington appeared to be going swimmingly for Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – that is, until the moment he asked the US president if he had a reply for the plan Israel submitted earlier that month for preempting Iran’s nuclear program.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources reveal that at that point the sunny day suddenly clouded over.
The plan is described by those sources as the most detailed and far-reaching strategic-military program Israel had ever handed a US president. It was built around a secret Israeli undertaking to refrain from attacking Iran’s nuclear sites, or any other Iranian target, on one condition: that the United States promised to lead an offensive against Iran in the event of one of the following happening: The start of Iranian enrichment of uranium up to weapons grade; the building of a nuclear bomb; the development of nuclear warheads adapted to ballistic missiles; or the sinking of more underground bunkers as fortresses for Iran nuclear facilities.
(About the two eventualities which have since materialized, more in a separate article.)
Six months of mutual US-Israeli distrust
Netanyahu offered to counter this US pledge with a commitment to obey to the letter any guidelines and directives Washington issued with regard to Iran and its Middle East allies, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas.
For instance, if Israel suffered a missile attack in reprisal for the US strike against Iran, its government would follow US orders to retrain from hitting back at the aggressors.
Obama answered Netanyahu on that occasion with a query of his own: What about my counter-proposal?
He was referring to the US request for a secret Israeli commitment to refrain from military action against Iran until the tough sanctions, then due to be announced on Iran’s oil exports and international financial deals financial dealings, were given time to prove their worth.
This commitment the Prime Minister refused to give.
Ever since that conversation, relations between the two allies have gone downhill. While the administration continues to assert its unshakeable support for Israel’s security and Israel stresses the undying friendship between the two allies, neither trusts the other.
Washington is constantly on guard for Israel to suddenly launch an attack on Iran without prior warning, while Israel feels it is subjected to three kinds of American harassment, some of it clandestine, to coerce it into narrowing its military option for preempting a nuclear Iran:
World is warned of chaos if Israel strikes Iran
1. A US-European scare campaign is in progress to demonstrate that an Israeli attack on Iran would result in Middle East chaos and financial, military and political destabilization across the globe.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague admitted Sunday, Feb. 19, that “the world faces the real risk of conflict or the prospect that an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would result in a second Cold War if economic sanctions did not force Tehran to change course.” But he added: “An Israeli attack on Iran would be destabilizing.”
2. Washington has enlisted a chorus of media, think tanks, nuclear mavens, and Western intelligence and military personalities, some of them old warhorses of Israeli services, to promote two propositions:
– Iran is still far from developing a nuclear weapon and there is still plenty of time before it decides to do so;
– Israel’s military capabilities are not equal to destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and if it persists in exercising its military option, America will be forced to step in at some point “in order to finish the job” and defend Israel from the missile assault unleashed by Iran and its Middle East allies.
The New York Times played its part in the campaign by running an article Monday, Feb. 20 under the caption “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets.” It dredged up recycled arguments long outdated which denigrated Israel’s military capabilities. The paper was not deterred by the contrary assessment voiced a day earlier by Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the joint US Chiefs of Staff, who said unreservedly: “Israel has the capability to strike Iran.”
Undercover US spotters for alerting Washington
3. Israeli officials are convinced that since the fateful Obama-Netanyahu encounter six months ago a powerful US intelligence network has been at work inside the country with a dual mission: to give Washington early warning of an impending Israeli attack and to file an alert when war preparations are detected.
The American spotters were told to watch the civilian front because US intelligence strategists believe war preparations there will be easier and quicker to spot than military readiness.
They will be looking out, for instance, for Home Front Command directives placing first responders such as the Fire Brigade command and Magen David first aid service on emergency standby and instructions to local councils to open public bomb shelters.
With sufficient prior warning before Israel strikes, the Obama administration will have time to rush a procession of high officials to Jerusalem with two urgent tasks:
First, to check the reliability of the information by seeking out telltale signs of an approaching attack in talks with Israeli officials;
Second, to keep President Obama’s top advisers continuously present at crunch time, in the hope that their presence will pressure Netanyahu, Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz into stepping back at the last minute for fear of burning all their bridges to Washington.
The Clapper mission and Iranian threat of preemptive action
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources in Washington and Jerusalem think that this very scenario may have already played out in the last ten days.
When on Feb. 19, the Israeli military spokesman announced that an Iron Dome rocket interceptor battery would be stationed in the Tel Aviv region next day, suspicious minds in Washington decided this was either tangible evidence of an impending Israeli attack or an exercise in deception.
The IDF spokesman’s “explanation” was: “Iron Dome is being incorporated into the heart of the Israeli military system. As part of this process, batteries will be positioned at various sites including the central Gush Dan region in the coming days, as part of the annual training plan for this system.”
The White House, opting to play it safe, sent out a procession of top advisers to Jerusalem, starting with Lt. Gen. Dempsey, followed by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon who, unusually except in special emergencies, was forced to spend last weekend in tough talks in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu only allowed the visitor access to three people: himself, the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff – other ministers and even the heads of Israel’s intelligence services were kept out.
To fill the gap, Obama decided to send his National Director of Intelligence James Clapper over for talks with Israel’s intelligence and military heads, arriving Thursday, Feb. 23, just two days after Donilon’s departure.
The plot thickens
Then, Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Israeli military spokesman said plans for the anti-rocket interceptor had changed. Instead of Tel Aviv, three Iron Dome batteries would be posted at Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba, which are regular targets for Palestinian missile barrages from Gaza.
But meanwhile, Tehran, which keeps a weather eye on every Israeli move, is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources, as having reached the same conclusion as Washington and taken the Iron Dome deployment as a pointer to an approaching Israeli attack.
It fell to Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, Deputy Commander of Iran’s armed forces, to shake the Islamic Republic’s fist: “Our strategy now,” he said, “is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions. Iran will not wait to be attacked before defending itself.”
The complex background to this threat and the Clapper mission are studied in detail in the next article.