While exploiting Israel's ill-timed announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem for concessions to the Palestinians, Washington will keep the hullabaloo against Israel at top pitch until the Netanyahu government toes the line on Iran, debkafile's Washington sources report. This issue goes way beyond a campaign to unseat Netanyahu, in which Washington and Israeli elements have happily joined forces. The Obama administration is at odds on its Iran stance not only with Israel but Saudi Arabia, too, as well as the moderate Arab regimes of the Middle East, none of whom buy its new line.
Had Netanyahu's political reflexes been sharper, he could have removed the immediate pretext for the crisis, the Jerusalem housing announcement during vice president Joe Biden's visit, by firing a couple of bureaucrats and apologizing on the spot. But that would not have averted the crisis.
The Obama administration failed to arrest Iran's race for a nuclear weapon in months of diplomacy and was unable to persuade Russia or China to join stiff sanctions. Yet the US president is flat against any military action against Iran's nuclear installations, and will stop at nothing to stop Israel taking matters in its own hands. It is hammering Jerusalem with the bluntest instruments in its diplomatic armory to a degree unheard of against a friendly government.
This four-day battering follows the failure of two top US officials, Biden in Jerusalem March 9 and defense secretary Robert Gates in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi March 10-11, to persuade US Middle East allies to accept the new Obama take on Iran, which consists essentially of letting Iran take its nuclear program forward while administering mild sanctions from time to time to keep it under control.
Neither the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors nor the Israelis trust in this strategy for keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power, a standing which would in enhance the capacity of the most radical Middle East elements, Syria, Hizballah and the Hamas, for destabilizing the region and generating terrorism to an alarming degree. Israel and Saudi Arabia would be first in their sights.
Strengthening Iran as a player in the international energy market would also weaken America's hand because Russia and China would have gained leverage as champions of the winning side with kudos for averting both military action and harsh sanctions against it.
Both Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs and Israel are aghast at this prospect and are therefore deeply reluctant to line up behind Barack Obama on Iran.
The US president is playing for high stakes. A White House which capitulated to Iran is hardly the slogan Democratic candidates need for their midterm race against Republican rivals. In fact, it could cost the Democrats their majority and even place Obama's second term in jeopardy when he faces the electorate in 2013.
With this in mind, the White House is going hard after Israel and its government to force Netanyahu to line up behind the Obama line on Iran. The pressure from Washington will be unrelenting and the arrows keep coming day by day until Israel folds.
Washington cannot wield this battery against Riyadh. In fact Gates ended his mission to Riyadh on the receiving end of Saudi ire, a fact which both sides preferred to keep quiet, except for two telltale signs: No joint communiqué was released at the end of Gates's visit to King Abdullah's farm outside Riyadh and, second, the Saudis publicly repudiated Gates' statement after his arrival in Abu Dhabi that he had obtained Saudi consent to come aboard US diplomacy on Iran and play its part by leaning hard on China to endorse sanctions.
On March 13, the royal house issued this bulletin: "This issue is not true, it was not discussed during the visit of the secretary of defense who was in the kingdom recently."
Failing to make headway with the Saudis, the US administration is putting all its weight behind extracting from prime minister Netanyahu an unequivocal commitment to refrain from military action against Iran. This commitment could then be used to persuade Riyadh that there is no hope of a military solution for Iran's nuclear threat and that both Israel and Saudi Arabia must learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.