Straight after his talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ended on March 5, US President Barack Obama conducted a post mortem on its outcome with his top advisers, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington report. He asked them pointedly how they now rated the chances of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites in the near future.
They placed the odds of an Israeli military offensive in April or May at 70 percent for, 30 percent against.
A paradoxical situation was unfolding, said those White House advisers:
On the one hand, the US president is clearly opposed to an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites taking place before he faces the American voter on November 6.
On the other, if Israel does go through with its military option – and succeeds in demolishing Iran’s nuclear capacity – the president will want to highlight his stake in that success and remind everyone that he made available to Israel the weapons systems which ensured that success.
In every speech on the Iranian issue, therefore, Obama has been stressing the high level of military and intelligence cooperation his administration maintains with Israel, unprecedented by any US president before him.
At the same time, he is pushing his policy of diplomatic engagement with Iran as hard as he can.
Israel enlisted to push Obama’s diplomacy
For this policy he is calling on Israel’s help, although its leaders have no illusions about it working.
(See separate article on the slim prospects of the Istanbul dialogue).
A member of Netanyahu’s party at the White House, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, commented in a radio interview: "I'm very happy that they are opening discussions. There will be no one happier than us, and the prime minister said this in his own voice, if it emerges that in these talks Iran gives up on its military nuclear capability."
Continuing this momentum, Obama spoke again Wednesday, March 7, of a “window of opportunity” for diplomacy and sanctions to compel Iran to give up any effort to develop nuclear weapons. There are Israeli intelligence officials who support this approach and warn against any unilateral attack by Israel on Iran, he said.
In truth, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report, only Meir Dagan, who retired last year as Mossad intelligence chief, is known to share this view. Fellow veterans and the incumbent Mossad director Tamir Pardo and Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, all favor an Israeli initiative to attack Iran.
Another salient fact is that, away from the public eye, President Obama is not all that far apart from Israel in terms of military preparations for an American strike against Iran. He has put in charge of those preparations Adm. William McRaven, head of US Special Operations Command-SOCOM, who planned and led Operation Neptune Spear, the special ops raid which killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year.
Obama’s most trusted military leader charts US Iran operation
Those preparations have gone beyond what the Pentagon calls a basic military assessment and moved on to developing detailed contingency plans which identify the military units for taking part in this action.
According to our military sources, the president recently gave Adm. McRaven the go-ahead to establish, alongside his ‘Iranian headquarters’ at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, a special intelligence organization to lay the groundwork for and manage the potential American attack on Iran. It has already gathered in all the units and agencies gathering Iran intelligence in recent years and embodied them in the new organization.
William Harry McRaven, 57, is a US Navy four-star admiral and ninth Commander of the Special Operations Command, after serving as Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from March 2008 to August 2011.
Prior to this post, he was Commander of the Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) from June 2006 to March 2008. As the first director of the NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Centre (NSCC), his job was to enhance the capabilities and inter-operability of all NATO Special Operations Forces.
President Obama places great personal trust in Adm. McRaven, consults with him frequently on serious military issues and has now appointed him to lead the most sensitive military operation of his presidency.
Israel Air Force chief heads the new Iran Command
Opposite him at the head of Israel’s Iran Command is Air Force Commander Maj. Gen Ido Nehushtan. Due to retire from the Air Force in two months, he is committed to stay on as head of the Iran Command for as long as necessary.
Like Adm. McRaven, Nehushtan enjoys the full confidence of his boss. He is a close confidante of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on all military matters concerning Iran.
He came to the Air Force command from the job of head of the IDF Planning Directorate up until 2008.
Rising from the ranks, Nehushtan was an instructor at the Air Force Flying School , Deputy
Commander of the 253rd Squadron (ranked major) and commander of the 140th Squadron (ranked lieutenant colonel).
In 2000, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the Intelligence Squadron. From 2002, he commanded the Air Squadron and from 2004, headed the Air Force staff. In June, 2006, he took over the Planning Directorate at GHQ. In February 2008, he won the appointment of Air Force Commander.
Nehushtan is one of Israel’s top military experts on air combat, missile warfare and covert operations.
Timing is the key to separate or combined operations
Present circumstances point clearly to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program this year, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources say but the timing is still unresolved.
This confronts the two officers with two major imponderables.
1. Are Admiral McRaven and Major General Ido Nehushtan destined to lead separate American and Israeli military campaigns against Iran – or jointly command a combined offensive?
2. Will the US and Israel opt for a synchronized operation against Iran, or attack separately in accordance with different timetables?
Given the state of play at the end of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week, the latter appears the most probable.
The two leaders agreed in principle that the military option would be unavoidable, but they ended their meeting still apart on timing. (See the first article in this issue.)