Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s visit to Israel on Wednesday was aimed at
achieving one goal – getting Israel to trust the United States.
was a lot about visuals. On Tuesday night, the Defense Ministry sent out
pictures from Panetta’s intimate one-on-one dinner with Ehud Barak. On
Wednesday, he was filmed next to an Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system and
later receiving a plaque from Barak and Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen.
This is the same Eshel who would oversee an Israeli strike
against Iran, which Panetta came to Israel to stop, or at the very least
The purpose of the pictures was to get the message across to
Israel that the US has its back and, as Panetta himself declared on Wednesday,
“Iran will never have nuclear weapons.”
Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu used their meetings with Panetta to get across a different message –
yes, the sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, but they are not affecting the
nuclear program and no, Israel will not forfeit its operational freedom and
destiny into the hands of others, even good friends.
made the latter point in the round of interviews he gave Israeli TV stations on
Tuesday night, when he also declared that it is the political echelon that will
ultimately decide on military action, and the military brass will simply be
required to follow orders.
Netanyahu though wasn’t speaking to the
defense chiefs – who were reported earlier that day to be opposed to a strike –
but was rather making the point for American ears which should not be confused
regarding Israel’s determination to stop Iran.
Even the opposition of the
head of the Mossad and the IDF chief of staff, Netanyahu wanted Washington to
know, will not stop the government from doing what it feels is right.
debate that is raging within the government and the defense establishment is not
about the value of an attack, since no one really wants Iran to be allowed to go
nuclear. The question, however, is about the timing of such an attack and
whether it needs to happen over the summer, before the US elections, or if it
can wait until afterward, maybe as far away as next spring.
At the heart
of this question are two additional questions – first, whether Israel can afford
to wait that long and second, if Israel can really rely on the US to use
military force one day if and when everything else has clearly
Panetta and all of the other American officials who have crossed
through the gates of Ben-Gurion Airport over the past month have been stressing
to their Israeli counterparts both that Israel can afford to wait and that
ultimately, the US will not allow Iran to go nuclear.
The officials who
believe Israel should wait are concerned that an attack now – while possibly
justified – would be done prematurely from a legitimacy point of
The world has come together in an amazing coalition with sanctions
and diplomatic isolation, these officials argue.
Attacking now, before
the process has been exhausted, would make Israel appear as if it is undermining
the rest of the world’s efforts.
The counter argument is that if Israel
waits too long, its military option may no longer be viable. In addition, these
officials argue, if Israel waits, who can guarantee that Iran won’t use the time
gained to build a bomb without the world knowing about it?