US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
There is no question the Americans are escalating their rhetoric with regards to
Iran. The question though is why.
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While the Defense Ministry is
trying to take credit for the shift, claiming it stems from Defense Minister
Ehud Barak’s 20-minute sit down with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of
the Reform Movement’s recent conference, it is likely far more
First, there is not that much new in what both Secretary of
Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen. Martin Dempsey said this week. Nevertheless, the timing and some of
the implications of their remarks send a clear message.
by telling CBS News that Iran could build a nuclear weapon in a year
or even sooner. While this was widely reported, some media outlets left out his
next statement – that this would only happen if and when the Iranians actually
decide to make a bomb, something that has yet to happen.
This has been
said a number of times by Israeli defense and government officials in recent
months. Barak made the same comment in an interview with CNN just a month
By repeating it now, though, Panetta is basically saying that the US
and Israel see eye-to-eye on the state of Iran’s nuclear program. This was not
always the case, as demonstrated by the National Intelligence Estimate released
in December 2007, which said the US could not conclude for certain the Iranians were working on a
nuclear weapons program. Israel vehemently disagreed.Dempsey’s
to CNN were mostly a repeat of what we have heard out of the Obama
administration since it came to power in 2009; it has consistently declared that
“all options are on the table” when it comes to Iran.
Dempsey took it a
step further, thought, saying preparations for the military option “are evolving
to a point that they would be executable if necessary.”
This is an
explicit threat, something not heard every day from Washington.
listened carefully, and for the most part is keeping quiet, allowing the
Americans to take the lead in the campaign against Iran.
Both Panetta and
Dempsey made their comments during trips to the Middle East where they
encountered extreme concern in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and even Afghanistan with
Iran’s nuclear program and the affect it would have on the regimes
Also, the Panetta-Dempsey comments came just two weeks after Iran
announced it has the US’s top secret RQ- 170 Sentinel drone. This has the
Americans extremely embarrassed and frustrated, a possible explanation for the
escalation in rhetoric.
There is also the US presidential election next
November. Obama is accused by his Republican contenders of being soft.
Having his defense chief and top general talk tough helps him change that
Finally, there is the genuine concern over Iran’s continued
nuclear development. Iran is dispersing its facilities – moving
centrifuges from Natanz to the underground fortified location near Qom – and
basically all that is needed is a decision to build the bomb.
The US also does not want Israel to attack and hopes that by
making more blunt threats, it will on the one hand ease Israeli concerns and at
the same time shake up the Iranians to rethink their course.
this will work, and some officials bring the events of 2003 as proof that when
Iran believes it faces a credible military threat it knows how to rationally
calculate its options and even suspend its program. In 2003, the US invaded
Iraq, and fearing that it would be next in line, Iran suspended its enrichment
of uranium and its weapons program, restarting both two years later.
question is whether it is too late to stop Iran by simply waving a big
The reason is simple – the Iranians are at the stage where they
have enriched the required amount of uranium and mastered the necessary
technology to build a bomb.
All they have to do is decide to do so and
begin racing ahead. The temptation might be too hard to resist.