At the AIPAC conference in Washington earlier this month, US President Barack
Obama said that it was time to become more tight-lipped on the Iranian nuclear
issue and the military options surrounding it.
Since then, we have been
witness to a flood of leaks from the Pentagon, the US National Security Council
and the White House, to The New York Times, among others, on just this issue.
The results of so-called war games, which see masses of Americans dead if Israel
strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities, and other dire scenarios, all of which are
negative, have been made available to the media in one form or another, as never
People who follow these matters, and understand how governments
and media work (or rather how governments work the media) can see a clearly
labeled campaign by some in the American administration to create negative
American and international public sentiment against an Israeli attack – this
either with or without the knowledge of the president.
The focus of the
American military today is the Pacific, not the Middle East. It needs to face
off China while undertaking an honorable and orderly retreat from Afghanistan,
and to mend its fences with the Pakistanis who, after all, do have the bomb.
They do not now want to get diverted into a potential war with the Iranians, or
to see the oil-sensitive Gulf shipping routes literally go up in flames,
especially now with the ever tightening sanctions on Iran making oil supplies
more precarious as it is.
So, it is entirely possible that while the US
president says, and even means, one thing, there are powerful links in the chain
of command who see otherwise and, in their own way, actually believe they are
carrying out the president’s true will when they whisper dark secrets into the
ears of willing reporters. I know. I’ve been there.
cynical, the strategists who run the world’s only superpower see Israel as
another piece on the chess board, not necessarily a pawn, but no more than a
rook or a knight, an important piece, but one that can be sacrificed in the
grand scheme of things.
When they look at the Iran nuclear issue, they
see a tightening sanctions regime in place, greater Iranian openness to
inspectors, an intensive diplomatic effort by a broad spectrum of allies being
applied to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and an acceptable period of time
before the issue really becomes critical.
They see perilous oil prices,
thinly deployed troops and Chinese expansion in an age of diminishing American
defense budgets. They see a status quo that is acceptable, and one that would be
upset by an Israeli attack on Iran’s facilities.
They also sense that the
internal situation in Iran, as the impact of the embargo becomes more real, is
causing real political rifts in the Iranian regime for the first time, and that
the elements of regime change so many have waited for so long, finally seem to
be falling into place.
An Israeli attack, they feel, would unhinge all
this, and cause the Iranian people to fall in step with their government again.
It would reignite international Iranian terrorism on a massive scale, resulting
in yet another diversion of American resources from primary strategic goals to
tangential ones – something no responsible policy planner can afford to do
lightly, and hence the leaks.
The more the American president finds
himself in situations where he has to make commitments to Israel that go beyond
what his security professionals deem prudent, the more Israel’s leadership
speaks about our need to defend ourselves and wave pictures of the Holocaust
around, the more intense the leaks will become. A pawn will be moved here, and a
castle there; this secret will be revealed and that assessment anonymously made
to an important reporter from an important newspaper.
There are those
optimists who claim what we are seeing is actually a sophisticated
“good-cop-bad-cop” routine by Israel and America working in consort, with America
pushing diplomacy forward while Israel carries a threatening stick of military
action over everyone’s head.
Initially there may have been some truth to
this. Now the folks at the Pentagon, in the broadest sense of the word, do not
want unilateral action by Israel. They want to pull the plug on anyone who may
have interpreted some of the president’s remarks made at AIPAC as a green light
to Israel to move forward on its own, and have done so with each revelation made
to the press in the weeks since then.
Now, they want Israel to put its
stick away and talk softly, a suggestion that has much merit to it.
at the end of the day, while we play chess with each other, the other side is
sharpening its sword.
The writer is a senior research associate at the
Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His latest book,
The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, is the recipient of the National Jewish Book
Award in the history category for 2011.