Analysis: US 'leaks' on Iran meant to prevent strike

Thrust of US news stories seems more about stopping Israel from striking Iran, than about Iran's nuclear program.

US Air Force F-15E releases a GBU-28 "Bunker Buster" 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
US Air Force F-15E releases a GBU-28 "Bunker Buster" 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)
Yossi Klein Halevi, in an article on The New Republic’s website earlier this month entitled “Why Israel Still Can’t Trust That Obama Has Its Back,” argued that Washington seemed more concerned about warning Israel than stopping Iran.
“Even when he seemed to be warning Tehran, he was really warning Jerusalem,” Halevi said about US President Barack Obama’s speech at the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference.
“His goal these last days hasn’t been so much to deter them but us.”
A mere look at the headlines in some key Iran-related stories in the media over the last few weeks proves Halevi’s point.
These are stories whose conclusions are that Israel cannot stop Iran’s nuclear program, or that such an attack would actually get Iran to speed up its program, or that it would suck the US into a war.
Thursday’s piece in Foreign Policy magazine by Mark Perry about Israel’s ties with Azerbaijan just proves this point. There was something off-putting about the whole tone of the piece, as if the bad guy in this story were not Iran, for trying to acquire nuclear weapons, but Israel, for establishing close ties with Baku and securing the use of air bases near the Iranian border to more effectively carry out an attack if needed.
“‘We’re watching what Iran does closely,’ one of the US sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed,’” according to the article. “But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.’” And this is just the latest in a series of high-profile stories – based, in most cases, on unnamed American sources – warning about a possible strike.
Either Israel doesn’t have the ability to carry it out (The New York Times, February 19); or – according to the conclusions of a classified war simulation – it will drag the US into a wider conflict and cost hundreds of American lives (The New York Times, March 19); or an attack would only further accelerate Iran’s bid for the bomb (Reuters, March 29).
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According to the logic in the last piece, if Israel attacked, then Iran – which essentially developed its program in contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty it signed, and despite international inspectors – may choose not to let those inspectors back in and, as a result, have an easier time pursuing nuclear weapons.
Now, that is an interesting bit of logic: Don’t attack, because if you do, Iran won’t let back in the inspectors who were so impotent in the first place that Tehran is now on the cusp of nuclear capability.
And this constant drumbeat of Israel-must-not-take-action articles is not only in press reports. A report Wednesday by the Congressional Research Service – the US Congress’s nonpartisan “think tank” – said Iran could recover from a strike and rebuild its centrifuge workshops within six months, meaning that such a strike would be futile. It is “unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons,” the report read.
These reports and stories are not being made up out of whole cloth. Rather, they are fed by sources intent on sending a clear message: Do not attack.
That a spate of these reports is coming out just a couple of weeks after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Obama in the White House shows that despite the smiles and the talk then about understanding and hyper-close coordination, the US and Israel are not seeing eye-to-eye on the Iranian “military option” issue.
The US wants Israel to wait, and what this constant drip of stories indicates is a sense in Washington that its efforts to convince Israel to do so are failing.
As a result, some in Washington are using a more public route to get that message across and to try and tie Jerusalem’s hands.