Analysis: Hyper-speculation over Iran

There's way too much talking going on, quite possibly indicating that the shooting isn't as close as the media would have us fear.

Netanyahu Obama 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu Obama 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
To read the headlines and watch the news these days is to walk away with a distinct feeling that the US and Israel are at loggerheads over Iran.
“Senior administration officials are arriving to pressure Israel,” read the overline to a front page Yediot Aharonot headline Sunday.
Two days later the same paper, reporting on the White House’s announcement of a March 5 meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that has been in the works for weeks, headlined their page-two story as follows: “The pressure reaches the presidential level.”
And Yediot Aharonot is not alone by far. The media hysteria of a few months ago about an impending Israeli attack on Iran has now given way to media hysteria about a crisis in US-Israeli relations over how to deal with Iran. The surprise visit over the weekend by White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon only fed the frenzy.
Donilon’s visit was, indeed, rare. Obama’s top foreign policy adviser does not fly in unannounced for high-level meetings every day. And even if his visit did come fast on the heels of trips to the US by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Mossad chief Tamir Pardo – as well as a visit here by US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey – the very fact that Donilon did come for a visit does not necessarily signal tension or US pressure.
Donilon’s visit was extremely hush-hush. Neither Israeli nor American officials reported anything about the discussions. No one outside of the participants, in truth, really knows what was said and what messages were passed on. And those who do know are not telling.
While the conventional wisdom is that Donilon’s talks with his Israeli interlocutors were dedicated to pressuring Israel to refrain from an attack, for all we know, he was mapping out flight routes into Iran with his counterparts.
That no one knows what was really discussed, however, need not get in the way of whipping up an Iran-related frenzy.
Truth be told, Dempsey fed the hysteria with a CNN interview Sunday in which he stated, “We think that it’s not prudent at this time to decide to attack Iran. I mean that’s been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis, well-known, well-documented.”
There are two telling factors in this comment.
Firstly, that the US does not think it is prudent “at this time” to attack. As Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor noted, that could mean the US will think it is prudent at another time.
Secondly, no one in Israel has said they think it is prudent to attack at this point either.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in Cyprus last Thursday that the sanctions have not worked thus far. That does not mean Israel is saying they will not work, or cannot work; only that so far the world is imposing sanctions, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is paying high-profile visits to his centrifuge halls. Saying they have not worked is a lot different than maintaining that they will not be effective, and Netanyahu pointedly did not say Israel would not give them a chance.
Israel and the West are locked in a dangerous dance with Iran. Only a handful of people on the Israeli and US side really know what is going on, and what messages are truly being conveyed between the sides. The rest is speculation.
Even US Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), when talking Tuesday in Jerusalem about “daylight” and “tension” between the US and Israel on the matter, was relying on media reports, having not been privy – by his own acknowledgment – to inside information from the meetings.
And if the crisis is indeed exaggerated, there may be a good reason why. Despite conventional wisdom that it is critical that Israel and the US are on the same page on this issue, perhaps it is beneficial if Iran actually perceives that there is “daylight” between the two allies. Maybe this will keep them guessing as to what Israel will do.
If one man sees someone else coming in his direction with a pitbull on a leash, it is good if he knows the leash is tight. All this noise might be to get the Iranians wondering whether the US does indeed have a tight leash on Israel. And if not, maybe Jerusalem really will attack.
When engaging in speculation – and all talk about an Israeli attack, and tension between the US and Israel at this point, is speculation – it would be wise to keep the following in mind: When Israel, according to foreign reports, took out a nascent nuclear installation in Syria in September 2007, no one had any inkling of what was going to happen beforehand, and no one knew about it for days afterward. Not until the Turkish media reported that fuel tanks jettisoned from Israeli fighter jets were found in Turkish territory did it become known that Israel had struck inside Syria.
Which only proves the dictum from the classic 1966 spaghetti western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”: “When you have to shoot: shoot. Don’t talk.” There is way too much talking going on, quite possibly an indication that the shooting is not as close as the media frenzy would have us fear.
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