‘Israel can rely on Obama to stop nuclear Iran’

Michele Flournoy, former top US defense official and Obama adviser, vows president won’t allow nuclear Iran; says day after military action, unified int'l effort will be needed to keep Iran from restarting nuclear program.

Isfahan uranium enrichment facility, Iran_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Isfahan uranium enrichment facility, Iran_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel can rely on the US to take the necessary steps – including possible military action one day – to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, has told The Jerusalem Post.
Speaking following US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to Israel on Wednesday, Flournoy said Obama was serious about stopping Iran.
“[US President Barack] Obama is careful with what he says and he means what he says,” said Flournoy, who left the Pentagon earlier this year and is now a member of the Obama campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee. She is also rumored to be a candidate for secretary of defense if Obama wins reelection.
“He chose his words carefully that the policy is not containment and I think he is serious about that,” she added, giving as examples how the president has followed through on his policy statements regarding Iraq, Afghanistan and in the war against al-Qaida.
“My experience with this president is that there is no light between what he says and does. Obviously, it will be his decision at the time, but I believe there is a strong consensus to prevent this [Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon],” she added.
Flournoy – who is familiar with Israel’s top defense chiefs including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz from her three years at the Pentagon – admitted that Israel and the US view the Iranian threat differently, and the time that remains to stop it, mostly as a result of their different military capabilities.
She said though that both Israeli and American intelligence agencies agreed that the Iranians have not yet begun “weaponization” and that once they do so, it will still take time before they obtained a weapon.
“The US view is that it is not time [for a strike]. There have just been new sanctions put in place and those take time but the screws have been turned and the impact will take several months,” she said.
One of the additional reasons for hesitation in taking military action, Flournoy explained, was that most assessments are that a strike would only set back the Iranians by one-to-three years.
“Any military action – at best – is a delay tactic and does not ultimately solve the problem, so how and when you take the action matters, since the day after, you will need the international community to stay unified so Iran does not restart,” she said. “But if you do it in a way that destroys the international consensus then you have a tactical step that undermines the strategic goal.”
Asked about Israel’s claim that Iran is close to moving into what Barak has coined the “immunity zone” – the point when an Israeli strike might no longer be viable – Obama’s top adviser said she believed there was still time.
“I think they will continue to monitor the impact of the sanctions and see if additional sanctions can add to the pressure, but it is hard to put a timeframe on it. They are watching for the impact,” Flournoy said.
Under Obama, she claimed, Israel-US defense ties have taken an impressive leap forward.
She said Israel-US ties were “like a marriage” and that while there were differences over policy sometimes, the US commitment to Israel’s security was “unshakable.”
“The quality of the relationship – both the amount of interaction and the quality – has increased substantially in terms of comparing notes on the full range of strategic issues in the region, in terms of people understanding Israel’s concerns and security needs and what it means to ensure [Israel’s] qualitative military edge,” Flournoy said. “It is really the intensity and depth of the interaction that has grown a lot.”
Meanwhile, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy fueled speculation of an impending Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
“If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” Halevy told The New York Times on Wednesday.
The Times reported that some American officials believe Israel might attack Iran this year.