US signaling Israel to hold its fire

Jerusalem still backs sanctions but skeptical of their effectiveness.

A month ago, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was in Washington for talks with top American defense officials. One of the issues on his busy agenda was, of course, the Iranian nuclear threat.
As on his previous trips, Ashkenazi met with his American counterpart, Adm. Mike Mullen, and National Security Adviser James Jones. On his most recent trip, he also asked for meetings with US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.
Why Flournoy and Rice? Because when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, both women are key players in formulating US policy.
Rice, as the ambassador to the UN – a post equivalent to a seat on President Barack Obama’s cabinet – is working with various Security Council members on a new sanctions resolution.
Flournoy, the equivalent of the Defense Ministry’s director-general, is the second most powerful person in the Pentagon these days. But Flournoy doesn’t just deal with procurement and economics, she’s also a key player in formulating national security policy.
Like in previous meetings with Israeli officials, the Americans stressed the need to give diplomacy a chance. Rice, for example, explained the steps that she and the administration were taking to recruit China and Russia for a new round of sanctions.
On Sunday, Mullen made his opinion known when he said that a strike against Iran needed to be the last resort.
“I worry, on the other hand, about striking Iran,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences of that.”
On Wednesday, Flournoy followed up on Mullen’s warning and said during a press conference in Singapore that a military strike against Iran is currently not even on the table.
“Military force is an option of last resort,” Flournoy said. “It’s off the table in the near term.”
These signals, that are coming from the Pentagon, are aimed at Israel and are being issued amid concerns that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is seriously considering taking military action against Iran in the coming year.
At the moment, Israel is currently aligned with the US in its pursuit of sanctions. While the countries differ on the type of sanctions and their severity – Israel believes sanctions need to affect Iran’s fuel sector as well – the government and IDF believe that the diplomatic process needs to be played through.
On the other hand, Israeli officials are growing increasingly frustrated with what they believe is a sort of dragging of feet in Washington, where Obama had initially pledged sanctions at the beginning of the year.
There is also a growing debate within Israel and the US over whether Israel can realistically launch a strike against Iran without coordinating with the White House. There are those who say it is impossible. Others claim that it is a risk worth taking.
The timeline for such a strike is also questionable. Israel is of the opinion that while Iran has yet to decide on the matter, if it wanted to it could have a viable bomb within a year. The US believes the date is farther off.
A Pentagon report released on Tuesday said that Iran would likely onlyhave a missile capable of reaching the US in 2015. Israel, on the otherhand, cannot wait that long. It is already within Iran’s reach.
That is why, when it comes to sanctions, Israel’s concerns are twofold:On the one hand, there are those who say that it is too late to stopIran. On the other hand, there are those who warn that the sanctionswill be crippled, and not crippling for Iran.
As a result Israel will, for the time being, back the US efforts toimpose additional sanctions, but is extremely skeptical that they willhave any effect.
In that case, it might be left alone to decide whether to come to termswith a nuclear Iran or to launch a preemptive strike against thenuclear facilities and live with the consequences.