Washington Watch: Setting back the war clock

One of the PM’s objectives is to help defeat the incumbent because Obama in a 2nd term might not be so easily bullied.

USAF F16s 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
USAF F16s 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
The question of whether US or Israeli forces will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in this volatile election year became murkier in the wake of this month’s AIPAC policy conference and some serious saber rattling coming from the Washington Convention Center, as well as from Jerusalem.
Some factors on the international game board suggest the likelihood of a US attack has diminished, but political factors may be driving the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to ratchet up Israeli plans for possible military action.
In the US, a number of factors seem to point to a diminishing chance of American military action in the coming months.
• The tragic massacre of Afghan civilians by a lone American army sergeant has given new strength to growing bipartisan calls for an early exit of US forces from this nation’s longest war. A new Rasmussen poll shows 53 percent of Americans favor immediate withdrawal.
• Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan went on 60 Minutes to tell Americans that “an attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches” would be reckless and irresponsible.
• There is strong public and bipartisan opposition to American intervention in Syria despite calls by some prominent senators for the US to bomb government forces in order to protect those fighting to overthrow Bashar Assad, a reflection of growing war weariness here.
The New York Times reported this week that the CIA and the Mossad agree with an American intelligence assessment that Iran suspended efforts to build a nuclear weapon in 2003 and that has not changed, although some weapons-related research has continued.
• British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government would back a US decision to attack Iran but “I don’t think as we stand today that military action by Israel would be justified.” “The window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking,” he said during a White House meeting.
• US President Barack Obama’s clear declaration that “I do not have a policy of containment” relieved Israel’s greatest fear and put Tehran on notice about American determination, in Obama’s words, “to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
• Israel’s own threats of attack have helped energize international support for crippling sanctions, most recently blocking Iranian access to SWIFT, the international financial messaging system. The obvious impact of these measures has bolstered calls to give the sanctions and other pressure time to work before deciding on the military option.
• Congressional offices reported they were impressed by the numbers and enthusiasm of AIPAC members lobbying them for tighter sanctions but privately complained that the lobby group was pushing too hard for another war when their were increasingly war weary constituents were calling for accelerating the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
• Rising gasoline prices and Republican efforts to blame them on President Obama and tensions with Iran could make another war even more unpopular. Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz, blocking oil exports, spiking fuel prices and sparking another international recession.
• The more talk coming out of Israel about a possible of a unilateral preemptive strike, the more preemptive news stories we see about the economic, military and political fallout of such an action. One such story in the New York Times Tuesday that may have been leaked from the Pentagon reported a classified war game concluded an Israeli attack on Iran would spark a wider regional war, draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead.
While many indications point to a diminishing likelihood of a US attack, the signs are mixed in Israel.
Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reports from Israel that conversations with senior officials there convinced him Netanyahu feels a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities won’t be as risky as some of his own security advisors and the Americans believe.
He and Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly believe an attack won’t spark a major Israeli-Iranian war or any violence against US interests in the region because Tehran fears that would spark massive American retaliation. Netanyahu also is said to feel that an Israeli attack would not unite the country, as many warn, but instead spark an uprising that would bring down the Islamist regime. That leads Goldberg to believe the prime minister could decide to attack before the American elections.
Netanyahu reportedly feels he has Obama boxed in – that in the months before the November election, the president will have no choice but to back up an Israeli attack however ill advised or opposed because failure to do so would look like abandoning our close ally in its hour of need. To drive home that point, leading contenders for the Republican nomination gave saber rattling speeches to the AIPAC conference virtually accusing the president of letting down Israel by being afraid to confront Iran.
It’s no secret than one of Netanyahu’s objectives is to help defeat the incumbent because Obama in a second term might not be so easily bullied.
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