Monday, September 10, 2012

Is The US Dashing Israeli Hopes For A Strike Against Iran?

From the file of news that was overshadowed by the dueling Republican and Democratic political conventions is this nugget from Reuters about a US smackdown of Israel over their escalating rhetoric about a war with Iran (Reuters used the more diplomatic term 'chastised', but you get the idea).

Last week, while speaking to reporters in Great Britain, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said that the United States did not want to be “complicit” in a preemptive  attack on Iran and starkly warned Israel that if they went it alone on the attack that they risked unraveling the international coalition that has levied heavy sanctions on Iran's crude oil industry and banking sector; sanctions that Pres. Ahmadinejad admitted earlier in the week were starting to causing real pain in Iran.

It was a bold statement, and one that has sent Israel scurrying back to square one in their efforts to start a war with Iran. The simple fact is that the Israeli Air Force does not have the ability to launch the type of sustained and targeted campaign of air strikes that would be necessary to knock out Iran's nuclear research program.  Or as one unnamed European diplomat was quoted as saying in the same Reuters article: “all this talk of war is bullshit. If they could do it, then they would have already done it long ago.”

For their part, the Israelis are now pushing for the establishment of a clear “red line”, an action by Iran that would guarantee a military response by the anti-Iran coalition (namely the United States). The Israelis are also ramping up their sabre-rattling against Iran's proxy group Hezbollah, threatening retaliation against Lebanon should Hezbollah launch attacks against Israel on Iran's behalf. For their part, the Obama administration is offering up a vague statement that diplomacy cannot go on “indefinitely” and that “military action” remains a possibility if Iran doesn't live up to their obligations.

Of course, it is very hard to imagine the US launching any kind of military action before the November elections, and if reelected, Obama is likely to feel much less pressure to placate the pro-Likud lobby within the United States, which puts into question the likelihood of military action against Iran in Obama's second term.  This does make you wonder if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might not attempt to interject himself into the US presidential race somehow. Netanyahu is a longtime personal friend of Republican Mitt Romney, so it is plausible to think he might try to play the double whammy of encouraging a US strike against Iran and boosting his friend's presidential chances by trying to make Obama look like he is both weak on Iran and putting Israel at risk by not launching military strikes now to stop the imminent threat of the Iranian nuclear program.

This strategy has some real risks attached though: for one, Netanyahu has been saying that Iran was on the verge of getting a bomb since the mid-90s, so his cries of danger have worn a little thin by now; the bigger issue though is that the American populace, mired in a slow economic recovery and weary from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, might genuinely oppose calls for launching another military campaign in the Middle East, which would weaken, rather than strengthen, Netanyahu's efforts to get the USAF to knock out Iran's nuclear program for him.

If Netanyahu tries to go this route, it will likely be at the United Nations General Assembly set for later this month.
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