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Right Turn
Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 11/18/2011

Would Obama use military force to stop Iran from getting nukes?

Three recent stories point to the diplomatic and strategic divide between Israel and the Obama administration. They are further proof that Israel is understandably concerned that the Obama administration is averse to taking military action against Iran to prevent it from going nuclear.

First, after a long period of rhetorical ambiguity, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton felt obliged to remind us, in an interview with ABC News, that all options are still on the table to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, she then lapsed into fantasy land: “President Obama has forged a consensus in the international community, including China and Russia, to a much greater extent than was ever done before. … The sanctions are really having an impact, and there will be … more to come if necessary.” But, umm, isn’t Iran making steady progress in it nuclear weapons program? She ended on a stronger note, insisting we are “on a steady course that combines our dual tracks of pressure and engagement and it is the policy of this administration that Iran cannot be permitted to have a nuclear weapon and no option has ever been taken off the table.” It’s been a while until we heard the “no options off the table line,” but when, if ever, will Clinton admit sanctions haven’t worked?

Second, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday he was cautioning Israel against taking military action against Iran, urging more time for diplomacy “at this point.”
He warned that a strike could have potentially severe security and economic consequences across the region and globe.
“We share a common concern with regards to Iran and their effort to develop a nuclear capability,” Mr. Panetta said ahead of talks on Friday in Halifax with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
“But I think the United States feels strongly that the way to deal with that is to work with our allies, to work with the international community to develop the sanctions and the diplomatic efforts that would further isolate Iran in the international community,” Mr. Panetta said. “That is the most effective way to try to confront them at this point.”

As with Clinton, Panetta seems unwilling to recognize the conclusion of the International Atomic Energy Agency, namely that Iran is going full-steam ahead with its nuclear weapons program. At some point, one strongly suspects, Panetta, Clinton and the president will still be pleading for more time for sanctions while Israel concludes that Iran is getting perilously close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. Really, if the administration thinks sanctions are working now, in light of the IAEA report, when will it ever admit failure?

That is why, we can discern, Israel is making it very clear to Iran and everyone else that it will take military action on its own if needed. And that brings us to the third story. Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports:

A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.
For example, Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions, officials confirmed. The Israelis also have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders.

It’s hard to tell the motive for leaking this information. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mailed me: “There’s one way to look at this positively — it can be viewed as psychological warfare, in an attempt to persuade the Iranians to stand down.” On the other hand, Schanzer warns, “Of course, it can just as easily be argued that U.S. officials are spoiling the surprises Israel has in store for the Iranians, which would help the mullahs make contingency plans. This would mean that US officials are actively trying to undermine an Israeli attack.” He concludes that it’s too early to tell which it is.

In any event, at this stage Israel continues to plan while the U.S. continues to try economic and diplomatic means to persuade the mullahs to give up their nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile, House Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sent out a press release yesterday that read in part: “Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman wrote a letter to President Barack Obama today calling on him to determine if the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) is involved in ‘transactions that facilitate weapons of mass destruction or terrorism-related activities, that support the activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or that assist other banks to circumvent Iran-related sanctions.’ The letter was also signed by Speaker John Boehner, Republican Whip Eric Cantor and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.”

Why the administration wouldn’t be doing this on its own is one of many signs that raise questions about the administration’s level of attention to this issue. (With the departure of sanctions guru Stuart Levey and the upcoming exit of Mideast adviser Dennis Ross, who is in charge of Iran policy?) You can understand, under such circumstances, why Israel is planning for the worst.

By  |  01:00 PM ET, 11/18/2011

Categories:  Hillary Clinton, Iran, Israel

 
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