Jackson Diehl writes: “For more than two weeks now, mullahs in Tehran, generals in Washington and anyone else with an Internet connection has been able to read detailed accounts of attempts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to convince their military chiefs and coalition partners that an Israeli strike is both feasible and necessary. Bitter closed-door debates have been chronicled; op-ed pages have been filled with the arguments, pro and con. There’s even been polling: Forty-one percent of Israelis were reported to favor an attack vs. 39 percent who were opposed.”
The calculation ongoing in Israel is premised on the notion that the United States likely is not going to take military action or at least can’t be counted on to take military action.
Moreover, as Diehl notes, implicit in Israel taking action is the recognition that this could cause a “rupture of the U.S.-Israeli alliance [that] arguably would be as large a blow to Israel’s security as Iran completing a bomb.” In other words, in the worst case scenario, not only would the United States not act militarily to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but it could not be trusted to support such action and refrain from retaliation after an Israeli attack. Some doubt that it would come to that even if Israel proceeded without “permission” An experienced Middle East hand tell me he doubts a serious disruption in the relationship would occur, “especially in an election year.”
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains the dilemma: “Ultimately, the Israelis cannot wait for a green light from the U.S. when its survival is at stake. This administration, or any other for that matter, cannot possibly understand Israel’s stressful and painful calculus right now. My sense is that the Israelis will continue to work with the administration to the last moment until they believe they simply can’t any longer.” To make matters more complicated, Schanzer contends, “The Israelis need us very badly for this incredibly complex operation.” He explains, “ From things like intelligence to IFF [Identify Friend or Foe] codes to mid-air refueling to sophisticated ordnance (just to name a few), this operation would likely be extremely difficult to pull off without significant U.S. assistance.” And yet Israel, with whatever assistance it can extract from the Obama administration (and many experts believe that at lower levels there is extremely close military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries), may have to act soon, if the International Atomic Energy Agency report is accurate.
The prospect of military action confirms, of course, both the failure of our sanctions policy and of Russian “reset.” As to the former, even if we were to enact those crippling sanctions tomorrow, would that be sufficient to prevent the final steps needed for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability? That eighteen months of “engagement” at the onset of the Obama administration has proved costly indeed. We delayed and delayed in even implementing sanctions; Now, lo and behold, we’ve virtually run out of time for them to have any impact.
But this state of affairs is also a function of the complete failure of Russian “reset.” As Jamie Kirchick explains in the Wall Street Journal, Russia’s reaction to the IAEA warning about Iran’s progress toward obtaining nuclear weapons reveals that “reset” was simply appeasement in a hoop skirt:
A Russian government statement last Wednesday, by contrast, ridiculed [the IAEA report] as “a compilation of well-known facts that have intentionally been given a politicized intonation.”
The Russian statement, which could be mistaken for something produced by the Iranian regime, alleged that the report’s authors “resort to assumptions and suspicions, and juggle information with the purpose of creating the impression that the Iranian nuclear program has a military component.”
Moscow’s reaction serves as a stunning rebuke to U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has staked much on obtaining greater Russian cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program. When President Obama was selling the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New Start, to the U.S. Senate last year, he promised that a major benefit would be that it would put Russia on America’s side in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. . . .
In 2009, it canceled missile defense sites planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, two of America’s strongest and most reliable European allies. The U.S. has desisted in selling weapons to Georgia, 20% of whose territory Russia continues to occupy three years after a war that left tens of thousands displaced. And last Thursday, Russia was allowed to join the World Trade Organization after an 18-year process.
Meanwhile, Moscow has regressed on nearly every issue on which the administration promised improved behavior, from human rights to joining the Western consensus on Iran.
So let’s recap here. President Obama undermined democratic allies Georgia, Poland and the Czech Republic and entered into a questionable arms-control deal for nothing while leaving Israel so estranged from the United States that it must weigh its own survival in preventing an existential threat against the risk of a complete breakdown in U.S.-Israeli relations. This is a foreign policy debacle of nearly unprecedented proportions.