Bloomberg reports: “U.S. intelligence officials who have met with senior Israeli officials concluded that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is increasingly likely, perhaps as early as this spring. Israel’s leaders, according to the officials, said they are prepared to act unilaterally without informing the U.S. in advance. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions with the Israelis.”
The Obama administration’s natural inclination has been to privately and publicly pressure Israel not to act. But this is futile. No Israeli prime minister would entrust the Jewish state’s fate to an administration that specifically and publicly talks down the military option and that has refused to give Israel private guarantees that the United States will act militarily if other measures fail to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Now Obama has a domestic dilemma a well. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Complaints from Israel about the U.S.’s public engagement with Iran have pushed the White House to consider more forcefully outlining potential military actions, and the “red lines” Iran must not cross, as soon as this weekend, according to people familiar with the discussions.
President Barack Obama could use a speech on Sunday before a powerful pro-Israel lobby to more clearly define U.S. policy on military action against Iran in advance of his meeting on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these people said.
Israeli officials have been fuming over what they perceive as deliberate attempts by the Obama administration to undermine the deterrent effect of the Jewish state’s threat to use force against Tehran by publicly questioning the utility and timing of such strikes.
Perhaps Obama will give assurance publicly or perhaps in private. But no pledge regarding U.S. action when Iran crosses so-called “red lines” is of much value when the Israelis and the United States differ in their assessment of intelligence and have different positions on the acceptable level of risk. What is extraordinary is the degree to which lawmakers are now weighing in and publicly rebuking the president:
“The Israelis are unnerved,” said Sen. Lindsay [sic] Graham (R., S.C.), who was one of five U.S. senators who had lunch with Mr. Netanyahu last Tuesday in Jerusalem. “They think the administration is sending the wrong signal, and I do too.”
Mr. Graham, a staunch Israel supporter, added: “The president needs to be reassuring to the Israelis that the policy of the United States is etched in stone: we will do everything, including military action, to stop a nuclear-armed Iran. I hope the administration when they talk about ‘all options’ will better define what those options are. We’re getting too far into the game to be overly nuanced now.”
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who also was in the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu last week, said he had never seen an Israeli leader “that unhappy.”
“He was angry,” Sen. McCain said. “And, frankly, I’ve never seen U.S.-Israel relations at this point.”
Obama no doubt will try to thread the needle. He’ll beef up his rhetoric to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and pile on the platitudes to Netanyahu. With Alan Dershowitz now beating the drum, maybe Obama will even go so far as to take a swipe at the anti-Israel left (but that’s tricky given his dependence on turning out his left-wing base). But here’s the rub: Liberal American Jews might be anxious to be reassured so they can, as they did in 2008, vote in overwhelming numbers for Obama, but Netanyahu is another matter. He doesn’t crave reassurance; He will act in Israel’s interests. And no matter what Obama says at this point, publicly or privately, it is hard to imagine that Netanyahu will defer action to defend the existence of the Jewish state because this time Obama says the United States really, absolutely, positively means that all options are on the table. Really, does Obama imagine Netanyahu is simply another easy mark in one more “charm” campaign?