Defenders of the president’s Iran policy declare that Israel should remain patient and forgo attacks. Because, hasn’t the president already said Iran shouldn’t be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons?

Yesterday, the Obama administration did move to implement the Iran sanctions passed by Congress, and specifically key parts of the Menendez-Kirk amendment that the administration initially opposed. A senior congressional aide involved in Iran sanctions legislation e-mailed me that “the president’s executive order does two things: 1) it carries out the first section of the Menendez-Kirk amendment that made it the law for the president to block all Iranian financial institution assets in U.S. control (this was not optional for the president; it’s the law as of December 31st); and 2) it authorizes the appropriate departments/agencies to carry out the rest of the Menendez-Kirk amendment (i.e. the secretary of Treasury can now legally issue a rule to implement the CBI sanctions). We could see the final rule in the Federal Register to implement the rest of Menendez-Kirk as early as [Tuesday] morning.”

All of that is positive news. However, it’s increasingly clear that Obama sees sanctions as a means to further talks. He continues to avoid talk of regime change and denigrates the military option. Reuters reports that on Sunday, Obama again downplayed the potential use of force:

In a television interview, Obama also said he did not believe Tehran had the “intentions or capabilities” to attack the United States, playing down the threats from Tehran and saying he wanted a diplomatic end to the nuclear standoff.

“Any kind of additional military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive and has a big effect on us. It could have a big effect on oil prices. We’ve still got troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran. And so our preferred solution here is diplomatic,” Obama said.

His comments echoed concerns expressed by earlier by Iran’s neighbor Turkey that an attack on Iran would be disastrous

Now, hearing that, I doubt the Iranian leaders or the Israeli government believe Obama is serious about taking military action. Israel will let sanctions play out. But no Israeli prime minister, hearing Obama and observing the haste with which he pulled troops from Iraq and set new deadlines for ending military action in Afghanistan, could or would rely on this president to launch a military option if it was needed to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capability. At such time as Israel believes that sanctions have run their course and there is no practical way to prevent Iran from crossing the threshold to becoming a nuclear power, its government will need to act. Obama has the luxury to delude himself that Iran does not threaten us; Israel can’t afford such a fantasy.