Is the administration more worried about the effects of an Israeli strike than Iran achieving nuclear weapons?
The Obama administration is putting another full-court press on Israel. First it was “settlements”—not to build a single home for a Jew in Judea, Samaria, or parts of Jerusalem. Now it’s even graver—not to defend itself against a growing existential threat.
The pressure is both public and behind the scenes. On Sunday, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told CNN: “It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran. A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their [Israel’s] long-term objectives….”
On Monday—what fortuitous timing—the New York Times reported that Israel was incapable of such a strike anyway because “its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously—and use at least 100 planes.” The Times quoted various U.S. defense analysts who support that assessment.
Meanwhile National Security Adviser Tom Donilon has been the latest in a series of top U.S. officials to come to Israel and tell its leaders behind closed doors that they should trust in the god of sanctions. Israel Hayom reports that in an exchange between Donilon and Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, “Israel…demanded that the U.S. challenge Iran to immediately put an end to its nuclear program.” The U.S.—not surprisingly—responded by “urg[ing] Israel to allow sanctions against Iran to do the job and cease planning for a military strike.”
And the confrontation is set to continue. Next in line to visit Israel is U.S. national director of intelligence James Clapper on Thursday. Meanwhile Donilon has invited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to come to the U.S. and meet with President Obama on March 5.
The U.S., in other words, sees stopping Israel as very serious, top-priority business. As the Wall Street Journal asks: “Is the Obama Administration more concerned that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or that Israel may use military force to prevent Iran from doing so?”
But is the administration right? Would an Israeli strike on Iran be futile and fail to achieve its objectives? Can the sanctions be counted on instead?
As David P. Goldman reports, last week German security expert Hans Rühe—head of the German Defense Ministry’s planning department between 1982-1988—offered in Die Welt a diametrically different view of Israel’s capacity to hit Iran. Rühe, says Goldman, calling him “one of the toughest and most perspicacious analysts” of the Cold War period, is “highly confident that Israel could knock out Iran’s nuclear program for a decade or more with about 25 of its 87 F-15 fighter-bombers and a smaller number of its F-16s.”
Israeli commentator Aharon Lapidot notes that “the New York Times article failed to factor in the [Israeli air force’s] operational wisdom, its use of unexpected methods…that makes its operations such astonishing successes, often leaving the world slack-jawed.” Lapidot goes on to mention the IAF’s legendary exploits in the Six Day War, the Entebbe Raid, and other cases.
As for sanctions, prominent British commentator Con Coughlin reports in The Telegraph that China and Turkey are already helping Iran get around them. China is Iran’s biggest oil customer, and Coughlin cites Western security officials saying Chinese banks, instead of buying the oil directly, are now “using the money to buy goods on behalf of the Iranians and then shipping them to Iran.” Turkey, for its part—despite Obama’s praises of it as a great ally—has been helping Iran skirt the sanctions by gaining access to European trade and especially to German banks.
Another British paper, The Guardian, reports that U.S. officials themselves “are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran.”
Meanwhile AP reports on further, chilling operational advances by Iran. It cites “senior diplomats” who say:
Iran is poised to greatly expand uranium enrichment at a fortified underground bunker [i.e., Fordo] to a point that would boost how quickly it could make nuclear warheads….
…Tehran has put finishing touches for the installation of thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the cavernous facility—machines that can produce enriched uranium much more quickly and efficiently than its present machines.
The article also cites “diplomats accredited to the IAEA” who “expect little from [the agency’s] current visit” and “told the AP that—as before—Iran was refusing to allow the agency experts to visit Parchin, the suspected site of explosives testing for a nuclear weapon….”
This is, undoubtedly, some of what Defense Minister Barak has been talking about when he says the window is closing and time is running out.
The Obama administration thinks it has time and indeed seems more worried about the effects of an Israeli strike—particularly rising oil prices and economic disruptions in an election year—than about nukes in the hands of a fanatic, expansionist regime that has been employing international terror for over three decades.
Israel, for its part, seems near the end of its tether.
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