(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/04/0307-Netanyahu-obama-iran-nuclear-talks_full_600.gif)Last week Mark Perry—a writer with a long anti-Israeli pedigree—published a much-talked-about article in Foreign Policy. It claimed Azerbaijan had granted Israel use of some airbases for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities—thereby helping Israel solve problems of refueling its planes and making an attack much more feasible.
Azerbaijan is a small, mostly Shiite Muslim country on Iran’s northern border. It has long been concerned about Iran’s treatment of the ethnic Azeri population living there. Azerbaijan is also one of the few Muslim countries having close economic and strategic ties with Israel.
Perry claimed his inside information came from U.S. sources, particularly “four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers.” He quoted one intelligence officer as saying: “We’re watching what Iran does closely. But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.”
In a much-talked-about reaction to Perry’s article, John Bolton claimed the Obama administration had intentionally leaked the story “as part of [its] campaign against an Israeli attack,” weakening Israel’s hand by revealing “very sensitive, very important information.”
Bolton said that, while he didn’t have hard proof of it, “Clearly, this is an administration-orchestrated leak. This is not a rogue CIA guy saying I think I’ll leak this out.”
He added: “It’s just unprecedented to reveal this kind of information about one of your own allies.”
One major Israeli military analyst, Ron Ben-Yishai, reacted similarly to Bolton and went even further, writing that the Obama administration was carrying out a “targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran” with media leaks that had “caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage.”
Along with the Foreign Policy article, Ben-Yishai emphasized a report by the Congressional Research Service, also published last week, claiming an Israeli attack would only set Iran’s nuclear program back by about six months. “Any Iranian intelligence analyst” reading these two open sources, Ben-Yishai averred, “will find invaluable information there.”
And having served as a reporter in Washington for seven years, Ben-Yishai said he
kn[e]w very well that with a few exceptions, the U.S. administration knows how to prevent leaks to the media if it so wishes…. What we are seeing here is not a trickle of information, but rather, a powerful current, a true flood that leaves no doubt as to the existence of an orchestrated media campaign with clear aims.
The administration, for its part, denied leaking the information on Azerbaijan and said it would “gladly prosecute” those behind it if it knew who they were. An official told Israel’s Ynet that Washington and Jerusalem were cooperating more closely than ever on Iran and making “tremendous efforts.”
That denial may not seem significant in itself, as the administration would hardly confirm that it was responsible for the leak, while declining to comment would be the same as an admission.
More notable, though, is that by early this week some Israeli analysts no less weighty than Ben-Yishai had taken a different tack on the _Foreign Policy _article.
Ehud Yaari, one of Israel’s most senior commentators on Middle Eastern affairs, scoffed in The Times of Israel that Perry’s report “simply does not make any sense” and was another of his “cloak-and-dagger patchwork stories aimed at undermining the state he intensely detests.”
Yaari asked how Azerbaijan could possibly provide Israel with airbases for striking Iran when
Iranian missiles can quite easily knock out those airbases as well as the huge Azeri BP oil terminal near Baku, which is the lifeline of the country’s economy. Tehran leaders are on record stating that they will retaliate forcefully against any state that will provide bases for an attack against it.
In another article The Times of Israel cited two Israeli security experts who similarly dismissed Perry’s claims. One, Shlomo Brom, said they were “utterly baseless. Azerbaijan is a small country that borders on Iran. It just doesn’t make sense they would help Israel attack them. It would be suicidal.”
To sum up: Perry indeed has an intense animus against Israel—having warned, for instance, against the emergence of “Jewish Hezbollah”—and it is also true that small countries like Azerbaijan generally do not want to infuriate a much more powerful, ruthless neighbor.
But even if the Foreign Policy article is basically Perry’s concoction and the administration is not behind it, it remains the case that the media has been awash with delegitimations of any Israeli action against Iran. In addition to the congressional report, the New York Times reported last month on a classified Pentagon simulation game forecasting that an Israeli attack would spark a regional conflagration and could cost hundreds of U.S. casualties; the Times has also run a series of stories claiming U.S. intelligence and even the Israeli Mossad still are unsure Iran wants to build a bomb at all.
When you combine all this with open statements by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and by Obama himself about the supposed ineffectiveness and bad consequences of an Israeli attack, the impression of an orchestrated campaign remains. That means Israel still may have to choose between putting its fate in the Obama administration’s hands or going into action very much by itself.
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