Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem correspondent for Britain’s Telegraph, reports that “Israel has refused to reassure President Barack Obama that it would warn him in advance of any pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” and that Obama “was rebuffed last month when he demanded” such a guarantee.
Blomfield says he has this dope from “insiders briefed on a top-secret meeting between America’s most senior defence chief and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s hawkish prime minister….” He’s referring to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to Israel last month, during which, in a “private meeting with Mr Netanyahu and the defence minister, Ehud Barak,” Panetta conveyed Obama’s “urgent” demand. Yet
the two Israelis were notably evasive in their response, according to sources both in Israel and the United States….
Alarmed by Mr Netanyahu’s noncommittal response, Mr Obama reportedly ordered the US intelligence services to step up monitoring of Israel to glean clues of its intentions.
The report meshes with Panetta’s not-so-veiled warning to Israel just before that visit to lay off Iran, and with his statement this week—albeit not explicitly directed at Israel—that an attack on Iran could have “unintended consequences…. It could have a serious impact in the region and it could have a serious impact on US forces in the region.”
The same message came through from Europe this week. French foreign minister Alain Juppe said an attack on Iranian’s nuclear facilities would “drag the world into an ‘uncontrollable spiral.’” In the wake of last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear progress—confirming all of Israel’s warnings over the years—EU foreign ministers “ruled out any military action for now.”
Juppe did say the EU would be “asking the European Investment Bank to freeze loans to Iran.” Meanwhile the EU foreign ministers “decided to wait till their next meeting on Dec 1., before taking further action.”
It somehow doesn’t have that ring of urgency.
And yet, as _The Telegraph_’s Blomfield also notes, “many in [Israel] believe time is running out.”
Blomfield quotes Ephraim Asculai, former IAEA official and an Israeli expert on Iran’s nuclear program, saying that “if the Iranian regime decides to do so, it can produce a nuclear explosive device within a year, plus or minus a few months.” There are also warnings that Iran could soon be transferring most of its nuclear production under a mountain near Qom, making it much harder—or impossible—to bomb from the air.
Is Israel, then, facing the threat essentially alone? If so, it would hardly be unprecedented. There’s an inglorious history of the United States and Europe leaving Israel to fend for itself against threats, sometimes even existential ones.
It happened in Israel’s 1948-1949 War for Independence, when it found itself embargoed by the West (with Britain aiding the Arab side) and had to turn to the Soviet bloc for arms. Just before the 1967 Six Day War, Israel’s “ally” France slapped an arms embargo on the region that was mainly aimed at Israel.
Six years later, in the Yom Kippur War, it took an Israeli threat to use nuclear weapons against its attackers Egypt and Syria for the U.S. to finally airlift desperately needed military supplies. Even then, America’s European allies refused the U.S. planes landing rights to refuel, with only Portugal finally acquiescing.
The record in recent years is not much better. Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield (2002) against the Palestinian terror war, Second Lebanon War (2006) against Hezbollah, and Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009) against Hamas in Gaza all evoked a clamor of Western demands for immediate ceasefires along with charges of Israeli moral offenses. The U.S. was sometimes more sympathetic than Europe but still distinctly uncomfortable with Israeli military action and showed short patience for it no matter what savageries Israel had been subjected to.
It may be too soon to conclude that the current situation is as stark. As Joseph Klein notes, Obama could “surprise us and show the boldness he displayed in making the decision to take out Osama bin Laden,” though “his record to date on Iran is dismal.” And while some of the Republican presidential candidates have made hawkish avowals on Iran, Israel—even if one of them eventually defeats Obama—has to watch the clock.
If the reports (notably in The Guardian and Time) that Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast at the Iranian missile base are accurate, it could be an indication that Israel is already taking its own tack. As Israeli author and military commentator Ronen Bergman told the Telegraph reporter:
People outside Israel don’t understand how profound memories of the Holocaust are, and how they affect future policy making. At the end of the day, this policy of “never again” would dictate Israel’s behaviour when intelligence comes through that Iran has come close to a bomb.
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