|Obama Seeks to Distance U.S. from Israeli Attack
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service
Washington - President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in intense maneuvering over Netanyahu's
aim of entangling the United States in an Israeli war against Iran.
Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing
Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress
on matters related to Israel in order to maximise the likelihood that
the United States would participate in an attack on Iran.
Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught
up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United
States from any Israeli attack.
New evidence surfaced in 2011 that Netanyahu has been serious about
dealing a military blow to the Iranian nuclear programme. Former
Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left his job in September 2010, revealed
in his first public appearance after Mossad Jun. 2 that he, Israeli
Defence Forces (IDF) chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval
Diskin had been able to "block any dangerous adventure" by Netanyahu
and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
The Hebrew language daily Maariv reported that those three, along with
President Shimon Peres and IDF Senior Commander Gadi Eisenkrot, had
vetoed a 2010 proposal by Netanyahu to attack Iran.
Dagan said he was going public because he was "afraid there is no one
to stop Bibi and Barak". Dagan also said an Israeli attack on Iran
could trigger a war that would "endanger the (Israeli) state's
existence", indicating that his revelation was not part of a psywar
It is generally agreed that an Israeli attack can only temporarily set
back the Iranian nuclear programme, at significant risk to Israel. But
Netanyahu and Barak hope to draw the United States into the war to
create much greater destruction and perhaps the overthrow of the
In a sign that the Obama administration is worried that Netanyahu is
contemplating an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Defence
Secretary Leon Panetta tried and failed in early October to get a
commitment from Netanyahu and Barak that Israel would not launch an
attack on Iran without consulting Washington first, according to both
Israeli and U.S. sources cited by The Telegraph and by veteran
intelligence reporter Richard Sale.
At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, the new Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and the new head of CENTCOM,
Gen. James N. Mattis, expressed their disappointment that he had not
been firm enough in opposing an Israeli attack, according to Sale.
Obama responded that he "had no say over Israel" because "it is a
Obama's remark seemed to indicate a desire to distance his
administration from an Israeli attack on Iran. But it also made it
clear that he was not going to tell Netanyahu that he would not
countenance such an attack.
Trita Parsi, executive director of the National Iranian American
Council (NIAC), who has analysed the history of the triangular
relationship involving the United States, Israel and Iran in his book
"Treacherous Alliance", says knowledgeable sources tell him Obama
believes he can credibly distance himself from an Israeli attack.
In a Dec. 2 talk at the Brookings Institution, while discussing the
dangers of the regional conflict that would result from such an
attack, Panetta said the United States "would obviously be blamed and
we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our
ships, striking our military bases."
Panetta's statement could be interpreted as an effort to convince Iran
that the Obama administration is opposed to an Israeli strike and
should not be targeted by Iran in retaliation if Israel does launch an
Parsi believes Obama's calculation that he can convince Iran that the
United States has no leverage on Israel without being much tougher
with Israel is not realistic.
"Iran most likely would decide not to target U.S. forces in the region
in retaliation for an Israeli strike only if the damage from the
strike were relatively limited," Parsi told IPS in an e-mail.
The Obama administration considers the newest phase of sanctions
against Iran, aimed at reducing global imports of Iranian crude oil,
as an alternative to an unprovoked attack by Israel. But what
Netanyahu had in mind in proposing such an initiative was much more
radical than the Obama administration or the European Union could
When Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense
of Democracies, which is closely aligned with Netanyahu's Likud Party,
pushed the idea of sanctions against any financial institution that
did business with Iran's Central Bank, the aim was to make it
impossible for countries that import Iranian crude to continue to be
able to make payments for the oil.
Dubowitz wanted virtually every country importing Iranian crude except
China and India to cut off their imports. He argued that reducing the
number of buyers to mainly China and India would not result in a rise
in the price of oil, because Iran would have to offer discounted
prices to the remaining buyers.
Global oil analysts warned, however, that such a sanctions regime
could not avoid creating a spike in oil prices.
U.S. officials told Reuters Nov. 8 that sanctions on Iran's Central
Bank were "not on the table". The Obama administration was warning
that such sanctions would risk a steep rise in oil prices worldwide
and a worsening global recession, while actually increasing Iranian
But Netanyahu used the power of the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) over Congressional action related to Israel to
override Obama's opposition. The Senate unanimously passed an
amendment representing Netanyahu's position on sanctions focused on
Iran's oil sector and the Central Bank, despite a letter from
Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner opposing it. A similar amendment
was passed by the House Dec. 15.
The Obama administration acquiesced and entered into negotiations with
its European allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on reducing imports of
Iranian crude oil while trying to fill the gaps with other sources.
But a number of countries, including Japan and Korea, are begging off,
and the EU is insisting on protecting Greece and other vulnerable
The result is likely to be a sanctions regime that reduces Iranian
exports only marginally - not the "crippling sanctions" demanded by
Netanyahu and Barak. Any hike in oil prices generated by sanctions
against Iran's oil sector, moreover, would only hurt Obama's re-
In an interview with CNN in November, Barak warned the international
community that Israel might have to make a decision on war within as
little as six months, because Iran's efforts to "disperse and fortify"
its nuclear facilities would soon render a strike against facilities
Barak said he "couldn't predict" whether that point would be reached
in "two quarters or three quarters or a year". The new Israeli "red
line" would place the timing of an Israeli decision on whether to
strike Iran right in the middle of the U.S. presidential election
Netanyahu, who makes no secret of his dislike and distrust of Obama,
may hope to put Obama under maximum pressure to support Israel
militarily in a war with Iran by striking during a campaign in which
the Republican candidate would be accusing him of being soft on the
Iranian nuclear threat.
If the Republican candidate is in a strong position to win the
election, on the other hand, Netanyahu would want to wait for a new
administration aligned with his belligerent posture toward Iran.
Meanwhile, the end of U.S. Air Force control over Iraqi airspace with
the final U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq has eliminated what had
long been regarded as a significant deterrent to Israeli attack on
Iran using the shortest route.