The Israelis will likely attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, but they won’t alert the U.S. prior to launching that operation for six reasons.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Iran’s acquisition of atomic weapons an “existential” threat to the Jewish nation. Recently, concern about that threat skyrocketed with the release of a chilling report by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). For the first time, the IAEA said it believes Iran conducted secret experiments solely to develop nuclear arms.
That report said Iran created computer models of nuclear explosions, conducted experiments on nuclear triggers, and did research under a program called AMAD that included at least 14 designs for fitting an atomic warhead on a Shahab missile, which has a 1,200-mile range, enough to reach Israel. This revelation prompted calls for tougher sanctions to discourage Iran, and some unidentified nations apparently accelerated covert operations—assassinations, sabotage and spying—against Iran’s atomic weapons facilities and staff.
But there is growing resignation, especially among Israelis, that current efforts won’t stop Iran’s march to atomic weapons status. Yet President Barack Obama doggedly insists sanctions alone will pry atomic weapons from Tehran. Netanyahu is increasingly skeptical that anything short of a military attack will work.
That view fuels speculation that Israel will unilaterally attack Iranian atomic facilities. Unfortunately, the first indication of that operation won’t be a telephone call to Obama alerting him of a pending attack, but radars displaying Israeli fighters streaking across the Saudi Arabian deserts to Iran.
Why won’t Netanyahu alert Obama?
First, Israel seldom notifies the U.S. when undertaking high-risk operations. Israel didn’t notify the U.S. about its 1981 strike at Iraq’s Osirak reactor, and as Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) said, the Bush administration “didn’t know when the Israelis hit the reactor in Syria [in 2007].”
Likely Israeli leaders have certain “red lines” related to Iranian nuclear progress, which could trigger action at any moment. Netanyahu confirmed that view last Sunday, saying he will be prepared to make “the right decision at the right moment.”
Second, Netanyahu knows Obama doesn’t support a military attack. This has been made clear by Leon Panetta, Obama’s secretary of defense, who frequently pours cold water on the idea. Panetta warns that an Iran strike would “at best” slow down Tehran’s program for “maybe one, possibly two years,” the “targets are very difficult to get at” [read Israel lacks the capability to do the job] and we “could have unexpected consequences” such as damage to the global economy.
But Obama’s current efforts are failing. Even new efforts, such as so-called tougher sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, which funds Tehran’s nuclear program, are destined to fail due to Obama’s lack of support.
The U.S. Senate just created the tougher banking sanctions in response to the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C., restaurant. But Obama objects to these sanctions because they might alienate U.S. trading partners who deal in oil with the Central Bank of Iran.
The Wall Street Journal editorialized about Obama’s real motive for opposing these tougher sanctions, saying they could “hurt his reelection chances.” After all, “disrupting Iran’s oil exports would increase oil prices and thus the price of gasoline at the American pump.”
Third, Netanyahu doesn’t trust Obama. Last month, Obama was speaking with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who, not realizing his microphone was hot, expressed contempt for Netanyahu. “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.” Obama commiserated with the Frenchman. “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to Reuters.
Obama and Netanyahu have a rocky relationship that started in 2009 with the prime minister’s first meeting in the White House. It took Netanyahu weeks to secure the meeting, and then it happened at night without the typical media fanfare: No greeting by Obama at the front entrance, Netanyahu was forced to leave via a side exit, and Obama ordered the prime minister to keep the contents of the meeting secret.
A year later, Obama treated Netanyahu even shabbier than during their first White House meeting. Netanyahu failed to give Obama the concessions on Jewish settlements requested, so the President walked out of the meeting after inviting the prime minister to stay to consult with advisers and “let me know if there is anything new.”
Fourth, Obama doesn’t understand the Middle East, and shows favoritism toward Islamic parties. His actions speak for themselves. He bowed to the Saudi king on their first meeting; called the revolution that ousted Egypt’s president and will now likely be replaced by a radical Islamist government “a positive force”; praised Tunisia’s election as an “inspiration”—the country is now led by Islamic extremists who have called for war against Americans and support Iran; waged war against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was replaced by Islamists imposing Sharia law and al-Qaeda allies; and invested two years into diplomatic back-slapping with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is a butcher with the blood of at least 4,000 citizens on his hands.
Meanwhile, Obama blames Israel for the problems in the Middle East because it won’t settle with the Palestinians. But he has yet to visit Israel as U.S. President to see the issues firsthand, even though he insists Jerusalem must surrender to Palestinian demands and withdraw to the pre-1967 Arab-Israeli war territorial lines and welcome back so-called displaced Palestinians, which would inevitably destroy Israel as a Jewish nation.
For these reasons and more, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rightly said that Obama “has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East.”
Fifth, Obama isn’t committed to the only potentially effective alternative to military attack—containment. Even if Israel were to accept an atomic-armed Iran, it doesn’t believe the U.S. is committed to long-term containment.
Presidents during the Cold War who faced down the Soviet Union were confident that the U.S. had sufficient military power to support a policy of containment. But that sort of staying power in the Middle East is missing under Obama’s watch.
He is prematurely pulling forces out of Iraq, and anxious to get out of Afghanistan. That is why few Middle Eastern leaders believe Obama is willing to invest heavily in the region to contain an atomic Iran, especially now that he has made it clear his new priority is the Asia-Pacific.
That lack of trust has prompted the Saudis to consider going nuclear to counter Iran. Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and former ambassador to the U.S., said his country cannot stand still if Iran develops a nuclear capability: “We must…look into all options we are given, including obtaining these weapons ourselves.”
Finally, Netanyahu doesn’t need Obama’s support because he knows the American people will forgive and understand should Israel attack Iranian atomic weapons facilities. Most Americans (57%) say they support Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear sites, according to a poll commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League.
Netanyahu also knows Obama won’t abandon Israel because the President needs Jewish voters, a key Democratic voting bloc that went 78% for him in 2008, but is down to 54% today, according to a Gallup poll. Recently, Obama promised 900 rabbis on a conference call, “Prime Minister Netanyahu knows he can count on the United States.”
Netanyahu won’t be calling Obama before Israeli jets launch on their mission to destroy Iran’s atomic weapons facilities. That’s Obama’s fault, and the U.S. will pay a high price for it and all the rest of the President’s numerous misjudgments.