The on-again off-again game of deterring Israel from attacking Iran is at play once again, with the US sending its National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Israel for “consultations” with Binyamin Netanyahu.
The White House announced Friday that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will travel to Israel from February 18-20 for consultations with senior Israeli officials about a range of issues, including Iran, Syria, and other regional security issues.
“Donilon’s travel is the latest in a series of regular, high-level consultations between the United States and Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” read the official White House press statement.
One doesn’t need to have the inside scoop to guess what will be said at these “consultations”. The message is coming across loud and clear in the media:
First we have the US Army Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey declaring that an Israeli strike on Iran would be destablizing, imprudent, and in any case would not achieve its aims. How’s that for positive thinking?
In an interview set to air Sunday, but whose contents were revealed on Saturday, Dempsey told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” adding, “A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their [Israel’s] long-term objectives.”
Dempsey said that launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be a level-headed decision, telling Zakaria that Washington was confident the Israelis “understand our concerns,” according to a transcript of the interview quoted by Bloomberg News.
“We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor,” Dempsey told CNN. “We also know, or we believe we know, that the Iranian regime has not decided to make a nuclear weapon.”
We also hear of British Foreign Secretary William Hague urging Israel not to strike Iran, all while warning that Iran risks starting a nuclear cold war.
In today’s interview, Mr Hague says that the British Government has urged Israel not to strike.
He said that Iran being “attacked militarily” would have “enormous downsides”.
“We are very clear to all concerned that we are not advocating military action,” he said. “We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.”
The sanctions may very well be biting but Iran might not be getting the message that was intended, since Iran cut oil shipments to Britain and France.
As to the preposterous claim, as quoted above, by Gen. Martin Dempsey that Iran is a rational actor, Boaz Bismuth in Israel Hayom rips this argument apart:
Currently, Iran’s nuclear progress generates headlines around the world, not just in Israel. The world is suddenly realizing just how problematic and dangerous this situation really is. All of a sudden it is acceptable to step up sanctions. All of a sudden it is okay to wonder, out loud, whether sanctions, as tough as they may be, are at all effective. Suddenly the word “attack” is no longer offensive, despite declarations made by U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Only recently, following the decisive report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November, which confronted the world with knowledge it had previously refused to accept, did the international community — at least in part — decide to up the ante. The EU implemented an embargo on Iranian oil and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. Over the weekend, the U.S. and the EU also said they were preparing for an unprecedented step: removing Iran from the SWIFT international finance network. Things are starting to move forward.
Sources in the U.S. administration told The Guardian that Iran was not taking any of this seriously: not the sanctions, nor the country’s economic collapse, nor the threat of a military attack. This is not exactly what you’d call a rational regime, despite Dempsey’s thoughts to the contrary. The Iranian regime’s priorities are a bit different from the priorities we are familiar with. The goal of the ayatollahs is self-preservation.
In their view, this means the use of nuclear weapons, terrorism and alliances with regimes like that of Bashar Assad’s Syria and organizations like Hezbollah. This is Iran’s version of logic. On Saturday, Dempsey managed to redefine the concept. For him, the Iranian regime is “a rational player,” and attacking it would not be “prudent.” Perhaps you need four stars on your epaulet to understand this logic.
Elliott Abrams writing in the Weekly Standard, also takes issue with the US Administration’s seeming minimizing of the Iranian threat.
In October, an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. was disclosed by the United States government. And as the means was to be a bomb in a Washington restaurant, it is reasonable to assume Americans dining nearby would have been wounded or killed. In November, a new IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program was the most alarming yet: “After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” This month, Iran made various threats to attack American assets and allies, and conducted a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli officials in three world capitals.
With this in mind, the February 16 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Gen. Ron Burgess looks like a careful effort to play down the threat from Iran.
Burgess, for example, stated this: “Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, at least temporarily and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region if it is attacked. Iran could also attempt to employ terrorists surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.” How is it possible to say that Iran is “unlikely” to “intentionally provoke” a conflict with the United States if it is willing to undertake an act of terrorism in our capital?
Then there is the nuclear question. Clapper said, “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”
It is difficult to read the transcript of the hearing without concluding that there was an effort to downplay the threat posed by Iran.
The mystery that emerges from the hearing is not what Iran is up to but what the witnesses were doing. Had the White House asked them to serve as human Prozac doses, calming down what it saw as overly excitable and hawkish senators? Had they decided, within the intelligence community, on that objective? Was this another example of the intel community’s reaction to the accusation that it politicized and overplayed the Iraqi nuclear threat, leading it now to underplay the Iranian nuclear threat? Perhaps it was just a desire not to become part of the heated Iran policy debate on the part of a straight shooter and old pro like Burgess of DIA. If it was the latter, it didn’t work.
The trouble with all these confusing, if not appeasing, messages is that they give unnecessary and undeserved confidence to the Iranian regime. They see the West as being not united in its determination, wobbling under pressure, and trying to deter Israel from attacking, and this is sure to give them a morale-boost. Hiding from the truth will not make it go away, and as Winston Churchill famously said, feeding the crocodile will only make it eat you last.