I think we can safely assume that every rabbi in America will instruct his congregation this Saturday along the lines of this artfully-crafted set of talking points (below). Every delegate to the AIPAC convention next week, and every member of both houses of Congress will undoubtedly receive a copy, as well. Phone calls will clog the switchboards. The author, Amos Yadlin, has very carefully constructed a set of arguments as skillfully as a lawyer might do in preparing a case for presentation to the U.S. Supreme Court. His “brief” is deliberately intended to entrap President Obama in a perfect Catch-22 dilemma, where he is presented with an impossible choice between conspicuously declining to stand in defense of the Jewish people in what they have declared to be their moment of existential peril, or committing the United States to support a course of aggressive military action that could very easily put the United States on a path to a major new war in the Middle East.
With breathtaking presumption, the recommendations in the article below are also designed to compel each of the current Republican presidential candidates to articulate with increased stridency and specificity their mindless commitments to accept without question the guidance of Israel’s extreme right-wing leadership in defining American national security imperatives in the Middle East.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the situation, as I see it, is the possibility that Barack Obama’s domestic political strategists will persuade him that the least dangerous course for him to take during this election year would be to issue an ironclad and public American assurance that if Israel refrains, at his request, from attacking Iran unilaterally at this time, the United States will, as its part of the bargain, promise to employ its own more extensive and versatile military resources to accomplish the objective at some future time if harsher economic sanctions and other non-military measures fail to dissuade the Iranian leadership from proceeding with the construction of a deliverable nuclear weapon.
Kicking the can down the road in this way would certainly evoke immediate howls of derision from Mr. Obama’s domestic political opponents, of course, but from Netanyahu’s perspective it would accomplish the important objectives of displaying his political potency and his dominance over the American president, while relieving him of pressure to launch a dangerous and costly unilateral assault on Iran. Responsibility for preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear bomb would be placed squarely and permanently on the shoulders of whatever American leader occupies the White House in the future. Not a bad deal for Bibi and for Israel, but potentially a catastrophic open-ended commitment in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Defense. (Yadlin, it should be noted, evaluates that option less favorably for his country: “Asking Israel’s leaders to abide by America’s timetable, and hence allowing Israel’s window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel’s security — a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb.” (AIPAC members and others of similar persuasion take careful note.)
Alternatively, I also see some risk that President Obama will decide, (over the professional objections of his own military advisers), that he must pander to the domineering Israeli Prime Minister by promising secretly that if Israel proceeds (against American advice) to attack Iran unilaterally at this time (and ostensibly without United States foreknowledge or advance approval), the U.S. would still stand ready to step in and “finish the job” if Iran had the audacity to retaliate in any effective manner. (The old wink-wink/nudge-nudge gambit, that would not remain secret for more than a week!)
The adverse effect that such a devious strategy would have on U.S. interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the Muslim world is incalculable, of course — to say nothing of the irreparable damage that would be done to Obama’s moral authority as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient!)
What effect any choice of American strategy would actually have on Iran’s decision whether or not to proceed with construction of a deliverable nuclear weapon is impossible to judge, of course. They are probably sitting in Teheran scratching their heads, as baffled and apprehensive as we are!
In summary, I see very little chance that this administration, during this coming week’s concerted onslaught of high-pressure Israeli traveling salesmen and local political opportunists throwing red meat to AIPAC loyalists, will be courageous and imaginative enough to formulate a new and independent American policy for dealing with this extremely dangerous situation. Something considerably less than clarity is more predictable — ambiguity mixed with an embarrassing display of subservience to the leader of a foreign government. Extortion is difficult to manage with dignity under any conditions. That is what we face here, in its crudest form. Nothing less.
It would be the surrender of absolute control over our own decision-making on questions of U.S. national security policy that I see as the greatest threat to our country. That precious independence of judgment and action has never been as gravely threatened as it will be over the next few days.
Israel’s Last Chance to Strike Iran
By Amos Yadlin, February 29, 2012
On June 7, 1981, I was one of eight Israeli fighter pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. As we sat in the briefing room listening to the army chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, before starting our planes’ engines, I recalled a conversation a week earlier when he’d asked us to voice any concerns about our mission.
We told him about the risks we foresaw: running out of fuel, Iraqi retaliation, how a strike could harm our relationship with America, and the limited impact a successful mission might have — perhaps delaying Iraq’s nuclear quest by only a few years. Listening to today’s debates about Iran, we hear the same arguments and face the same difficulties, even though we understand it is not 1981.
Shortly after we destroyed Osirak, the Israeli defense attaché in Washington was called into the Pentagon. He was expecting a rebuke. Instead, he was faced with a single question: How did you do it? The United States military had assumed that the F-16 aircraft they had provided to Israel had neither the range nor the ordnance to attack Iraq successfully. The mistake then, as now, was to underestimate Israel’s military ingenuity.
We had simply maximized fuel efficiency and used experienced pilots, trained specifically for this mission. We ejected our external fuel tanks en route to Iraq and then attacked the reactor with pinpoint accuracy from so close and such a low altitude that our unguided bombs were as accurate and effective as precision-guided munitions.
Today, Israel sees the prospect of a nuclear Iran that calls for our annihilation as an existential threat. An Israeli strike against Iran would be a last resort, if all else failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That moment of decision will occur when Iran is on the verge of shielding its nuclear facilities from a successful attack — what Israel’s leaders have called the “zone of immunity.”
Some experts oppose an attack because they claim that even a successful strike would, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program for only a short time. But their analysis is faulty. Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years — hence any successful strike would achieve a delay of only a few years.
What matters more is the campaign after the attack. When we were briefed before the Osirak raid, we were told that a successful mission would delay the Iraqi nuclear program for only three to five years. But history told a different story.
After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated.
Others claim that an attack on the Iranian nuclear program would destabilize the region. But a nuclear Iran could lead to far worse: a regional nuclear arms race without a red phone to defuse an escalating crisis, Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, more confident Iranian surrogates like Hezbollah and the threat of nuclear materials’ being transferred to terrorist organizations.
Ensuring that Iran does not go nuclear is the best guarantee for long-term regional stability. A nonnuclear Iran would be infinitely easier to contain than an Iran with nuclear weapons.
President Obama has said America will “use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” Israel takes him at his word.
The problem, however, is one of time. Israel doesn’t have the safety of distance, nor do we have the United States Air Force’s advanced fleet of bombers and fighters. America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology and huge amounts of ammunition, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of hitting targets and penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel’s arsenal can achieve.
This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached. And as that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension.
On Monday, Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are to meet in Washington. Of all their encounters, this could be the most critical. Asking Israel’s leaders to abide by America’s timetable, and hence allowing Israel’s window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel’s security — a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb. It doesn’t help when American officials warn Israel against acting without clarifying what America intends to do once its own red lines are crossed.
Mr. Obama will therefore have to shift the Israeli defense establishment’s thinking from a focus on the “zone of immunity” to a “zone of trust.” What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity — and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest — Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.
I hope Mr. Obama will make this clear. If he does not, Israeli leaders may well choose to act while they still can.
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction (March 1, 2012):
An earlier version of this essay misstated the date of Israel’s 1981 air strike against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. It was June 7, not July 7.
Photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking during a press statement in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, July 6, 2011, by Vadim Ghirda/AP. http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Israel-s-prime-minister-gets-backing-from-Romania-1454013.php or http://bit.ly/q2hCtJ or http://tinyurl.com/3zt72p9