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Obama Could Hold Off Israeli Armed Action on Iran, Ex-Official Says
President Obama could persuade key Israeli leaders not to launch an armed offensive against Iran's atomic assets if he authorized tighter punitive economic measures and openly affirmed his readiness to employ force against the Persian Gulf regional power, a one-time high-level Israeli defense official told the New York Times on Wednesday (see GSN, Aug. 15).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak purportedly conveyed the view on Monday to Uzi Dayan -- a previous deputy chief of staff for Israel's armed forces -- in separate, hourlong interviews for the position of home front defense minister. Dayan said he ultimately rejected the job.
“There is a window of opportunity,” Dayan said. “This window is closing, but if the United States would be much clearer and stronger about the sanctions on one hand and about what can happen if Iran won’t make a U-turn -- there is not a lot of time, but there is still time to make a difference.”
He spoke with the leaders amid mounting Israeli speculation over the possibility of an imminent move by Tel Aviv to employ armed force against Iran's nuclear program. Israel, the United States and other countries fear Iran's atomic efforts are geared toward development of a weapon capability; Tehran insists its nuclear intentions are strictly nonmilitary in nature.
Some observers have interpreted heightened Israeli rhetoric as a bid to prompt further U.S. and global action against Iran, as opposed to a signal of an impending use of force by Tel Aviv. Such an analysis would appear to fall into line with Dayan's comments, according to the Times.
The Obama administration has said it is ready to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions through military action should a strategy of intensified sanctions and diplomatic engagement fail to resolve the longstanding impasse. However, Israeli officials have voiced concern that delaying action would give Tehran time to render key atomic assets less vulnerable to attack by transferring them to better protected sites, according to previous reporting.
Netanyahu and Barak would opt for Washington to take point in a possible armed move against Iran, and they would accept such action being timed after the U.S. presidential campaign, according to Dayan.
Still, the two leaders must “make the decision whether to strike or not before November,” and would require a signal from Obama “in the coming two weeks, in the coming month.”
“I’ve known them a very long time,” the one-time armed forces insider said. “They will make such a decision of striking only if they feel that there is no other way. They will do it only as the last, last thing, but then they will be pretty determined about it” (Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, Aug. 15).
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren on Wednesday said his country would not rule out employing force against Iran on the basis of a possible limited capacity to set back Tehran's nuclear progress, Bloomberg reported.
"One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East -- look what’s happened in the last year” in terms of political change, Oren stated. “In our neighborhood, those are the rules of the game.”
"Diplomacy hasn’t succeeded,” the envoy added. “We’ve come to a very critical juncture where important decisions do have to be made" (Capaccio/Gaouette, Bloomberg/San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 15).
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday, though, played down the potential for unilateral action against Iran, Reuters reported.
"I am convinced this is an American interest. I am convinced (President Obama) recognizes the American interest and he isn't saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him," Peres said in a television interview.
He added: "Now, it's clear to us that we can't do it alone. We can delay (Iran's nuclear program). It's clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone" (Jeffrey Heller, Reuters I, Aug. 16).
Former Obama administration Middle East adviser Dennis Ross on Tuesday said the Israeli leadership's plans on Iran remain unclear.
“Part of the motivation for being as public as they have been is to motivate the rest of world," Ross told al-Monitor.
“The second reason is to condition the rest of the world not to be surprised if or when they are going to act militarily,” he said. “And to get the Israeli public ready as well.”
“That doesn’t mean that they have made a decision. It’s not about to happen tomorrow,” the former official stated. “If it happens tomorrow, it’s rather late in terms of getting the Israeli public ready. But I do think it means one cannot just dismiss it. Those who say it is just a bluff are misreading.”
An Israeli armed move is a possibility, he suggested.
Still, “you have military means, [but] you don’t have a military solution” to the atomic dispute, Ross said. “You have to look at what the day-after strategy is going to be” (Laura Rozen, al-Monitor, Aug. 15).
Former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington "should do all it can to avoid war and look for another way to stop Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon."
The United States "must insist Israel not attack this ... autumn -- as the Israeli press is predicting -- and let the U.S. lead the international response against Iran," Burns added in a commentary published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The retired U.S. diplomat urged Washington to pursue a bilateral dialogue with Tehran.
"To be successful, however, the U.S. must be ready to compromise by offering imaginative proposals that would permit Iran civil nuclear power but deny it a nuclear weapon," he wrote.
"Despite partisan rhetoric, there is a rough bipartisan consensus in Washington ... that talks make more sense now than war," Burns continued. President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney share the same view, he argued.
"Should negotiations fail, we would have a more convincing case for force," Burns added (Nicholas Burns, Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 17).
Meanwhile, envoys said the International Atomic Energy Agency might lower an estimated quantity of atomic material that Iran has not accounted for at its Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory, Reuters reported on Thursday (see GSN, Feb. 27).
The U.N. nuclear watchdog last year sought an Iranian justification for a 44-pound "discrepancy" between an IAEA tally of the site's raw unenriched uranium and discard holdings and the amount in a separate declaration supplied by Tehran.
Washington fears an undisclosed Iranian nuclear-weapon development effort might have received the material. The amount of unenriched uranium could not fuel a weapon, but it could support related preparatory efforts, according to specialists.
The matter became partially "explained" in the U.N. organization's discussions with Tehran, and the conversation was still in progress, according to one Western international relations official. Relevant specifics would remain under wraps prior to the release anticipated later this month of a new IAEA safeguards assessment on Iran, Reuters reported.
A second envoy described being informed "that the agency could be revising the figure lower" in the forthcoming document.
An IAEA analysis of the matter was still in progress but has led to a decrease in the difference between the two tallies, another diplomatic insider said.
The "discrepancy" appears to be a less pressing concern relative to Iran's uranium refinement operations and Tehran's purported pursuit of a nuclear-bomb capacity, according to a European international relations insider.
A separate diplomatic official said the matter would probably be "buried more than it is at the moment" (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II, Aug. 16).
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