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U.S. Fears Mount Over Possible Israeli Offensive on Iran
Obama administration insiders have grown increasingly worried that Israel might be readying plans to launch an independent assault against Iran -- possibly as soon as this autumn -- in light of open declarations and closed-door indications issued in past weeks by top Israeli officials, the New York Times reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Aug. 1).
An imminent Israeli armed campaign against Iran is not necessarily in the making, though, and Tel Aviv might be open to permitting U.S. leadership in any direct clash with Tehran, certain Obama sources suggested in an optimistic note following a series of trips to Israel by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other key dignitaries. The United States would employ armed force no sooner than 2013, they said.
Washington and Tel Aviv both suspect Iranian nuclear activities are geared toward development of a weapon capability; Tehran insists its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful. The Obama administration has said it is ready to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions through military force should a strategy of intensified sanctions and diplomatic engagement fail to resolve the longstanding impasse, but 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 (see GSN, March 20).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres held individual meetings with Panetta on Wednesday. The U.S. and Israeli officials exchanged their most up-to-date Iran-related findings, planned the execution of the newest economic penalties and conferred over possible means of employing armed force, according to Obama insiders. The Pentagon chief on Tuesday said he would not provide Israel with details of U.S. preparations for an assault.
“This is not about containment,” Panetta added on Wednesday as he began his exchange with Peres. “This is about making very clear that [the Iranians] are never going to be able to get an atomic weapon.”
Netanyahu on Wednesday dismissed economic penalties as generally ineffective in prompting Iran to alter its atomic policies. Tehran does not believe the global community is willing to curb its atomic activities, he argued (Bumiller/Rudoren, New York Times, Aug. 1).
"You yourself said a few months ago that when all else fails, America will act," the Wall Street Journal quoted Netanyahu as telling Panetta. "But these declarations have also not yet convinced the Iranians to stop their program" (Entous/Mitnick, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 2).
Israel government personnel have spoken less combatively behind closed doors, Obama insiders said, adding the Israeli prime minister is aware of the domestic and foreign repercussions any armed conflict. The U.S. government sources said they grasped Netanyahu's need to maintain an independent Israeli armed action as a believable possibility in order to further press Washington to tighten economic restrictions and attack preparations against Iran.
Former Israeli intelligence head Efraim Halevy, though, issued a note of caution: “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks” (Bumiller/Rudoren, New York Times).
"There's no daylight" between the U.S. and Israeli positions on Iran, one high-level U.S. defense source said in a Wall Street Journal report. "That's why we're amping up the pressure on the Tehran regime" (Entous/Mitnick, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 2).
Barak, though, on Wednesday suggested his country considers the issue to be more pressing, the Washington Post reported.
Addressing whether clocks on the nuclear standoff were “ticking at different speeds” in Washington and Tel Aviv, Barak said: “That’s correct, this is a well-known fact."
"We all understand the same intelligence, we all use the same language, and still it’s true that there are certain differences. America, even when it thinks differently than us, understands that the state of Israel and the government of Israel are those who ultimately have to make the decisions in matters that are vital to the security of the country” (Gregory Jaffe, Washington Post I, Aug. 2).
The defense minister earlier this week reaffirmed warnings of a "zone of immunity" being produced as Iran redistributes key nuclear operations.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not formally called for the preparation of a nuclear bomb because he "believes that he is penetrated through our intelligence and he strongly feels that if he tries to order, we will know it -- we and you (the United States) and some other intelligence services will know about it and it might end up with a physical action against it,” Barak told CNN on Monday.
Upon reaching a nuclear "zone of immunity," Khamenei "will have to consider when and how to go into building it,” he said.
“We agree on the rhetoric, but we do not agree on the consequences,” Barak added. Tel Aviv is thought to believe the repercussions of a strike would be less severe than Washington, according to the Post (Walter Pincus, Washington Post II, Aug. 1).
Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday endorsed legislation aimed at further tightening Iran's economic isolation, Reuters reported. President Obama is expected to receive the bill for possible enactment.
The proposal, which has bipartisan support, "seeks to tighten the choke hold on the regime beyond anything that has been done before," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson added: "We are taking another significant step to block the remaining avenues for the Iranians to fund their illicit behavior and evade sanctions" (Roberta Rampton, Reuters, Aug. 1).
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This article provides an overview of Iran's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.