Israel and U.S. at odds over timetables and red lines for Iran

Although the U.S. has put pressure on Iran with more aggressive statements, an initiative to increase international sanctions and a clash over Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, Jerusalem is not satisfied.
By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, HAARETZ

The two meetings this week between the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz have been scheduled for some time. But the immediate context cannot be ignored: growing tension over the Iranian nuclear program and what appears to be renewed (and increased) American concerns that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear sites.

Dempsey and Gantz are expected meet first at mid-week in Brussels during the annual conference of NATO chiefs of staff, an event to which the Israeli chief of staff is always invited. Two days later Dempsey will arrive in Israel.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Defense Minister Ehud Barak before delivering remarks at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism, Dec. 16, 2011.
Photo by: Pete Souza / Courtesy of the White House

Although Washington has ratcheted up pressure on Iran of late with a combination of more aggressive statements, an initiative to increase international sanctions and what appears to be an approaching clash over Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, Jerusalem is not satisfied. Israel is not impressed by Iran’s deep economic crisis, which is increasing pressure on the regime as it prepares for parliamentary elections in March.

At the heart of the argument between Jerusalem and Washington are questions about timetables and red lines.

The start of uranium enrichment at the underground site near the city of Qom has raised the level of anxiety in Israel. In an interview with CNN two months ago, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that less than a year remained to stop Iran’s nuclear plans. Barak thus presented Israel’s red line: From the moment most of the uranium is being enriched at a protected site, Iran will be in “immune space,” and the option of a military attack (at least by Israel) is off the table.

The American red line, however, is more distant – at the point were Iran has progressed in the development of a nuclear warhead rather than making do with nuclear capability. That line has not yet been crossed.

Do Barak and Netanyahu really intend to attack on their own, or is Israel only trying to prod the West into more decisive action? That is the million-dollar question.

It has been discussed intermittently for the past three years and it seems that Washington does not have a satisfactory answer to it. What is clear is that speculation about it in the American media – this time, surprisingly, without contributory Israeli chatter – raises the heat in Tehran as well. Apparently the risk of an imminent clash, first of all between American and Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, is growing.

Hezbollah is contributing to this already tense situation. Over the weekend a Hezbollah terror strike against an Israeli target was averted in Bangkok, Thailand. This is the second such incident, following a warning of an attack by the same group on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Hezbollah is serving these days as the long arm of Iran, operated directly by the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards known as Al Quds.

The context is not only the approaching anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, but also the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran. Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah pledged yesterday that the killings would not stop the Iranian nuclear project.

Iran and Hezbollah are now also focusing their efforts on saving Syrian President Bashar Assad. Al Quds commander Gen. Kassem Suleimani recently visited Syria to help quash the revolt against the regime. Nasrallah knows that if Damascus falls, the demand to disarm Hezbollah – which he derided yesterday – will come up again more forcefully.

January 15, 2012 | 4 Comments »

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  1. “[S]anctions, nuclear threats from Israel, and mindless anti-Iranian hostility are making the Iranians more self-sufficient, more capable, and producing in the long run a very strong nation.”

    Ah, yes, how right you are.

    Half-measures only stiffen the enemy’s spine.

    “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and all that.

    It is patently CLEAR what is called for. . . .

  2. To Mercadeo
    As if Iran is not already and has been for years trying to become self-sufficient. By his logic if we put no pressure on Iran it will still go full speed at building a nuclear weapon and if we push sanctions it will make Iran go even faster in obtaining nuclear capability. Either was it is heads you win, tails you lose. Israel must live in the real world, not the imaginary world in Mercado’s head. One does what one must do. Does Mercado actually believe that we should STOP sanctions? Maybe we should just commit suicide and give them a few bombs.
    That will really make Iran weak.

    Note, that us sarcasm, technique beyond Mercado’s brilliance.

  3. This IAEA Report is a sad attempt to accuse without an accusation. Words like “increasing concerns” over Iran’s nuclear aspirations, “harshening the rhetoric” is just so much BS. I am a physicist who actually reads these reports, and I believe that sanctions, nuclear threats from Israel, and mindless anti-Iranian hostility are making the Iranians more self-sufficient, more capable, and producing in the long run a very strong nation. It is also a purely *defensive* nation, its small military budget going entirely to defensive measures. The Israelis want another war and have been trying to get one started (by the US, preferably) since the early 1990s.

  4. I’ve seen at least two articles in the Israeli press describing Austere Challenge as either delayed or cancelled. This, after at least 9,000 US troops were scheduled to arrive in Israel. Are they still coming? It sounded like they were already there. It now sounds like somebody in the IDF has decided this is not a good idea. From ArutzSheva, Israel, US discuss canceling missile defense drill


    In recent weeks, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office has held talks with the Pentagon about the possibility of canceling the drill.

    Senior military officers told The Jerusalem Post that the drill scheduled for April has been canceled, while defense officials said that it was possible that it would be held later in 2012.

    The drill, expected to involve the deployment of thousands of US troops in Israel, was scheduled to last around a week and mark the first time that a top US military commander would participate in the simulations.

    The parties were scheduled to simulate missile defense scenarios with the objective of creating a high level of interoperability so that, if needed, US missile defense systems would be able to work with Israeli systems during a conflict.

    Officials refused to elaborate on the reasons behind talks to postpone or cancel the drill, but said they were mostly “technical and logistical.”