Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes that Israel will attack Iran in April, May, or June. This is according to a 2 February Washington Post column by David Ignatius, apparently relying on a conversation with Panetta. Ignatius's column came out at the same time as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's speech in which Barak declared that Iran would soon enter a stage where its nuclear program would be immune from attack.
In his speech, according to a report in the Financial Times, Barak said, "The world today has no doubt that the Iranian military nuclear program is slowly but surely reaching the final stages, and will enter the immunity stage from which point the Iranian regime will be able to complete the program without any effective intervention and at its convenience." He added, "Dealing with a nuclearized Iran will be far more complex, far more dangerous and far more costly in blood and money than stopping it today. In other words, those who say 'later' may find that later is too late."
Had statements like these come during the Cold War from, for example, America and Britain, it would be suspected as a ruse. Such ploys were a commonplace then, each side trying to maneuver against the other to draw wavering nations to their side in the dispute du jour.
This is different. Since Obama took office, Israel has learned to suspect America, not trust it. Obama's Islam-centric foreign policy has broken the link between Israel and the United States. There is no common policy on Iran that could have resulted in coordinated statements by Barak and Panetta.
The personal hostility between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the public face of deep disagreements. Their enmity became open after Obama had demanded Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the pre-1967 war borders. Last May, Netanyahu schooled Obama before the television cameras after a rocky private White House meeting. A visibly angry Obama shifted uncomfortably in his chair during Netanyahu's compelling lecture. Netanyahu's subsequent speech before a joint session of Congress amplified the clear break between the two men.
Since then, Obama, Panetta, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have attempted to dissuade Israel from any military action against Iran. But the only result has been that Israel's distrust of the Obama administration has grown to the point that Israel will not tell Obama what it plans. Panetta himself has worked to heighten that distrust. Last December, he blamed Israel for the lack of talks with the Palestinians, admonishing Israel to "Just get to the damn table."
In effect, by its feckless actions and pressure on Israel but not Israel's enemies, Obama has deprived Israel of options other than war. Continued sanctions against Iran have been met with defiance from Iran and dissembling from its allies. Iraq is apparently planning to help Iran avoid a pending embargo on Iranian oil by shipping Iranian oil from its ports, hiding its origin. (That plan may be only symbolic, because the construction of planned pipelines delivering oil and gas from Iran to Iraq's export center are not scheduled to be finished until 2014.) The European embargo of Iranian oil is months away, and may never happen.
Obama's actions have made the Middle East and Southwest Asia vastly more unstable. Our actions to encourage rebellion in Egypt and military action in support of the Libyan rebellion have only propelled the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood movement to power in both nations. Panetta's announcement that we may withdraw from Afghanistan a year early relieves pressure on Iran and encourages both Iran and Pakistan to continue their strong support for the Taliban. Obama's plan to release five top Taliban commanders from Gitmo is a major boost to the Taliban. According to a leaked NATO classified report, the Taliban are confident that they will return to power quickly after our withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that Iran is prepared to launch terrorist action inside the United States. Iran was greatly emboldened when, in 2009, Obama's "hands off Iran" policy failed to support the nascent rebellion against the mullahs. Last December, a New York court held that Iran had helped al Qaeda mount the 9/11 attacks. The sad fact is that, since 1979, Iran has paid no price for its central role in terrorism against the United States.
Obama's preference for passive sanctions -- rather than overt or covert measures that can deprive Iran from its ability to produce nuclear weapons -- has granted Iran more time to reach what Ehud Barak called the "immunity stage." What is that?
Immunity for Iran means that its nuclear weapons program would be so deeply buried and dispersed that only a nuclear attack on it could delay or destroy it. Israel can't afford to wait for Iran's nuclear weapons program to become immune. Israel would certainly use nuclear weapons in response to such an attack against it, but it isn't about to wait until a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran is its only option.
The Israeli calculus is complex. Attacking Iran will certainly provoke Iranian attacks, using missiles and terrorist proxies, which could result in massive Israeli casualties. Hizballah, Iran's Lebanese proxy, will launch its thousands of missiles into Israel. The Hamas terrorists in Gaza will do the same and other Iran-connected terrorists -- including al Qaeda -- will probably attack U.S. and other western targets. If Israel suffers massive casualties, it's entirely possible that its Arab neighbors would try to mount another 1967-like attack.
But in 1967 and again in 1973, Israel had clear American support. When Israel appeared to be losing the 1973 war, U.S. Air Force aircraft were being armed and fueled to fly into the fight. That possibility still exists, but the Israelis' distrust of Obama is so great that they aren't including that in their war planning. Israel believes it is alone, and in that it's probably right.
As I wrote about eighteen months ago in a quasi-fictional forecast, Israel's military will be stretched to the limit in attacking Iranian targets that are a long flying distance from Israel, and are both dispersed and -- in many cases -- deep underground. If it chooses to attack, it should also judge that suppression missions against Hizballah in Lebanon and against Syrian missile forces are an essential part of the plan. Such an attack will ignite a theater-wide war that Israel may not survive.
Obama isn't serious about preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons. In the three decades since the Iranian regime came to power, no diplomatic effort has ever changed its behavior. The only option for us, for Israel, and for the shopkeepers of Europe is to strike at Iran's nuclear program to dismantle it. But that option, despite what Obama and Panetta say, isn't one we are seriously considering. Left with no other choice, Israel will have to do what we lack the resolve to do.
If Secretary Panetta's belief is as the Washington Post reported, and if we are to take Ehud Barak's statements at face value, Obama's inaction would mean that Israel has concluded that it cannot rely on American action in its defense. By continuing inaction against Iran, going beyond ineffectual sanctions, Obama is pushing Israel toward war.
Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the U.S. for a major speech to the AIPAC group next month. It may be the last opportunity for him and Obama to come to an understanding on decisive action against Iran. Soon after Netanyahu returns home, the Israelis will have to risk their nation's existence in a war that is as much ours as theirs.