U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated today that Israel is considering a strike on Iran’s nuclear program as early as this spring. A Washington Post reporter asserted Panetta believed “there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June before Iran enters what Israelis described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb.” He further maintained that the United States had cautioned the Israelis against such a move in order to allow international sanctions more time to convince the Iranians to back away from their nuclear program.
Given the level of increased rhetoric on Iran amongst top administration officials, as well as recent carrier and special warfare deployments to the region, there seems to be a bit more going on here that what appears on the surface.
In my view, an Israeli attack on Iran is one of the worst case scenarios for the United States. Most Arab regimes in the region would quietly support an American precision strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. However, it would be impossible for them to support an Israeli one. Furthermore, because Iran’s nuclear weapons program is well-dispersed and in some cases, in hardened underground bunkers, the Israelis would not have the wherewithal to finish the job. In other words, the Israelis would force America’s hand, dragging the world’s lone superpower into another regional conflict at a time and manner not of America’s choosing. Moreover, the United States would no longer have the political and material support of the Arab world because the United States would be implicated as a co-conspirator in yet another supposed “Zionist” plot against Islam.
I also think the Israelis understand this political calculus, and realize that their objective of a nuclear free Iran would be better served if the United States did the deed.
Assuming that the United States and Israel are rational actors, it begs the question: What is really going on here?
My view is Panetta’s revelation is just another component of the administration’s policy to build a narrative persuading the American people that the United States has only one remaining option available: destroying Iran’s nuclear program.
The narrative would play something like this:
“After a series of failed negotiations with the European Union stretching back to at least 2003, the Iranians continued to proceed with their nuclear program. After President Obama offered to sit down and talk with his “enemies” in Iran, the Iranians rebuffed him. After a strong and punishing series of economic and political sanctions, the Iranians only increased the pace of their uranium enrichment program, and threatened to close the world’s economic jugular at the Strait of Hormuz for good measure. Now, the Israelis have threatened to take an action that would throw the entire region into chaos, which in turn would result in spiking oil prices that could throw the global economy back into an economic recession, or even a depression.”
“The veritable die is now cast. What option is left, but to defang the Iranians before other regional actors like Israel get carried away and start off a much broader regional brouhaha?”
This instance would not be the first time an administration began preparation for war, long before selling it to the American people. The last time was in February 2002, when the Army inexplicably put me on stop-loss. By October 2002, I was helping to train the Third Infantry Division for an assault through the Karbala Gap in Iraq. It was not until March 2003 that the invasion began, but the United States military began its preparations at least a year before that.
In my opinion, the country is gearing for a strike on Iran. The only way for the Iranians to prevent it would be for them to abandon their aspirations for acquiring nuclear weapons.