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Obama Seeks To Distance US From Israel Attack Against Iran – OpEd


By Gareth Porter

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in intense maneuvering over Netanyahu’s aim of entangling the United States in an Israeli war against Iran.

Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress on matters related to Israel in order to maximise the likelihood that the United States would participate in an attack on Iran.

Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United States from any Israeli attack.

New evidence surfaced in 2011 that Netanyahu has been serious about dealing a military blow to the Iranian nuclear programme. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left his job in September 2010, revealed in his first public appearance after Mossad Jun. 2 that he, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin had been able to “block any dangerous adventure” by Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

The Hebrew language daily Maariv reported that those three, along with President Shimon Peres and IDF Senior Commander Gadi Eisenkrot, had vetoed a 2010 proposal by Netanyahu to attack Iran.

Dagan said he was going public because he was “afraid there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak”. Dagan also said an Israeli attack on Iran could trigger a war that would “endanger the (Israeli) state’s existence”, indicating that his revelation was not part of a psywar campaign.

It is generally agreed that an Israeli attack can only temporarily set back the Iranian nuclear programme, at significant risk to Israel. But Netanyahu and Barak hope to draw the United States into the war to create much greater destruction and perhaps the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

In a sign that the Obama administration is worried that Netanyahu is contemplating an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta tried and failed in early October to get a commitment from Netanyahu and Barak that Israel would not launch an attack on Iran without consulting Washington first, according to both Israeli and U.S. sources cited by The Telegraph and by veteran intelligence reporter Richard Sale.

At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and the new head of CENTCOM, Gen. James N. Mattis, expressed their disappointment that he had not been firm enough in opposing an Israeli attack, according to Sale.

Obama responded that he “had no say over Israel” because “it is a sovereign country.”

Obama’s remark seemed to indicate a desire to distance his administration from an Israeli attack on Iran. But it also made it clear that he was not going to tell Netanyahu that he would not countenance such an attack.

Trita Parsi, executive director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), who has analysed the history of the triangular relationship involving the United States, Israel and Iran in his book “Treacherous Alliance”, says knowledgeable sources tell him Obama believes he can credibly distance himself from an Israeli attack.

In a Dec. 2 talk at the Brookings Institution, while discussing the dangers of the regional conflict that would result from such an attack, Panetta said the United States “would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases.”

Panetta’s statement could be interpreted as an effort to convince Iran that the Obama administration is opposed to an Israeli strike and should not be targeted by Iran in retaliation if Israel does launch an attack.

Parsi believes Obama’s calculation that he can convince Iran that the United States has no leverage on Israel without being much tougher with Israel is not realistic.

“Iran most likely would decide not to target U.S. forces in the region in retaliation for an Israeli strike only if the damage from the strike were relatively limited,” Parsi told IPS in an e-mail.

The Obama administration considers the newest phase of sanctions against Iran, aimed at reducing global imports of Iranian crude oil, as an alternative to an unprovoked attack by Israel. But what Netanyahu had in mind in proposing such an initiative was much more radical than the Obama administration or the European Union could accept.

When Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is closely aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, pushed the idea of sanctions against any financial institution that did business with Iran’s Central Bank, the aim was to make it impossible for countries that import Iranian crude to continue to be able to make payments for the oil.

Dubowitz wanted virtually every country importing Iranian crude except China and India to cut off their imports. He argued that reducing the number of buyers to mainly China and India would not result in a rise in the price of oil, because Iran would have to offer discounted prices to the remaining buyers.

Global oil analysts warned, however, that such a sanctions regime could not avoid creating a spike in oil prices.

U.S. officials told Reuters Nov. 8 that sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank were “not on the table”. The Obama administration was warning that such sanctions would risk a steep rise in oil prices worldwide and a worsening global recession, while actually increasing Iranian oil revenues.

But Netanyahu used the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over Congressional action related to Israel to override Obama’s opposition. The Senate unanimously passed an amendment representing Netanyahu’s position on sanctions focused on Iran’s oil sector and the Central Bank, despite a letter from Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner opposing it. A similar amendment was passed by the House Dec. 15.

The Obama administration acquiesced and entered into negotiations with its European allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on reducing imports of Iranian crude oil while trying to fill the gaps with other sources. But a number of countries, including Japan and Korea, are begging off, and the EU is insisting on protecting Greece and other vulnerable economies.

The result is likely to be a sanctions regime that reduces Iranian exports only marginally – not the “crippling sanctions” demanded by Netanyahu and Barak. Any hike in oil prices generated by sanctions against Iran’s oil sector, moreover, would only hurt Obama’s re- election chances.

In an interview with CNN in November, Barak warned the international community that Israel might have to make a decision on war within as little as six months, because Iran’s efforts to “disperse and fortify” its nuclear facilities would soon render a strike against facilities ineffective.

Barak said he “couldn’t predict” whether that point would be reached in “two quarters or three quarters or a year”. The new Israeli “red line” would place the timing of an Israeli decision on whether to strike Iran right in the middle of the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Netanyahu, who makes no secret of his dislike and distrust of Obama, may hope to put Obama under maximum pressure to support Israel militarily in a war with Iran by striking during a campaign in which the Republican candidate would be accusing him of being soft on the Iranian nuclear threat.

If the Republican candidate is in a strong position to win the election, on the other hand, Netanyahu would want to wait for a new administration aligned with his belligerent posture toward Iran.

Meanwhile, the end of U.S. Air Force control over Iraqi airspace with the final U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq has eliminated what had long been regarded as a significant deterrent to Israeli attack on Iran using the shortest route.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

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IPS is a communication institution with a global news agency at its core. IPS raises the voices of the South and civil society. Articles here are reprinted with permission.

3 thoughts on “Obama Seeks To Distance US From Israel Attack Against Iran – OpEd

  • January 9, 2012 at 7:20 am

    its shameful thata small country is playing such an influential rule in a countries foreign policy which claims herself as a super power. Certainly, there is an actor at work to manipulate and manifest the outcome between these two nations. Israel has to suffer a defeat

  • January 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    It is ironic that a country that allows all it citizens to be armed to the teeth to defend themselves prevents a country from defending itself.

    No one wants an Iranian bomb, no wants to draw the US into a war and a country should be allowed to protect itself. Hence the problem.

    But it is not an Israel defeat because they have really taken no action, they have not gone to war, covert yes. The US used as human shields in Iraq and Afghanistan so Iran could build a bomb. People say what does defeat or victory look like in those two wars. That is what it looks like.

    But it is a defeat the US is willing to accept because they need to regroup. Either way like Saddam during the first gulf war and his stance during the third gulf war it is invasion and occupation being deposed they fear, the third time Saddam did not believe it, he though a limited attack like the first or Bubbas air strikes.

    The US is fiscally in no position to occupy Iran and that would require well over 200,000 troops for at least 5 years. So the regime does not have to fear being run out of town or the noose, at least not by military force. And that is what they truly fear.

    Iran on the American psyche is worse than Vietnam. Look at all the terror, Beirut, killing CIA, terror attacks, 9/11 false intelligence on Iraq, used as human shields to prevent an Israeli strike so Iran could build the bomb, kill troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, paying Karzai money to be difficult and keep the US bogged down for his ‘Iranian brother’. Kill US senators and congress members, blame it on the cartels and start a insurgency in Mexico.

    (Sanctions not AIPAC) Iran tried to kill senators and congress members, them Persians are not too popular on the Hill at the best of times, that hardly did them any favors.

    That is the history, that is the facts. No country has done more to destroy the US than Iran, more than any other nation. And all without the protection of a nuclear weapon. So it will be happy days with the atom behind them.

    The facts are now Obama cannot distance himself from any war, that is the problem, they are addicted to oil and wikileaks dropped the Arabs right in it over wanting to bombing Iran and supporting an Israel strike.

    So before you could dump some F-16’s from the boneyeard painted in Israeli colors to make it look like the Saudis shot them down in the Nefud Desert, even in Iraq so it looked as the US had also. Nothing can spare the Saudi fields now.

    They leaked it Assange and Manning are stooges, scapegoats, patsies. Sure it put pressure on the Arabs and the Israel back then in 2010 but now you could not strike even if you had too. What does that mean in relation to the Straits of Hormuz hmm?

    I think they are confused as too what the term distancing actually means.

    Sure US senators and congress members were the target of the Mexico plot but the Saudi Ambassador was collateral damage.

    That is not all the comments by the Secretary of State ‘tough with your banker’ that is the Arab Spring my friends deterrence food prices up, China. That is all it is,, a China OP for deterrence. All that chaos, all that misery all that death all over the world, because people are stupid. To be fair it was the PLA General and his threat in Feb. But it could equally have been wikileaks and would have been.

    Anyway I digress that places a lot of pressure on Israel (which was the purpose) not to act, now Israel has to sell it to its people, but they bombed Iraq and Syria. Iran is more of a threat than either of those two. So it is not logical, why the other two and not the monster.

    But they are in the process of selling to the population, Iran is not a threat, it does not matter if they have the bomb.

    Once they move it into Qum after repeated warnings, then the US says Israel is a sovereign country, we are concerned about protecting our ships and bases. But all those other dynamics have to be taken into account, the roadblocks are not reversible, so it like a sick joke.

    Yeah the Bin Laden raid, the rotary asset crash in Romania. I could bomb the hell out of everything, go in and EOD Qum with special forces and a 200 kiloton suppository and turn the mountain and bunker inside out. Not a problem. That is not the issue, we can hold that piece of dirt as long as we want.

    PS. Iran is divided into three sectors and the shortest route is the one that has you over enemy airspace before you engage your target for the shortest period of time. Before you attain air superiority.

  • January 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I think Iran and Israel have something in common… Both groups have been victimized in the 20th Century. Jews during Holocaust, and Iran during the Iraq & Iran war, which was supported by several Western and Arab nations. I think that Iran is learning a great survival lessons from Israel.
    Iran is doing today exactly what Israel has done in the past decades. Israel ought to realize that Iranians, just like all others, deserve to live in peace, even if that peace makes Israel insecure.


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