Tuesday, June 10, 2008
israeli deputy prime minister all but commits to attacking iran
An Israeli deputy prime minister on Friday warned that Iran would face attack if it pursues what he said was its nuclear weapons programme.
"If Iran continues its nuclear weapons programme, we will attack it," said Shaul Mofaz, who is also transportation minister.
"Other options are disappearing. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear programme," Mofaz told the Yediot Aharonot daily.
He stressed such an operation could only be conducted with US support.
how serious is the threat? given its context, it cannot be ignored. mofaz is a leader in israeli dialogue with the united states -- this viewpoint is most likely characteristic of where the american-israeli discourse on foreign policy now stands.
it is also, however, a viewpoint that faces opposition and even some derision as 'party politics' within the israeli government.
Defense officials said Mofaz's comments were harmful for Israel.
"We need to stop Iran, but not to appear that we are leading the world efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear efforts," one official said.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i released a statement Sunday saying that "the cynical use of Israel's strategic matters for party politics is beyond the pale and very serious." Vilna'i said it would be wise to remain silent and "leave matters of security to those taking care of them."
Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, also chided Mofaz. "In every subject related to war, it's preferable for ministers not to speak unless it has been decided on ahead of time in a careful and organized way," he told Israel Radio.
... One government source, meanwhile, said that Mofaz's comments must be seen within the context of the political jockeying inside Kadima to replace Olmert. According to this source, Mofaz is staking out a hawkish position on a number of issues because he feels this will resonate well with Kadima voters in his competition with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. In this same vein, the official said, Mofaz only last week came out against a withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal with Syria.
The source said Mofaz's comments on Iran were bound to cause confusion, since they came after Olmert made clear in Washington that he thought the diplomatic efforts against Iran still needed to be allowed to run their course.
nevertheless, it was no coincidence that oil prices marked their largest single-day dollar gain ever on the day of mofaz's comments. traders are neither stupid nor ignorant of what is driving israeli foreign policy. when the man in charge of israel's strategic dialogue with the united states says an attack is inevitable, that is not to be ignored.
but i wonder if the timetable for such an attack, if it is coming, is not slowly being reorganized or at least rethought. consider this report from the jerusalem post of barack obama's slavish concessions to the likud party line in his recent address before AIPAC, the espionage-tainted cornerstone of the very powerful israeli national political lobby in the united states.
... on Wednesday before the AIPAC full house, the senator from Illinois plainly set out to silence the critics and assuage the doubters. In what had coincidentally turned out to be his first major address since effectively securing the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama presented himself as a lifelong friend of Israel who would preserve the "unbreakable" bond between the US and the Jewish state. He was the candidate whose great-uncle had liberated the Ohrdruf concentration camp, who had been seared by his visit to Yad Vashem and who, to insure that the words "never again" kept their meaning, would "never compromise when it comes to Israel's security."
In his meticulously crafted speech, Obama was also the candidate who would isolate Hamas unless it accepted Israel and abandoned terrorism, and who would push for a two-state solution under which Jerusalem would remain Israel's "undivided" capital and Israel's identity as a Jewish state would be paramount - in other words, with no place for a Palestinian refugee "right of return."
Most importantly of all, he was the candidate who would seek to "eliminate" the "grave" and "real" threat posed to Israel by Iran. "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he vowed, repeating that word "everything" as the applause swelled.
Obama did not entirely back away from his readiness to sit down with Ahmadinejad, but stressed that he would not do so "just for the sake of talking." Rather, he would "lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing - if, and only if, it can advance the interests of the United States."
And the audience, those assembled thousands of American Jews for whom Israel's well-being is paramount, rose time and again to applaud him and endorse the thrust of his remarks, giving him a more sustained and enthusiastic reception than it had afforded his Republican opponent John McCain the day before.
mccain is, of course, a pocketed likud man -- if anything, he is likely to make american policy in the mideast even more inoffensive to the likes of beni netanyahu. so obama will never be likud's man.
but could the prospect of an obama presidency perceptive to the israeli national paranoia that was so awfully and self-destructively in evidence in july 2006 and dedicated to carrying out a mideastern policy drawn with extreme deference to zionist hypersensitivities delay action? read further:
THOUGH THE question of what president Obama might do is compelling, a more urgent question, in the months before the current administration gives way to its successor, is the degree to which President George W. Bush considers Israeli and American security would be safe in Obama's hands. By extension, this raises the issue of whether Bush will feel obligated to act in these last months against Iran.
The notion of the outgoing administration employing military force against Teheran as its final, devastating act is, of course, unthinkable.
It would shatter the norm under which an administration that is winding down moves into a holding pattern so as not to saddle its successor with the repercussions of dramatic, eleventh-hour activities.
Furthermore, last year's National Intelligence Estimate, however poorly drafted and however subsequently "recalibrated" by National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, essentially deprived Bush of any legitimacy for action by so downplaying the nature of the Iranian threat.
... And yet the unthinkable is being thought.
Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the fact is that shortly before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Bush on Wednesday, "sources close to the prime minister" were being quoted as saying that Olmert would urge the president to prepare to attack Iran in the next few months if concerted international pressure fails to deter the ayatollahs.
In his address to AIPAC on Tuesday, Olmert spoke dramatically of the imperative to stop Iran "by all possible means" and said the US and Israel were "working closely in a concerted, coordinated effort to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear."
And briefing Israeli reporters after his White House talks, Olmert said he now had far fewer questions regarding the determination of the administration to confront the Iranian threat, the time-frame for such action, and the ways and means by which it would be pursued.
Even as Olmert was heading home from Washington, intelligence chief McConnell was holding talks in Israel - and being told by everyone from Defense Minister Ehud Barak on down not only that Israel regards the NIE as having been downright wrong in asserting that Iran froze its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but also why. Israel, in other words, is making plain to its American allies just how acute and urgent is the need for action, and also providing the hard evidence to underline that assessment.
As Olmert also told AIPAC, "Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran." And military chiefs have made plain in recent months that Israel is capable of doing "whatever is necessary" to protect itself, and preparing for "every eventuality."
... Media outlets as diverse as Time magazine, the Asia Times and Israel's Army Radio have all carried reports in the last couple of weeks related to a supposed readiness on the part of the Bush administration to launch military action against Iran's nuclear sites in the coming months.
Late last month, when The Jerusalem Post's Web site picked up the Army Radio report, which claimed a senior official in Bush's entourage on the recent Israel visit had told his Israeli counterparts about the president's intention to hit Iran, the White House issued a furious denial that amateurishly misidentified the source of the article as the "Army Times," prompting other reporters in Washington to wonder whether the administration doth protest too much.
Coming back full circle to Obama, there is some speculation in Israeli circles that the key consideration for Bush will be the identity of his successor - that he would be much more sanguine turning over the Iran file, unresolved, to president McCain rather than to president Obama. The president has himself been known to express vague concerns regarding the way subsequent US governments might deal with the Middle East.
But such an assessment would suggest only the briefest window of opportunity for American military action - in the two months between the presidential elections in November and a new administration taking office in January. The idea of the departing Bush administration taking aim at Iran at that late hour - that surely is unthinkable? Isn't it?
posed as such, it is the bush administration who will decide if it approves of the result of the election with respect to mideastern policy and act accordingly. that is, naturally, a simplification -- for it is the israeli right institutionalized in likud and kadima, through their american political arm in AIPAC, that will heavily influence the republican administration's perception of obama as satisfactory or no. and that is precisely why obama is out there kowtowing to the lobby in the most patronizing and subservient possible way -- he is trying to retain for himself enough credibility with likud and its american political arm to secure control over what is the most far-reaching, consequence-loaded american foreign policy decision with respect to iran in the mideast since the overthrow of mosaddeq -- and indeed could be one of the heaviest decisions in the history of american foreign policy.