Obama Seeks to Distance U.S. from Israeli Attack

obama netanyahu

Netanyahu and Obama

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 December 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.

gareth porterGlobal 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
IPS News 


  1. Charli03 says

    Good for the president. That crazy thinks he can come over here and talk to the president like he’s a child just because he has all of the rich republicans on his side and Romney said he would come when BeBe called. Between that and Sherm Adelson having a newspaper in Israel that spews trash into the international community and having a fund raiser for Romney when he was in Israel, I can’t think of a worse scenario than us getting into this mess. We cannot talk to another nation, crazy or not, the way we talk to Iran, and expect anything to change in their behavior. Obama saying we will do whatever we have to do to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon enrages me as well. Want to stop it? Take away the weaponry we have given Israel, stop sending them 27 percent of our foreign budget and tell them to stop encroaching on Palestinian territory with their settlements and treating them like they don’t matter, or lose the entire Arab world, and that’s a big part of the world to lose.

  2. Paul McDermott says

    Neocons Joe Weinstein and Jay Levenberg both put forth the usual Zionist hogwash about the need to knock out Iran’s nuclear capabilities. They both put Israel’s interests ahead of the U.S.’s in supporting a preemptive strike against Iran’s military bases and nuclear sites. Iran is considered an existential threat to Israel because it stands in opposition to Israel’s hegemonic reach in the region, its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, and its support for the Palestinian people who have resisted Israel’s settlement expansion and racist, ethno-nationalist policies toward them.
    Iran is not a threat to the United States. Israel is the real threat to peace in the region, and our blind, stupid support for its right-wing, racist policies has done nothing but diminish the reputation of the United States in the world. With friends like Israel who needs enemies?
    Admiral Mike Mullen, the previous Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did the right thing when he went to Israel and told the Likudniks to back off from a preemptive strike against Iran, which would draw the U.S. into another damn Middle East war and would throw Obama’s chances of reelection into a tailspin. He reminded them that any rash move on their part would not be appreciated.

  3. Joe Weinstein says

    Porter’s one-sided article features well-known axe-grinders against Netanyahu (Dagan et al) and fronts for the ayatollah regime (NIAC). And Porter makes sure to throw in the usual scary-sounding but uninformative knee-jerk epithets that pad ‘mainstream’ media accounts. These include (1) calling Likud ‘right-wing’ no matter what it and its leader Netanyahu actually do – including their hitherto unprecedented acceptance in 2009 of a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine; and (2) calling any military strike against Iran a ‘war’. By the latter token, Israel quietly waged two extra ‘wars': in quick strikes which disabled two of her foes’ clandestine nuclear installations – Saddam’s Osirak in 1981 and far more recently one of Assad’s. A ‘war’ that would disable Iran’s nuke weapons effort would likely comprise two rapid such strikes: (1) to knock out Iran’s retaliatory capability at air and navy bases, and then (2) directly at nuclear installations.

    Yeah, yeah, the setback to Iran nukes would be only ‘temporary’. Well, just about everything in this world is only ‘temporary’. The knockout to Saddam’s nukes was only ‘temporary’ at the time. ‘It would only have temporary effect anyhow’ is a great excuse for do-nothings and appeasers of evil – Neville Chamberlain in his day, and Barack Obama in ours.

    Obama seems to think it a great virtue for our especially capable and wealthy nation to not act special at all, to duck out of dealing with today’s African and Mideast genocides and repressions – including those now done in the name of an alleged ‘Arab spring’ democracy. (At most – in one convenient case, Libya – he claims oxymoronically to ‘lead from behind’.) In fact his administration applauds as ‘moderate’ Egypt’s now-dominant Islam-supremacy movement which ultimately is responsible for Egypt’s recent anti-Christian pogroms and whose leader moreover last year pronounced (and has not retracted) jihad on the USA. Maybe in Obama’s view all that’s OK for our big nation whose self-declared enemies apparently can manage just one past and at most a few future 9/11s, as versus wipe us out altogether.

    But it requires some real blinders to accept what the ayatollahs’ apologists now try to do: disregard the 32 years during which that regime has elected to actively, not just passively, treat the USA as a prime enemy, including sponsor or support bloody operations against US embassies in military in third countries, not to mention in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, just because the USA wimps out on dealing with a self-declared and already lethal enemy regime doesn’t, however, mean that Israel can afford to.

    The article gives no evidence that Israeli leaders are asking the USA to do anything in Iran that isn’t already in the US interest even were Israel not on the scene. No evidence is given for the upfront sensationalist claim that Netanyahu’s aim is “entangling the United States in an Israeli war” or that Israel is seeking a joint military operation. If the US (which is far better positioned and equipped, even after the Iraq withdrawal) wimps out on dealing with its own enemy – and the enemy of its own highly-professed nuke non-proliferation policy – then Israel will likely have no choice but to deal with Iran herself.

  4. dusty says

    The US and Barack Obama can not escape complicity in any attack by Israel on Iran but it is easy to stop any such raid. All the US has to do is publicly inform Israel, before any raid, that all foreign aid and all military aid to Israel is being stopped and put on hold until Israel publicly pledges not to attack Iran and destroys its stock of nuclear weapons. The US is a sovereign nation, too, and has the responsibility to conduct its own foreign policy and make its own decisions.

  5. Jay Levenberg, Esq. says

    We can expect nothing more from Obama than to do anything that will help his chances at re-election. Obama has never considered Iran a threat or he would definately have approved harsher sanctions to get the job done. Instead, he is worried that oil prices will go up endangering his chances of getting another term. What a bold, bright President we have that clearly leads from the rear. What ever happened to Presidents that did the right thing and didn’t care about their election chances like an FDR or Reagan. Even if you didn’t agree with them they knew how to lead the public. Obama has treated Iran with kid gl;ves but he was bold with Libya. What priorities! He has treated Israel as a naughty stepchild. This has emboldened the Palestinians to refuse to negotiate with Israel. Obama will spend up to a billion dollars to trash his opponent this fall because he can’t run on his own record. This is what we get from a man who promised conciliation and cooperation and no more politics as usual. By the time this election is over, you will not recognize the man who ran for President in 2008. He is lost and gone forever.

    • Charli03 says

      I suggest you read about the depth of the sanctions we have put on Iran. BeBe is the one who is treating Obama like a naughty stepchild. We are not the United States of Israel. And yes, the negotiations were going so well under Bush.

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