Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has said Israel is unlikely to attack Iran this year to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Gates said there was still enough time to persuade Iran to abandon what is widely perceived to be a nuclear weapons programme.
Mr Gates said he does not expect Israel – which believes the US estimate for when Iran could develop a nuclear weapon is too sanguine – to take military action this year.
“I guess I would say I would be surprised…if they did act this year,” said Mr Gates. [continued…]
Israeli leaders and their advocates have already promoted a full-court blitz demanding that the United States “stop” Iran, or Israel will be forced to do so on its own. In part, this is bluster, as few analysts believe Israel is able to attack Iran on its own, and no one believes that Iran wouldn’t retaliate, which would force the United States into the middle of the conflict. However, this emphasis on Iran serves another useful purpose for Netanyahu and Lieberman: Not only does it remove Palestinian independence and potential Israeli peace treaties with the Arab world from U.S. focus, but it sets the agenda for the U.S.-Israeli talks that are to take place this May.
So far, the Obama administration has kept its cards close to the vest — there’s little sign of how it will engage Israel’s new administration on such fundamental differences in policy. But one thing is certain. The longer the United States waits, the harder it will be for the Israeli government to back down from its positions. And it is clear, looking at the challenges facing the United States throughout the Middle East, that placing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on the back burner is only going to add fuel to the many brush fires the United States is already fighting in the region. Dealing with a hostile and recalcitrant enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is hard enough, but the Obama administration may find that dealing with a hostile and recalcitrant ally brings its own set of challenges. [continued…]
European governments are practicing evacuating their citizens from Iran in case a “third party” strikes the nuclear installations. Israel’s veiled threats “that no option should be lifted from the table,” which were meant to push the international community to intensify pressure and sanctions on Iran to prevent war, have had the opposite effect. The international community has become convinced that Israel will act on its own, so it does not need to do a thing. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Irrespective of whether Israel is ultimately a free agent, for Robert Gates to refer to Israeli intentions as though they are something about which Americans can only guess, does not seem to be in American interests. It burnishes Israel’s image of unpredictability and it implies that the US lacks the power to rein in its ally at a critical juncture.
It’s one thing for the Obama administration to want to show that Israeli interests and US interests don’t always coincide, but to suggest that the US has no leash strong enough to hold back the mad dog will merely have the effect of creating the appearance of complicity. If the US truly sees Israel as a maverick state that in the international arena is a law unto itself, then it’s time to question the basis of the US-Israeli alliance.