The Wall Street Journal reports: Complaints from Israel about the U.S.’s public engagement with Iran have pushed the White House to consider more forcefully outlining potential military actions, and the “red lines” Iran must not cross, as soon as this weekend, according to people familiar with the discussions.
President Barack Obama could use a speech on Sunday before a powerful pro-Israel lobby to more clearly define U.S. policy on military action against Iran in advance of his meeting on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these people said.
Israeli officials have been fuming over what they perceive as deliberate attempts by the Obama administration to undermine the deterrent effect of the Jewish state’s threat to use force against Tehran by publicly questioning the utility and timing of such strikes.
The Israeli leader has told U.S. officials that he wants Mr. Obama to outline specifically what Washington views as the “red lines” that Iran cannot cross, something the administration is considering as it drafts the president’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and sets the agenda for his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu.
Some administration officials said that if Mr. Obama decides to more clearly define his red lines, he is likely to do it in private with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than state it in his AIPAC speech.
Mr. Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials also are pressing for Mr. Obama to publicly clarify his insistence that “all options are on the table” in addressing the Iranian nuclear threat.
Mr. Netanyahu recently conveyed his displeasure with the administration in separate meetings in Jerusalem with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and a group of U.S. senators, said people involved in the meetings.
He complained that comments by senior U.S. officials have cast Israel as the problem, not Iran, and only encouraged Tehran to press ahead with its nuclear program by casting doubt over the West’s willingness to use force.
Israeli officials were particularly alarmed when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Iran as a “rational actor” in a CNN interview after a recent visit to Israel.
That General Dempsey calls Iran a rational actor certainly runs counter to the “mad mullahs” narrative that many warmongers favor — a narrative upon which many of the arguments in favor of war utterly depend.
If Israeli officials are alarmed about Iran being described in this way by America’s top military official this would either be because they believe Demspsey’s wrong, or, because they think that although his characterization is accurate it is tactically counterproductive to openly express this fact. Either way, this unwillingness to publicly acknowledge that Iran behaves rationally, shines light on Israel’s motives for pushing for Obama to set “red lines” that Iran must not be allowed to cross.
If Iran is a rational actor then such red lines could serve as a deterrent in persuading the Islamic republic not to move closer to the development of nuclear weapons. But if, as the Israelis apparently insist, Iran is not a rational actor then the red lines being sought are designed to have more effect on the Obama administration than Iran. In other words, Israel is intent on forcing the United States into a corner so that it becomes politically impossible for this or any other U.S. president to refuse to attack Iran.
Will Obama bow to such pressure? To judge by his performance so far, this is a president who has yet to face any pressure that he is willing to resist. And this is the experience that Netanyahu is relying on: push Obama hard enough and he will almost always yield.