President Barack Obama and Amos Yadlin, head of Israel Military intelligence 2006-10 and one of the eight pilots who bombed, destroyed and ended the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981 (and who was head of Israel’s military intelligence when the Syrian reactor was destroyed in 2007), are not telepathic; but they are certainly on the same page when it comes to the gaps between U.S. and Israel policy on Iran.
“The devil is in the details,” as they say, and after all of the pronouncements as to his support for Israel and that “he has our back,” Mr. Obama verified in his speech yesterday before some 13,000+ at the policy conference of the American Israel Public Affiars Committee (AIPAC) what Yadlin (now the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies) wrote just days before in a New York Times’ op-ed.
It is crystal clear that U.S. policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a “nuclear weapon” while Israel is bent on stopping Iran from obtaining “nuclear capability,” and this is hardly a nuance, but a matter for Israel of life and death. For what does this mean, except that without defined “red lines,” the Iranians can go ahead with their plans – enriching uranium, developing delivery systems, etc. – until the point where they are ready to “obtain a nuclear weapon,” however that might be defined (and it would most certainly be the subject of discussion and even fierce disagreement among U.S. and Israeli policy makers, just as even intelligence assessments continue to be the subject of some discussion between the two countries).
Yadlin in his piece clarifies for the entire world why this not innocuous difference exists between the two countries: Israel simply doesn’t have enough firepower to eliminate Iran’s capability of “developing a nuclear weapon” should it get that far, assuming that at some point in the very near future the most sensitive portions of Iran’s nuclear program will be deep underground in fortified facilities that the Israelis cannot reach:
“Israel doesn’t have the safety of distance, nor do we have the United States Air Force’s advanced fleet of bombers and fighters. America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology and huge amounts of ammunition, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of hitting targets and penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel’s arsenal can achieve. This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached. And as that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension.”
Even the head of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, recognized that the president parsed this issue carefully, praising him effusively: “While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.”
Nothing could be clearer and thus President Obama is asking Israel to take a leap of extraordinary faith and outsource its security to the United States, i.e. don’t prevent Iran from developing “nuclear capability,” but count on him in particular – or any future president – from preventing Iran from developing a “nuclear weapon.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is meeting today with Obama and will be speaking later before the AIPAC policy conference, gave an almost backhanded compliment to the president on his speech, notable for not what he said, but for what he didn’t say: “I appreciated the fact that he said Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” adding, “I appreciated the fact that President Obama reiterated his position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, and that all options are on the table. I also appreciated the fact that he made clear that when it comes to a nuclear-armed Iran, containment is simply not an option.”
Waiting until Iran might develop nuclear weapons, as opposed to nuclear capability, is not a policy to which any Israeli prime minister could possibly agree; nor is it possible to ultimately “outsource” our security to a third country or any single individual. Israel has gone it alone before, and may in fact have to do it again.