The Obama Administration has put strong pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discourage him from launching a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. Yet a closer examination of the Administration’s objections raises serious questions:
–Why would the Obama Administration dispatch U.S. commandos to Pakistan to kill Osama bin-Laden rather than embark on a diplomatic solution (as it preaches in the Iranian case)? Are the prospects of negotiating a deal with Tehran so much brighter than asking Pakistan to arrest the al-Qaeda leader if not hand him over to stand trial for his crimes?
–Why would the Administration object to an Israeli attack on the grounds it will only delay an Iranian bomb by a year or two while at the same time assassinate bin-Laden? Did Washington believe killing the mastermind of 9/11would finish the al-Qaeda threat once and for all?
–Why does Washington argue that a military undertaking by Israel would trigger an adverse political tsunami in the region and thus inadvisable? Did it think eliminating the Yemeni Jihadist leader Anwar al-Awlaki would be without repercussions to Yemen and possibly Saudi Arabia? Did it ignore the powerful Al-Awalik Yemeni tribe when it stated “We warn against cooperating with America to kill our son Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki. We will not stand by idly and watch.”
–How do the frequent drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan add to Washington’s popularity in the area while an Israeli preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear sites undermines America’s regional standing? Does Washington believe eliminating bin-Laden and/or al-Awlaki has cemented U.S.- Pakistani relations or the ties to Yemen?
–Are U.S. drone and commando attacks against Islamist militants launched because Washington assesses there would be no risk of retaliation? Would such strikes (even when they hit their intended targets) not elevate the threat to U.S. soldiers stationed in the region– which seems to be Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s favorite argument against an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites?
–Would the U.S. campaign to eliminate Jihadist threats not heighten the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the U.S. proper similar to the ones depicted in some of the scare-mongering scenarios drawn to dissuade Israel? After all Faisal Shahzad the would-be bomber of New York City’s Time Square said in U.S. court: ”…I’m going to plead guilty 100 times forward because until the hour the US pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking US, and I plead guilty to that.”
–Why would the Obama Administration continually strike Jihadists in Somalia to thwart the would-be killers of some Westerners while at the same time take pains to dissociate itself from the assassination of an Iranian scientist who worked to arm a fanatical government with nuclear weapons (in effect fingering Israel for it)? And even send condolences to his family?
–Most of all, why would a regime that daily pronounces its goal to “cut” the “cancerous” existence of an entire nation—Israel– and whose supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledges support “in any place, [for] any nation or any group” who acts to realize this nightmare be treated differently by the Administration than the other Jihadist “ticking bombs”?
Two conclusions could be drawn from pondering these baffling inconsistencies. First, when the Obama Administration pinpointed a potential threat to the safety and well being of Americans it acted preemptively to eliminate it. The actions were undertaken despite the geopolitical, diplomatic, legal and military ramifications which could have ensued and without first attempting a diplomatic solution. Yet when it comes to Israel’s solemn obligation to protect its very existence, the Administration insists on pursuing the very course it has often abandoned. Second, the main difference between the Iranian case where the Obama Administration has acted to thwart an Israeli attack and its own military activism is Washington’s concern that Tehran will interfere with the oil shipping routes through the Persian Gulf in case its nuclear installations are attacked. It fears that an Iranian effort to block the Strait of Hormuz for example will have a dramatic impact on oil prices. The global economy could be thrown back into recession and America’s nascent economic upturn would be derailed. If this scenario unfolds Mr. Obama’s reelection chances would be as good as gone. In a word when all the objections of this Administration to forcefully stopping Iran are examined the one not spelled out and the only one that makes real sense is politics. Mr. Obama and his allies are in effect throwing Israel under the bus to assure his reelection victory.
Avigdor Haselkorn is the author of The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence (Yale University Press).