Containment of Netanyahu, or containment of Obama?

Israel is worried Iran might produce a nuclear bomb. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared in Israel on August 2 that all options, including the military one, are on the table as to Iran.
According to a poll by the Israeli daily Maariv, 40 % of the Israelis think Israel should attack Iran alone, while 35 % prefer the United States does it. The latter has a far bigger military capability than Israel does, and can launch more bombers, for a longer period of time, dropping huge bunker buster bombs, capable of cracking the fortification defending Iranian sites.
Israel suspects the United States is not going to attack soon and maybe not at all, despite statements from Panetta and even from president Obama. Israel assumes that the United States is hoping the sanctions against Iran work, and if not, it will accept containment.
In a way the United States is already trying to impose a kind of containment, by persuading Israel or to some extent coercing it not to strike Iran. The Obama administration strives to get Israel to remain within its borders and not go after the Iranians. The Obama administration seems to be sure this is the right strategy, fearing an Israeli raid might cause a ripple effect in the Middle East, such as a conflict between Israel and Iran and Hezbollah ultimately leading to an oil crisis that would destabilize the Western economy. American targets might also be under attack, particularly in countries around Iran such as in the Persian Gulf.
During the last decades the United States provided Israel with weapon systems such as F- 15 and F- 16, fighter – bombers that could be sent to bomb Iran. Yet the Obama administration, as part of containing Israel and preventing it from attacking Iran, also provided defensive measures to help absorb an attack by Iran and its allies, mostly the Hezbollah. The United States deployed powerful radar in the south of Israel to detect incoming missiles and allocated in the last months almost one billion dollars for developing of Israeli weapon systems aimed at intercepting missiles and rockets.
Israel appreciates the generous American assistance. However, Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, claimed on August 12 that the international community should admit that the talks with Iran have failed, and proceed to declare that if Iran goes on with her nuclear project, every option is possible.
On September 11 the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called for setting “Red Lines” to Iran. This Israeli approach displays its containment of the Obama administration’s policy about Iran, i.e. PM Netanyahu is trying to persuade the United States that the military way is the best if not the only one.
For Israel’s government it seems that soft power such as sanctions is too soft, too little too late. Sanctions could perhaps work, but only by being truly crippling. Yet Iran might end up like North Korea, with a weak economy but with nuclear capability. Furthermore Iran could recover more quickly than North Korea because of her vast energy resources. In any case Iran would possess the arsenal that could destroy Israel, but not the United States. After all for the latter the Middle East is little more than a gas station and an office. For Israel this area is home. Israel has nowhere to run to.
United States, instead of sending waves of bombers to Iran, periodically dispatches to Israel high ranking government officials, such as the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of State. Their goal is to try to find out if and when Israel might start her raid on Iran while trying to convince her to avoid or at least to postpone the bombardment. This is why they demonstrate their support of Israel so the latter would not feel isolated and abandoned, which might lead it to strike Iran.
Obama himself did not visit Israel, as president. His administration does not denounce a military option against Iran but rather avoids it. This is a similar approach to the issue of the president coming to Israel, which may go on to the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, in September in the UN.
Either way Israel will carry on asking for solid guarantees ensuring the United States attacks Iran to prevent the bomb. Still the American message might be a matter of interpretation, as former notifications on this subject.
If the meeting between the two leaders does not happen there is not much of a chance of Obama landing in Israel as a last attempt to keep the Israeli fighters on the ground. Yet, Obama might come unexpectedly to Israel, as with his visits to other countries such as Afghanistan. It could be his “October Surprise”. Obama could say that it is part of a new peace initiative. His real intention and hope would be to reassure the Israelis that he stands with them and thus help to persuade public opinion and with it the Israeli government, against an attack.
Israel of course does not participate in the American presidential election. Yet the Israeli decision for or against a strike on Iran is a kind of a show of hands on the amount of trust in Obama’s promises about Iran. Obama does not want to lose this ballot. He also wants the actual Jewish vote, the American one. In this sense arriving to Israel might have a positive impact on his election campaign particularly in swing states such as Florida.

About the Author
Dr. Ehud Eilam has been dealing and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the Israeli military and later on he worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defense. He is now a writer and an independent researcher. He has a Ph.D and he had published five books He lives now near Boston, MA. His email: