With Iran becoming increasingly nervous about a possible Israeli or American attack on its nuclear facilities, now is not the time to tell them to stop sweating. Yet that's the message Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered before a U.S.-Israeli conference here.
It "doesn't make sense" to spell out the reasons against a military attack, the Washington Post chastised him in an editorial Friday.
His speech may have shocked and disappointed the Israeli government but it must have gone over great in Tehran.
I don't know if behind all the news leaks coming from the offices Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak are actual preparations for an attack or simply psychological warfare on the Iranians– they're not mutually exclusive – but they've had Tehran worried lately, and that's good news.
The media are full of reports about assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists, mysterious explosions at missile bases, computer worms, malfunctioning centrifuges, plus Israeli long-range air force exercises, successful missile tests, satellite launches, submarines cruises through the Suez Canal and the U.S. delivery of bunker buster bombs.
Then along comes Panetta with a bunker buster of his own for the ayatollahs, "Don't worry, be happy."
The Post editorial reminded him, "The more Iran worries about a military attack, the more likely it is to scale back its nuclear activity. The only occasion in which Tehran froze its weaponization program came immediately after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when it feared it might be the next American target."
What makes no sense, the Post reminded him, is publicly announcing
that a strike would “at best” slow down Iran’s program for “maybe one, possibly two years”; that “some of those targets are very difficult to get at”; that a now-isolated regime would be able to “reestablish itself” in the region; that the United States would be the target of Iranian retaliation; and that the global economy would be damaged.
Panetta's ill-advised public warning to Israel is not the only reason the Iranians may get the impression that the Obama administration's tough talk is a bluff. The President boasts about imposing "the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever experienced," yet he continues to resist pressure from allies and a 100-0 vote in the U.S. Senate to sanction the Iranian central bank and foreign banks that do business with it. The administration is trying to weaken the legislation; one argument is that it might hurt the economies of allies like Japan and South Korea.
With actions like these, the administration has given great political ammunition to the Republican presidential candidates who are escalating their rhetoric to show how much more pro-Israel and anti-Iran they are. I'm not advocating an attack on Iran, only that the option be open and everyone understand we're not bluffing.