In Obama we trust? (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 06/01/12)
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In the end, the whole question of what Israel should do about Iran
boils down to a simple question: Does Jerusalem trust Washington? Do
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his closest ministers – those
who may ultimately have to decide whether or not to attack Iran –
believe US President Barack Obama when he says the US will not permit
Iran to acquire nuclear arms? To hear Netanyahu speak about the
Iranian issue this week – in light of last week’s round of talks in
Baghdad between Iran and the world powers known as the P5+1 – the
answer is not an unequivocal yes.
Netanyahu, briefed fully by the Americans about the talks with Iran,
went public with criticism of the P5+1 negotiation approach.
“Not only do the sanctions need to be harsher, the demands on Iran
for which the sanctions are imposed must be strengthened and the
powers must insist that Iran fulfill these demands in full,” the
prime minister said this week at a speech to the Institute for
National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference in Tel Aviv that
dealt at length with the Iranian question.
Reiterating what Israel believes must be the demands, Netanyahu
said, “Iran must stop all enrichment of nuclear material; it must
remove all materials enriched to date from its territory; and it must
dismantle its underground nuclear enrichment plant at Qom. Only a
specific Iranian commitment during negotiations to meet all three
demands and a clear confirmation that they have been executed can
stop Iran’s nuclear plan. This should be the goal of the
negotiations. But I must say regretfully that this is not what is
asked of Iran today.”
Netanyahu said that while the powers should be demanding that “Iran
stop all enrichment in light of its serial violations,” there is no
such blanket demand on the table. While he praised the imposition of
heavy economic sanctions on Iran, he said it “must be accompanied by
the demands I outlined. It is the combination of the two that will
lead to the stopping of the Iranian nuclear program. It is very
possible that the Iranians will temporarily stop their enrichment at
20% percent, but that is not enough. The test will be if the Iranians
will agree to stop all enrichment, remove all enriched material and
to dismantle their underground nuclear facility at Qom. This is the
test and there is no other.”
Netanyahu’s words did not sound like a resounding vote of confidence
in the US – and the P5+1’s – abilities to get the job done through
And if the negotiations don’t work, does Israel trust that the US
will indeed take the military option off the table and actually use
it to prevent a nuclear Iran, as Washington has pledged? Obama and
other officials have said over and over that Iran will not be allowed
to go nuclear and that the US policy is to prevent them from
achieving nuclear weapons. Containment, Obama said earlier this year,
was not an option – prevention is the goal.
But if that is the stated policy declared by everyone from the US
president on down, why the doubt and why all the internal debate
inside Israel about whether it needs to go it alone? Simple, former
Netanyahu National Security Council Uzi Arad said at the INSS
conference; Because there is a considerable distance between
declarations and actions.
Because there are other trends in US policy that could, in the end,
outweigh the original rationale of preventing an Iranian bomb at all
costs to preserve Middle East stability and stop nuclear
proliferation in the region.
And because there are counter voices in the US – including from
influential think-tanks like the Rand Corporation – putting out
reports “intoxicated with the concept of preparation and deterrence”
which are preparing the US for the inevitable – a nuclear Iran.
All those things sow doubt.
The belief that the US would act militarily as a last resort needed
to be strengthened for a number of reasons, Arad said, including for
tactical considerations in the current round of talks. For an
agreement that will satisfy the US to emerge from the talks,
Washington needed to radiate “more determination that if it does not
go well, the US will turn to other means,” Arad declared.
He added that trust that the US means what it says can be
strengthened through declarative statements, by setting out a clear
time line or by spelling out in greater detail what will actually
happen if the military option is implemented.
Doubt about the US resolve, by the way, is not only in Israel’s mind,
but also – at least according to Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe
Ya’alon – in the minds of the Iranians. For if the Iranians did
indeed believe that the US and the West were hell-bent on stopping
their nuclear program, regardless of how high this would raise the
price of oil, then Tehran’s leaders would have stopped the program by
now, opting for regime survival over nuclear capability.
Robert Blackwill, who worked on the US National Security Council
under George W.
Bush and described himself as a rock-ribbed Republican, said there
was another matter complicating the trust, namely the poor state of
relations between Obama and Netanyahu.
“It is common knowledge that the Israeli prime minister and the
American president don’t like each other very much. And that worries
me,” he said.
“I worked in the White House three different times on the National
Security Council,” Blackwill continued. “Good relations can soften
disagreements, bad relations can exacerbate disagreements. It
matters. What we Americans tend to forget is that the fellow who goes
to work every morning in the Oval Office is called a homo sapien and
he has glands like all the rest of us – and he gets affected by his
While US ambassador Dan Shapiro took issue with this characterization
of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship and said the two men have trust
in one another, Michele Flournoy, who until earlier this month was
the third top official in the Pentagon, said the conversation needed
to move beyond the “dynamics between individual personalities.”
Flournoy, currently working for the Obama campaign as co-chair of its
national security advisory committee, said Israel’s question of
whether to go alone or rely on a broader international effort
sustained over time “comes down to your comfort level, your degree of
strategic trust that the US will be with you, that others will be
Flournoy said Israel and the US’s strategic interests on Iran were
fully aligned. Both realize a nuclear Iran will lead to a “cascade of
proliferation in the Middle East” and both realize it will
provide “greater cover for Iran” in the region and for
its “destabilizing activities and support for terrorism.” She said it
all came down to the credibility of the US commitment.
“Do you believe that we see this in the same way and that the US will
ultimately back up our statements with actions,” she asked.
“Actions,” she said, quoting her mother, “speak louder than words.”
Flournoy then ticked off diplomatic actions she said the Obama
administration has taken to back Israel, from support after the
Goldstone Report and the Mavi Marmara incident to a boycott of the
anti-Israel Durban follow-up conference and willingness to use a veto
to block the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN Security Council
last September. Beyond diplomacy, she said it was also worthwhile to
look at the US’s military capacity and development efforts in the
region, including its force posture of some 40,000 troops and two air-
carrier battle groups.
“Look to our actions and make your judgment about credibility,” she
Others, including some ministers in Netanyahu’s government, may take
a less sanguine approach and have described in the past a “trust
deficit” that accumulated during the first two years of the Obama
term. This “trust deficit” stemmed from what officials in Jerusalem
termed Obama’s “ambush” on the settlement issue and the
Administration’s back-tracking from the letter Bush sent to Ariel
Sharon before the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza that outlined the US
position on settlements and other issues.
As for Arad, he said he believes the Americans will take action
against Iran if need be.
“I am willing to say that I think this will be done,” he
commented. “But to say I am sure, or convinced – I will never say
Faith is one thing; certainty and knowledge are something else
entirely. Israel’s decision on Iran will ultimately rest on whether
it can couple belief with knowledge and come to certain faith that
America will do what it has said: keep Iran from getting the bomb. (©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 06/01/12)
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