Monday, November 7, 2011

US officials: Israel refused to promise Panetta it wouldn't attack Iran

Sunday, November 06, 2011
ISRAEL MATZAV - Carl in Jerusalem

Well, this ought to keep the military option on the table. Based on conversations with 'American officials' Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak refused to commit to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that they would coordinate an attack on Iran with the United States.
Panetta arrived in Israel on October 3 and, in addition to Netanyahu and Barak, also met with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and senior members of the IDF General Staff. The U.S. defense secretary's visit came against the backdrop of a sense among members of the American administration that they didn't clearly understand where Israel was headed with regard to the entire subject of the threat from Iran.

Officials in the U.S. administration noted that, in the months prior to Panetta's visit, there had been a substantial reduction in Israeli pronouncements on the Iranian issue, both in public but also privately through diplomatic and defense channels. This caused the Americans to come to the conclusion that they needed to get a clearer picture from Israel regarding where things stood, the American sources said.

Panetta raised the Iranian issue in his talks in Israel with both Netanyahu and Barak. He sought not only to hear about Israel's intentions but also to underline that the U.S. was interested in full coordination with Israel on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat. The American defense secretary hinted that the Americans did not want to be surprised by Israel. For their parts, however, Netanyahu and Barak avoided providing a clear response, answering vaguely and in general terms.

During his visit here, Panetta held a joint news conference with Barak at which the American hinted that his country opposes an Israeli assault on Iran. Panetta said countries must work together to assure that Iran did not pose a threat to the region, adding that a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue requires the coordination of the international community.

The defense secretary's visit and what he heard here led, in the opinion of commentators, to two main schools of thought in Washington on the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. One view was that the evasiveness displayed by Netanyahu and Barak to Panetta's questions stemmed from the fact that planning is indeed taking place for Israeli military action against Iran, without coordinating the operation with the Americans.

According to the second school of thought, however, the message the United States is receiving from the defense echelon is what reflects reality, while the lack of clarity conveyed by the political leaders was designed to apply pressure on the U.S. administration so it in turn steps up pressure on Iran.
That was the same visit where Panetta warned of our 'growing isolation.' I guess now we all know why.

I would go with the second school, at least so long as our leadership does not decide that the threat from Iran is imminent and/or that the window to stop them is closing. But I doubt the confusion part. We've had too long to wrestle with this and I doubt there is any confusion within the upper echelons of the government and the IDF about what needs to be done and how we will go about doing it. Netanyahu and Barak are both Sayeret Matkal graduates (Barak was Netanyahu's commander) - our most elite force. There is no way they are confused over this. A reminder:

What could go wrong?
posted by Carl in Jerusalem @ 4:31 PM