[Marxism] US using Israeli threats to Iran in negotiating strategy

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Apr 10 01:19:47 MDT 2009

But if Iran fails to turn control of its nuclear-power plants over to US and
allies -- and the Israeli threat as a US tool could stiffen their backs on
an issue where there is already a lot of opposition to surrendering
sovereignty -- what then? The strategy also effectively guarantees Israel
that they will get US assistance and backup if Netanyahu does decide to

At the same time, the use of the threat as a tool highlights the element of
bluster and bull. Negotiations over this issue have not tended to foster
improved relations with Iran, but rather increasing tensions because Iran
has little give room on this, from the standpoint of sovereignty, the NPT
treaty which does not require any such surrender of sovereignty, and the
fact that the threat itself highlights Iran's vulnerability in the absence
of a nuclear deterrent. Not to mention the damage an attack could do to the
possibility of Iranian cooperation with Washington re Afghanistan, Iraq,
Lebanon, Palestine, and other issues.
Fred Feldman

April 9, 2009

Obama's Dilemma 
Israel's Threat to Strike Iran 

A recent statement by the chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen.
David Petraeus, that Israel may decide to attack Iranian nuclear sites has
been followed by indications of a debate within the Barack Obama
administration on whether Israel's repeated threats to carry out such a
strike should be used to gain leverage in future negotiations with Tehran. 

In the latest twist, Vice President Joseph Biden, who has been put in charge
of the administration's non-proliferation agenda, appeared to reject the
idea. "I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would [launch a
strike]," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Tuesday. "I think he would be
ill-advised to do that." 

His remarks suggested that any proposal to exploit the threat of an Israeli
attack as part of a "good cop, bad cop" tactic with Iran would run into
stiff opposition within the administration, since it would rest on the
credibility that the threat was real and that the U.S. would not actively
oppose its being carried out. 

Petraeus invoked the possibility of an Israeli attack in prepared testimony
before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. "The Israeli
government may ultimately see itself as so threatened by the prospect of an
Iranian nuclear weapon that it would take pre-emptive military action to
derail or delay it," he asserted. In contrast to past statements by U.S.
officials on the issue, he added nothing to indicate that Washington would
oppose such an attack or was concerned about its consequences. 

Moreover, a CENTCOM spokesman later told IPS that Petraeus' testimony had
been reviewed in advance by the Office of the Secretary of Defence (OSD),
suggesting that brandishing of the Israeli threat had the approval of
Pentagon chief Robert Gates. 

But the Pentagon now appears to be backing away from the Petraeus statement.
In an email message to IPS, Lt. Col. Mark Wright, an OSD press officer
declined to confirm or deny that Petraeus's statement had been reviewed by
his office. Wright insisted that it "would be inappropriate to characterise
the General's view on this from the Pentagon" and referred the question back

Gates himself had appeared to go along with Petraeus' approach in an
interview published in the Financial Times Apr. 1, in which he implied
strongly that Israel would indeed attack Iran if it crossed an Israeli "red
line." Asked whether Israel would attack Iran, Gates said, "I guess I would
say I would be surprised.if [Israel] did act this year." 

"I think we have more time than that," he said, referring to the moment when
progress on Iran's nuclear-enrichment programme might provoke an Israeli
attack. "How much more time I don't know. It is a year, two years, three
years. It is somewhere in that window." 

Within 24 hours, however, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS),
Adm. Michael Mullen, like Biden several days later, reiterated his own
publicly stated reservations about any such Israeli action in a meeting with
the Wall Street Journal's neo-conservative editorial board Apr. 2. 

While conceding that the Israeli leadership "is not going to tolerate" a
nuclear Iran and that its military could inflict serious damage on Iran's
nuclear programme, Mullen also warned that such an attack would pose
"exceptionally high risks" to U.S. interests in the region, according to a
record of the interview quoted to IPS by Mullen's office. In an editorial
about the meeting published Monday, the Journal stressed that Mullen
understood that Tehran's nuclear ambitions were "a matter of 'life or death'
for the Jewish state" and downplayed the threat to the U.S. 

Mullen, in fact, has consistently spoken out against an Israeli strike since
early July 2008, when, after returning from consultations with his Israeli
counterpart, he publicly warned against an Israeli attack which, he said, in
addition to further destabilising the region, would be "extremely stressful
on us.." 

The issue of how to handle the Israeli threat to attack Iran has been made
more urgent by the installation of a far-right government led by Likud Party
chief Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been particularly hawkish on Tehran and
deeply sceptical that Obama's diplomatic engagement with Iran will yield
acceptable results before Israel's "red lines" are crossed. Israeli
officials have called on the U.S. to strictly limit the amount of time it
will devote to its diplomatic effort before resorting to punitive measures,
a demand echoed by key U.S. lawmakers - Democrats, as well as Republicans -
who are considered close to the so-called 'Israel Lobby' here. 

Some administration officials had embraced the brandishing of the threat of
an Israeli attack on Iran as a means of exerting pressure on Iran even
before they joined the Obama administration. 

Dennis Ross, who is now "Special Adviser" on Iran to Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton had endorsed an early draft of a report published
last month by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) - a
think tank that often reflects the Israeli government's views - which
included the statement, "If the international community appears unable to
stop Iran's nuclear progress, Israel may decide to act unilaterally." 

Both Gary Samore, the new White House co-ordinator on weapons of mass
destruction, and Ashton Carter, now under secretary of defence for
acquisition, technology and logistics, expressed support for a diplomatic
strategy of exploiting the Israeli military threat to Iran at a forum at
Harvard University's Kennedy School last September. 

Referring to negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue, Samore said, "My
view is that, unless it's backed up by a very strong bashing alternative, it
probably won't be successful." 

Samore called the threat of such an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites
"a good diplomatic instrument" for the United States. Carter, who is also a
non- proliferation specialist, referred to making the Iranians "wonder
whether the Israelis are going to do something" as "not an unreasonable game
to play." 

But Samore also acknowledged that such a strategy could be dangerous. "[W]e
have to be careful when we use that instrument," he said, "that the Israelis
don't see that as a green light to go ahead and strike. before we're ready
to have that actually happen." 

Still, he argued that any new administration would not want to "act in a way
that precludes the threat, because we're using the threat as a political

That danger is particularly acute with Netanyahu's accession to power,
because he represents Israeli political and military circles that hold most
firmly to the idea that Iran's enrichment program poses an "existential
threat" to Israel, a view reportedly also shared by his defence minister,
Labour Party leader Ehud Barak. 

According to the New York Times' David Sanger, President George W. Bush last
year rejected a request from then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for over-
flight rights and other support needed to attack Iran. 

Mullen was then sent to Israel to personally convey Washington's opposition
to such an attack. It was on his return that he made that opposition public.
In the end, Olmert apparently decided against taking any action without a
green light from Washington. But, much as Samore anticipated, the new
government is widely regarded as more likely to act unilaterally.

Bush reportedly feared that such a strike would further destabilise Iraq and
expose U.S. troops there to retaliation, according to his top Middle East
adviser, Elliott Abrams, who has recently argued that the those dangers have
since been significantly mitigated. In the one cautionary quotation that the
Journal chose to include in its editorial about Mullen's views on a possible
Israeli attack on Iran, the JCS chief noted that Tehran's ability to
retaliate in Iraq "has not maxed out at all." 

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press
Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition
of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to
War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

Jim Lobe is a reporter for Inter-Press Service.

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