On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak seemed to be pushing for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program, while trying to silence any opposing voice speaking out against it.
Barak, in a speech to the Knesset plenary, spoke in praise of the air strike and attacked the press and the civilians that are protesting against the strike outside his home. Netanyahu in a briefing to journalists chose to personally attack Israeli President Shimon Peres for having the audacity to publicly express his objection to the assault.
But even through the belligerent rhetoric sounded by Netanyahu and Barak, one can't shake the sense that the two are actually looking for a ladder to come down with. Hinting at this was none other than the person the two wanted to appoint as home front defense minister - Uzi Dayan.
In an interview to the New York Times, Dayan recounted two separate meetings he held with Netanyahu and Barak in the beginning of the week dealing mostly with the Iranian issue. "They haven't made up their minds on whether to attack Iran," Dayan said and he stressed that Barak and Netanyahu will attack Iran only as a last resort. “This window is closing, but if the United States would be much clearer and stronger about the sanctions on one hand and about what can happen if Iran won’t make a U-turn — there is not a lot of time, but there is still time to make a difference.”
Dayan's comments, which sounded like a direct message to the White House, came after two other publications this week, one in Ma'ariv, the other in Ynet, which seem to have come from the same message sheet. The bottom line: If President Obama will publically express steadfast commitment to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel would shelf its attack plans for a few more months.
It isn't clear who is behind the latest publications. Is it Netanyahu and Barak trying to signal the White House of a possibility of postponing the airstrike on Iran, or is it actually, the ministers Ya'alon and Meridor, who oppose an attack on Iran trying to find a ladder for the prime minister and the minister of defense to come down on.
A source close to both the prime minister and the minister of defense claims that the stream of senior American officials that visited Israel in recent weeks left Netanyahu and Barak disappointed. They didn't supply clear answers regarding the American timetable for the diplomatic effort and sanctions or the red lines that would prompt the United States to strike on its own.
Netanyahu and Barak are expecting to get a clear cut American guarantees that would let them back down. The prime minister and his minister of defense are willing to accept the American ladder, but it has to be substantial enough. Up to this point, America hasn't said what Israel wants to hear. Without answers, Netanyahu and Barak will be forced to order an attack all on their own.
The problem is that at this critical point in time the U.S. administration is more passive than ever – on Syria, on Egypt, and especially on Iran. The presidential elections this November paralyzed the White House and anything said or done – even in the realm of foreign policy – is currently benchmarked against the average American voter. Even if there is a ladder that could allow Netanyahu and Barak to back down – it isn't clear if Washington will manufacture in time.
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