There has been a break in the long list of U.S. officials visiting Israel, following the departure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday, and the upcoming visit of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta next week.
Publicly, the two sides insist on a polite-as-possible display of the fundamental disagreements regarding how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. In practice, Clinton can continue stating that "we are all on the same page" on Iran. However, the uncharacteristic silence of the Israeli leadership on the matter in recent weeks, and the resulting traffic on the Washington-Jerusalem axis, both indicate a genuine American concern in light of Israel's potential intentions.
The tension between the two countries regarding the Iranian issue is a seasonal phenomenon: we have experienced it in the latest fall, as well as in the one prior. This time, its implications might be more dramatic than in the past.
From what is known, despite promises made by Clinton to display wisdom and creativity in dealing with the Iranians, the way that the U.S. is analyzing the situation, or the possibilities in dealing with it, hasn't changed. Washington continues to glorify the sanctions, while Israel continues to doubt its effectiveness.
Chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima) claimed Monday that Iran is able to cope with the imposed sanctions for at least another year. Israel firmly states that it cannot wait for so long, mainly because it fears that Iran would use this time to complete the transfer of its nuclear facilities into a "zone of immunity," after which it would be impossible to destroy them in an aerial strike. People who recently talked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are under the impression that he is more determined than ever as for the need of an Israeli strike.
Whether he finally decides to attack – and from what is known he has yet to decide –Netanyahu should consider three potentially problematic implications: a severe crisis in Israeli relations with the U.S., the potential risk of an extended missile and rocket attack on Israel's home front and the concern that a lack of international support for Israel's one-sided move will prevent the “follow-up”: continuous pressure in the wake of the attack, which is absolutely essential in order to ensure that Iran does not try to quickly rehabilitate its project.
The trouble is that even the defense of the home front, coupled with continuous pressure on Tehran depends a great deal on the nature of relations with the Americans. The necessary components for defense of the home front from missiles depend on the good will of the United States, and without the extra effort from Washington, it will be difficult to thwart the renewal of Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, the Americans are treating us with silk gloves. This may change if Netanyahu chooses to ignore Obama’s warnings, and attack Iran on the eve of the U.S. elections. It may be that Clinton’s straightforward message, in which she told the Israelis on Monday that Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard will stay in prison forever, is not disconnected from the Iranian context.
The benefit of an Israeli attack is still unclear, especially regarding the question of how long such an attack can delay Iran’s nuclear program. Even so, it seems that those who oppose an attack should not build up expectations regarding any ability to prevent the attack. If Israel has previously confronted such dilemmas, as the foreign media claims repeatedly, it did so when the Iranian program was less developed. This time, when the clock is ticking faster than ever, the key question will be whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can fulfill his ideological and historical commitment to prevent what he describes as a potential second Holocaust.
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