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Based on the declarations coming out of Washington recently, as well as American actions (or lack thereof) on the matter of Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, reasonable suspicions are being raised that Israel could be left to face the Iranian problem alone.

U.S. President Barack Obama has declared his commitment to Israel's security more than once and has promised to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But now, as every target date set by the Americans has passed and the plan for harsh United Nations sanctions look relatively milky, concern is rising that the U.S. government has accepted that Iran will either get the atomic bomb, or at least develop the capability but agree to stop just before actually building one.

At every opportunity, Washington expresses its opposition to Israeli military action on Iran. If attacked by Israel, Iran would certainly not give up its nuclear intentions. Additionally, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said recently that the U.S. has ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program any time soon. With this, the U.S. is hiding "the stick" in dealing with Iran.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell's efforts to backtrack on Flournoy's statements appeared unserious. He said that U.S. military action against Iran remains an option, but one has only to look at the words of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to understand the grave situation facing Israel.

Gates, according to a New York Times report, warned in a three-page secret memo written to National Security Adviser James Jones in January that the U.S. lacks a long-term plan for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

Gates pointed out that the U.S. would be faced with a problem if Iran developed the capability to produce a nuclear weapon but stopped short of actually building it. This scenario would not technically constitute a violation of the commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but as Gates said in an interview with ABC: "If Iran goes to the edge but does not assemble a nuclear weapon, how would we know that they did not actually produce one?"

All of this fits together with a quote, attributed by American officials to a senior U.S. defense establishment figure, that the U.S. shouldn't allow Israel and Saudi Arabia to push it into a war against Iran in which young Americans will die.

The ongoing negotiations over sanctions are raising questions about America's policies. Last week, in an interview with Channel 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the U.S. to impose strict sanctions against Iran. Several days ago, at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, Netanyahu expressed doubt as to whether sanctions would be enacted in the coming month.

This June, before Lebanon takes its turn as president of the UN Security Council, is seen as the new final target period to approve sanctions. The desire of the Obama administration to get other nations on board for sanctions is pushing the resolution to the lowest common denominator and will from the get go neuter the chance of effective sanctions.

Up until now, the government has avoided statements on paralyzing sanctions enacted by the U.S. itself, with the aid of likeminded nations. Officials in Jerusalem find it hard to understand why Obama is focusing international attention on differences on a few residential units in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem that in the end will remain part of Israel in a peace agreement.

Netanyahu's positive declarations this past week on the future of negotiations with the Palestinians as well as Obama's popping in on a meeting in Washington that Jones was holding with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak can be seen as efforts to cool the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israel. But deep suspicions remain in the relationship. The question is whether differences of opinion on the peace process and Iran could lead Israel to independently attack Iran's nuclear sites.

On this question, there are two opposite potential answers. On one hand, the crisis with Obama could push Netanyahu into taking dangerous steps. On the other hand, given the divisions with Washington, Netanyahu could be fearful of acting independently. The murky situation will probably be clarified in the coming months, after the sanctions are tested, assuming that they are not again delayed.

Posted by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff on April 27, 2010

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