Why Iran isn't Libya
"Haifa is a wonderful city and Israel is full of history," exclaimed the commander of the guided-missile destroyer the USS Stout, Cmdr. Nathan Borchers, during the ship's visit at the end of January.
On Friday the Stout participated in the opening volley of American cruise missiles on Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gadhafi's air-defense system. Borchers was no longer on the bridge of the ship: At the beginning of the month the commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Admiral Harry Harris, cashiered Borchers and his command master chief, a female officer, because during shore leave, the ship's sailors did not observe proper drinking discipline and fraternization regulations.
The professional purpose of the Stout's call in Haifa, according to Borchers, was "some exercises with the Israeli navy and air force." A matter of routine. Last week its sister ship, the destroyer Mason, also dropped anchor in Haifa. The ships' radar and missiles are supposed to help in defending Israel from ground-to-ground missiles.
As a junior officer, Harris was a member of the crew of the aircraft carrier Saratoga, which participated in the American operation to bombard Libya in 1986. At his command headquarters in Naples, a major in the Israeli navy has been stationed as a liaison officer as part of a NATO effort to thwart terror in the Mediterranean Sea.
The close cooperation between the Israeli and American armies does not, however, apply to the current campaign against Libya. As in the case of the fighting against Iraq in 1991, in Washington they have been putting together an alliance that will include Europe and neighbors of the Muslim country under attack, under the umbrella of a United Nations Security Council resolution - but without Israel. By coincidence, while this was happening last month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met in London with his British counterpart, Liam Fox. A few days later Barak was scheduled to host his American colleague, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as part of Gates' international farewell tour in advance of his retirement this summer.
Last week Andrew Gibb, the coordinator of the national Intelligence Assessment on the question of the Iranian atom, briefed a Senate committee behind closed doors in advance of the completion of the latest assessment, which will update the previous one from 2007. It appears the updated report say that the Iranian leadership could decide to produce nuclear weapons, but is continuing to remain on the fence - thanks to cold, cost-benefit calculations - as to whether to do this, for fear of stimulating a preventive strike, either Israeli or American. Perhaps it will postpone the development of a nuclear warhead until it has in its possession an intercontinental ballistic missile with a deterrent range reaching as far as New York and Washington.
Between the Pentagon and Israel Defense Forces command headquarters at the Kirya in Tel Aviv, there are very productive channels of communication with respect to regional matters. However, on the most fateful issue of all, Barak sees America as the 2011 version of the old lady in the hospital corridor: Thus far he has not managed to move it elsewhere and keep it from moaning. For this, two additional "corridors" are needed: an air corridor, independent of any plan or sector, to prevent collisions between Israeli and American aircraft so that flight routes will be separated within the entire air space to the east, the south, the west and the north; and above all a diplomatic corridor - a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
In the campaign against Libya, President Barack Obama may have lost his virginity, so to speak, but one should not conclude that his desire to avoid an attack on another Muslim country has diminished at all. He, personally, is immune from any summons before Congress. His cabinet members will be questioned and will not dare to lie. Therefore, a green light or even a yellow one to Israel is not to be expected; the U.S. will deny there was even a stoplight at the intersection.
The person who will command any operation against Iran, or will have to bear the brunt of its outcome, is the Israel-friendly commander of the Central Command (Centcom ), James Mattis. Like Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Agency head James Clapper, Mattis is warning of the dangers of the diplomatic stagnation, especially at a time of major regional changes. If the government of Israel does not internalize these messages, on the grounds of preferring security to peace, it will remain without security and without peace.