From The Washington Post:
By Joel Greenberg and Joby Warrick, Published: February 2
JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders on Thursday delivered one of the bluntest warnings to date of possible airstrikes against Iranian nuclear sites, adding to the anxiety in Western capitals that a surprise attack by Israel could spark a broader military conflict in the Middle East.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking at a security forum attended by some of Israel’s top intelligence and military leaders, declared that time was running out for stopping Iran’s nuclear advance, as the country’s uranium facilities disappear into newly constructed mountain bunkers.
“Whoever says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” Barak said. He switched from Hebrew to English for the last phrase: “later is too late.”
The language reflected a deepening rift between Israeli and U.S. officials over the urgency of stopping Iran’s nuclear program, which Western intelligence officials and nuclear experts say could soon put nuclear weapons within the reach of Iran’s rulers.
Much more at the link.
The Obama Administration is very concerned that Israel could launch a surprise attack, to take out Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, without giving the United States very much — or any — advance warning. For whatever reasons they have, the Israelis, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, do not appear to place much trust in President Barack Obama and his Administration, and might reasonably conclude that someone in the Administration would notify Iran prior to the attack, whether with or without the President’s direct approval.
From The Jerusalem Post:
US anxious over possible Israeli plans on Iran
Two US officials say Jerusalem still undecided on Iran attack; Israeli strike would have implications for US election.
By REUTERS 02/03/2012 21:42
The Obama administration is increasingly anxious about Israeli leaders’ provocative public comments on Iran’s nuclear program but does not have hard proof that Jerusalem will strike Iran in the next few months, US and European officials said.
The US uncertainty and lack of information about Israel’s plans on Iran were behind an alarming assessment of the situation reportedly voiced by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the officials said.
David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist who specializes in intelligence matters, reported that Panetta believed there was a “strong likelihood” that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear program within the next six months — as early as April, Ignatius wrote.
Three US officials who follow the issue said their understanding was that the United States did not have concrete intelligence suggesting an attack by Israel on Iran in that time frame was likely or actively being prepared.
The current US assessment is that for months Jerusalem had been making contingency plans and tentative preparations both for such an operation and for possible Iranian retaliation, two of the officials said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is reported to be concerned that Iran is getting close to the point where their fortifications of their nuclear weapons sites will be sufficiently completed, to the point where Israel would not have the capacity, without using nuclear weapons, to destroy the sites. At that point, Israel would be dependent upon the United States to take such action, and Mr Netanyahu does not want to have Israel’s security dependent upon American decision-taking. If he distrusts President Obama, such would be an even greater concern for him. Add to that Mossad’s supposed conclusion that Iran already has sufficient weapons usable fissionable material to build a few bombs,1 and Israel’s concerns become very apparent; the opportunity for Israel to launch a successful attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons capability may well be lost in only a few months’ time. The Israelis might be more patient if they believe that the window of opportunity expends beyond the November presidential elections, if they believe that the man elected in November will be someone other than President Obama, and that he will be friendlier to Israel.2
The Obama Administration is rightly concerned with the repercussions of such an Israeli strike, even if it is successful. It could easily lead to a dramatic increase in the price of oil, and increasing Islamist terrorism directed at American and other Western interests around the world. Such would be concerns for Israel, but if they truly see a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, other concerns would pale in comparison.
Your editor finds it curious that there should be so much talk about this subject, by men who are actually in authority. The speculation of the professional media and the internet chattering classes3 is one thing, but reports naming people such as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and several Israeli officials are something different. The Israeli strike which took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons research facility at Osirak was literally a complete surprise; the Israelis did not notify President Ronald Reagan in advance of the attack, and there was nothing about such an attack in the media. That was, of course, before the internet allowed so many voices and viewpoints to be published. If the Israelis are talking/ winking/ hinting about it now, it has to be considered a possibility that it is as much a part of psychological warfare as anything else. Considering the recent series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, which the Iranians blame on Israel and the United States, such threats would seem extremely credible, and could cause the Iranians to both divert resources into things that the Israelis do not plan to attack, and provide them with more “encouragement” to seek a negotiated agreement to cease their nuclear projects. It could also be a way of forcing the Iranians into a persistent state of high alert; full alert status, dragging on for months and months, is tiring, and eventually leads to degraded performance and vigilance.
- General Aviv Kochavi, the chief of military intelligence, said Iran already has enough fissile material to build four nuclear weapons and could do so within a year if Iranian leaders give the order. Your editor has not seen any stories which state that American intelligence agencies have come to the same conclusion. ↩
- Mitt Romney said, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will get a nuclear weapon. If we elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not.” Also see Mitt Romney: Si vis pacem, para bellum. ↩
- This latter characterization would certainly include your editor. ↩