Obama administration buys time on Iran–but what will happen after the elections?

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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Obama and Netanyahu

Phil Weiss highlights this Haaretz article by Amir Oren reporting that Israel has decided to wait on attacking Iran until next year.

An important takeaway from Oren’s article, if it’s correct, is that the US has literally bought time on the question of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Pentagon spokesman George Little announced last night that the Defense Department intends to “request an appropriate level of funding from Congress” for Israel’s Iron Dome system. This funding would be in addition to the $205 million the US has already given Israel for the missile defense system. The Iron Dome system is important to Israel, as it could blunt the impact of potential counter-attacks in the aftermath of a strike on Iran.

Here’s Oren on what this announcement means:

Thirty-eight minutes after [Little's statement], Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly thanked both Panetta and himself (“The decision was the result of contacts between the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon” ).

Israelis may be the world champions of chutzpah, but even biting the hand that feeds you has its limits when the bitten hand is liable to hit back. When Barak thanked the Obama administration “for helping strengthen Israel’s security,” he was abandoning the pretension to act against Iran without permission before the U.S. presidential elections in November.

For all intents and purposes, it was an announcement that this war was being postponed until at least the spring of 2013.

The announcement also comes after House Democrats urged the Obama administration to boost funding of the system for next year’s budget. The administration had proposed a slight reduction in funding for Iron Dome, though Ron Kampeas of JTA notes that this dynamic is routine.

The slight difference in proposed funding for Iron Dome from the White House and Congress now appears to be gone.

And if Oren is right, that the promised funds for Iron Dome have staved off an Israeli attack on Iran for now, the question then becomes what happens next year?

The Leveretts, the Iran experts who run the excellent Race For Iran blog, offered this theory before Netanyahu arrived in Washington early this month:

It seems clear that Netanyahu is coming to Washington determined to extract from Obama a commitment to use American military power, not to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but at a future point (presumably after November 2012) when there is a general recognition that sanctions have failed to get the Islamic Republic to surrender on the issue of uranium enrichment. That is the crucial bottom line. The problem with Iran’s nuclear program, from an Israeli perspective, is not some threshold of nuclear development that Iran has yet to cross. The problem is the program, as it currently exists and operates.

From the Goldberg interview, we would surmise that it will not be that hard for Netanyahu to extract such a commitment from Obama. But that is going to give Netanyahu bankable leverage over the American President after November 2012—whether that President is a re-elected Obama or a new Republican. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, will be squarely behind the Israeli prime minister on this one. As it becomes ever more evident that Tehran is not going to surrender its nuclear program, even in the face of escalating sanctions, Netanyahu will return to Washington at some point in the next 1-2 years—and he will want the Oval Office’s occupant to deliver on the commitment that Barack Obama is getting ready to give him.

8 Responses

  1. yourstruly
    March 29, 2012, 12:14 pm

    two years is more than enough time for occupy america to forge a successful anti-iran war movement, one that will set our nation on course to help build a just and peaceful world.

  2. Citizen
    March 29, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Bibi knows what he’s doing–he and AIPAC are in constant communication re anything going on in WH or Congress that may in any way impact Israel. Israel already offered two squadrons of precious F-35 jets if only he’d suspend settlement expansion very briefly so Obama could cash in on resumption of a month (or so) of the “peace process.”
    Bibi knows he can get a lot more if he doesn’t interfere during US campaign for next POTUS, especially regarding a giant spike in gas price at the pump. Any GOP winner except Ron Paul will be even better for Bibi’s agenda, no matter, in either case, the then sorry or sorrier state of the US economy. A more perfected Iron Dome will be great to handle Iran’s reaction when Israel does attack–may even be over Xmas holidays, but that may be a bit too early due to the joint “training” exercise now rescheduled for no earlier than this Fall–including the new free missile defense systems, which will come complete with US Army handling & operating technical soldiers, plus at least those promised 9,000 deployed US Army grunts, boots on the ground. By then Obama will have also have sent all the needed air refueling products, supplies, equipment Israel at this point does not have for a successful bombing of Iran and exit. Israel polls show much higher support for Bibi attack on Iran if he attacks with clear US green light, although those polls show a majority want the attack in any case.

  3. Annie Robbins
    March 29, 2012, 1:18 pm

    , Netanyahu will return to Washington at some point in the next 1-2 years—and he will want the Oval Office’s occupant to deliver on the commitment

    yuk.

    great reporting alex

  4. BillM
    March 29, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Oren’s theory makes no sense; the Obama Administration had previous called for $195-ish million more for Iron Dome, so why would Israel make a massive policy commitment for a tiny increase in that item already on the table.

    On the other side, the Leveretts are exactly right that it probably was not at all difficult for Netanyahu to get commitments from Obama to use force in the future. Obamas has sharpened his rhetoric (“diplomatic window is closing”), removed his ways out (containment is officially off the table), upped arms sales/gifts to Israel (Iron Dome plus reports of tankers/bunker-busters), is moving massive forces to the Persian Gulf (too numerous to name), and is steadily increasing sanctions even though they also hurt the US and its allies by driving up oil costs substantially. The delay also gives time to try to udnermine Syria and remove a key Iranian ally. ‘

    If the sanctions don’t force an Iranian surrender (which of course they won’t) of facing another Iraq-style situation (endless sanctions and military presence, except these with much higher costs to a much poorer US), or of finding another route to force the issue and break the stalemate. One guess as to what that route is likely to be.

  5. ritzl
    March 29, 2012, 3:25 pm

    The contrarian view might hold that when Israel shuts up about bombing Iran and let’s Obama think he has literally “bought some time,” that is the time they are most likely to do it. With this seeming interregnum, Israel gets BOTH more Iron Dome and some misdirecting silence.

    Something about announcing you’re going to attack prior to an attack never made complete sense, the insanity argument aside.

  6. DICKERSON3870
    March 29, 2012, 3:43 pm

    RE: “And if Oren is right, that the promised funds for Iron Dome have staved off an Israeli attack on Iran for now, the question then becomes what happens next year?” ~ Alex Kane

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  7. Inanna
    March 29, 2012, 7:41 pm

    Where’s the funding for the Iron Dome for Palestinians? Or does Israel get to bomb them with impunity?

    The sooner we end funding Israel the better.

  8. kalithea
    March 30, 2012, 2:10 pm

    Obama probably made Netanyahu the same promise he made Medvedev. He probably told him that he doesn’t want to alienate his base so “see me after the elections”. This is why Netanyahu has been boasting that Obama meant yes when he said no on attacking Iran now. I bet there were lots of winks exchanged between them. Obama treats the left side of the party like children and talks to them out of both sides of his mouth all the time.

    FOR GOD’S SAKES SUPPORT RON PAUL’S CAMPAIGN BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

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