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.
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.