US officials sharpen Iran rhetoric as AIPAC comes to town

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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Pressure from the Israel lobby over Iran is mounting on the Obama administration, and it’s working–at least rhetorically. After weeks of some pushback against the idea of an Israeli strike on Iran, the administration has noticeably hardened its tone. The shift in tone comes as the powerful American-Israel Public Affairs Committee is set to host a conference that will be primarily focused on Iran. 

Bloomberg has the story:

Obama administration officials are escalating warnings that the U.S. could join Israel in attacking Iran if the Islamic republic doesn’t dispel concerns that its nuclear-research program is aimed at producing weapons.

Four days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told reporters that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have prepared military options to strike Iranian nuclear sites in the event of a conflict.

“What we can do, you wouldn’t want to be in the area,” Schwartz told reporters in Washington yesterday.

The hawkish note struck by Schwartz comes after the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Benjamin Netanyahu will pressure “Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain ‘red lines.’”

The comments by Schwartz aren’t the only sign of a shift in tone. The Washington Post runs a story today that has U.S. officials bragging about their ability to bomb an underground nuclear facility in Iran:

Western spy agencies for years have kept watch on a craggy peak in northwest Iran that houses one of the world’s most unusual nuclear sites. Known as Fordow, the facility is built into mountain bunkers designed to withstand an aerial attack. Iran’s civil defense chief has declared the site “impregnable.”

But impregnable it is not, say U.S. military planners, who are increasingly confident about their ability to deliver a serious blow against Fordow should the president ever order an attack.

U.S. officials say they have no imminent plan to bombard the site, and they have cautioned that an American attack — or one by its closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel — risks devastating consequences such as soaring oil prices, Iranian retaliation and dramatically heightened tension in a fragile region.

Yet as a matter of physics, Fordow is far more vulnerable than generally portrayed, said current and former military and intelligence analysts. Massive new “bunker buster” munitions recently added to the U.S. arsenal would not necessarily have to penetrate the deepest bunkers to cause irreparable damage to infrastructure as well as highly sensitive nuclear equipment, probably setting back Iran’s program by years, officials said.

The piece ends with an official wondering, “If you can target the one piece of critical equipment [centrifuges] instead of the whole thing, isn’t that just as good?”

And then there was Hillary Clinton, who told Congress yesterday that the “president’s policy is to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons capability.” Capability is the key word here–in line with the language used in AIPAC’s number one “ask” of legislators after the conference. The “ask” is requesting senators to sign on to the Lieberman-Graham resolution, which has been harshly criticized as a potential backdoor to war. Two weeks before Clinton’s comments, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy explained why the word “capability” is so important (emphasis in original):

A new Senate effort to move the goalposts of U.S. policy to declare it “unacceptable” for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability – not a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one – gives AIPAC the opportunity to make a choice which all can observe. If the Lieberman resolution becomes an ask for AIPAC lobbyists at the March AIPAC policy conference, then the world will know: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war with Iran…

The resolution seeks to establish it as U.S. policy that a nuclear weapons capability – not acquisition of a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one – is a “red line” for the United States. If the U.S. were to announce to Iran that achieving “nuclear weapons capability” is a red line for the U.S., the U.S. would be saying that it is ready to attack Iran with military force in order to try to prevent Iran from crossing this “line” to achieve “nuclear weapons capability.”

Clinton’s comments are clearly political–aimed at aligning the Obama administration’s rhetoric with AIPAC’s. And yes, it’s true that the rhetorical shift is also aimed for Israeli consumption, to convince Israel that the US can strike Iran if it wants to, and that Israel should not strike on their own.

But this rhetoric puts the administration that much closer to Israel’s aggressive posture on Iran. Sooner or later, that paints you into a pro-war box–and a situation that could spiral out of control in the form of a disastrous Middle East war.

11 Responses

  1. dahoit
    March 1, 2012, 10:58 am

    Does this mean full scale lobotomization of the Iranian people?Is it aerially possible?Talk about a condition that they can never meet.

  2. eljay
    March 1, 2012, 11:07 am

    There you have it – Obama’s clearly not a Muslim, he’s an Israeli! :-)

  3. Bill in Maryland
    March 1, 2012, 11:44 am

    Alex Kane: “Sooner or later, that paints you into a pro-war box–and a situation that could spiral out of control in the form of a disastrous Middle East war.”

    That is why, if President Obama has sufficient courage and truly loves his country, he should act as the Veterans for Peace suggest:

    1. Announce publicly that you will not allow the United States to be drawn into war if Israel attacks Iran or provokes hostilities in some other way.
    2. Announce to the people of the United States and the world that Iran presents no immediate threat to Israel, much less the U.S.

  4. chet
    March 1, 2012, 1:35 pm

    Pres. Obama has been painted into a corner since his speech advocating the 1967 lines as a basis for I/P negotiations – the immediate furor brought about by AIPAC, the pro-Zionist media, Netanyahoo and the Republicans made it clear to him that his chances of re-election would be disastrously wounded unless he fell in line.

    All that has followed vis-a-vis Iran is a logical progression orchestrated by those same unseemly bedfellows – at every step, Pres. Obama had the choice: do the “right thing” or lose the election. Unsurprisingly, he chose the re-election option.

    What else could he have done?

    • eljay
      March 1, 2012, 1:56 pm

      >> … at every step, Pres. Obama had the choice: do the “right thing” or lose the election. Unsurprisingly, he chose the re-election option.
      >> What else could he have done?

      He could have done the “right thing”. At least he’d lose the election with dignity, rather than win the election as Israel’s lickspittle.

      • chet
        March 1, 2012, 2:16 pm

        For my part, the horror of one of the Republican nominees becoming the president far outweighs the disgust of having to watch Pres. Obama having to grovel.

        • yourstruly
          March 1, 2012, 2:50 pm

          what’s the difference, a republican president racing pell mell towards an iran war or a reelected president obama backing into said war? either way, there goes whatever’s left of a just and free america (think patriot act iii), not to mention the liklihood of wwiii and its implications vis-a-vis doomsday.

    • yourstruly
      March 1, 2012, 2:41 pm

      nonsense! he does the right thing and he wins the election, based on what happened twenty years ago when president george bush the elder criticised israel’s settlement expansion policy along with his hinting that israel’s u.s. backers were unpatriotic. opinion polls at the time showed overwhelming public support for the president. had he persevered and used his “bully pulpit” to rally support, he’d have defeated bill clinton. additionally, only a year ago, when general david petreaus and vp joe biden, among others, went public with their statements that israel’s intransigence was endangering our troops as well as being the reason “they” hated us, panic took hold of the israel lobby, for the last thing they want to see is public awareness of their israel firstness. all of this suggests that president obama (if only he had the cajones), by persistently attacking israel firsters could route whomever his opponent turns out to be in the november election.

  5. Charon
    March 1, 2012, 2:54 pm

    Wow. Passing a law making a diplomatic solution illegal was bad enough. But saying a nation cannot use energy for peaceful means just because it could also be used to make weapons (and despite the recent propaganda of lies, it is well-known that if it was weapons Iran pursued they are years away and not months like the media shills are paid to say… Think aluminum tubes)… Well that is not any different than “non-violet protests will escalate to violence so we will respond violently” so I’m not surprised. That’s a terrible red-line. You can continue to draw the line any way you like for any nation you don’t like. Iranians aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom because it can be used to make jenkem. I mean that’s a ridiculous non-example but so is everything else. People need to realize we are being (mis)lead by fools in ALL important areas. They are self-proclaimed experts and in reality non-experts. They talk the talk and fool the masses with their manipulative speech, the similar friends they have who provide them with ‘credentials’ and respect, and of course all the useful idiots who fall victim to their game. But they are fools. Even if they paid top dollar on prestigious degrees. The Israel bias is profit in itself. An anomaly of a partisan issue. Since when do partisan issues involve supporting ethnic cleansing and state- sponsored terror? Undermining human rights? This is not normal. Once you realize it, it is embarrassing to hear them speak of it

  6. kma
    March 1, 2012, 2:57 pm

    why does everyone assume Obama would want to do anything to prevent war with Iran? or that it would be so hard to get reelected, especially given the competition, if he stood up to it?
    the party owns him, and he’s one of them. he doesn’t care! he’s just doing what he’s told. you know who owns his party? the same industries that own the other party. they want war.

    ironically, Obama has to pretend to be “left” of neoconservative in order to get elected. that bar is so low right now, he’s having a good time giving his masters what they want and carrying the image of being the “people’s candidate” at the same time.

    my own congresswoman, a democrat, swore she was on “our side” against the Iraq war, to our faces many times in her office. but she NEVER did ANYTHING against it, and right there behind her lying face on her wall were nothing but photos of her smooching executives from weapons manufacturers. it did not take me long to figure it out.

    guys, Obama is not going to stop it. he has no reason to want to. OTHERWISE HE WOULD.

  7. HarryLaw
    March 1, 2012, 6:52 pm

    Obama may well engage in hostilities against Iran and use this same rhetoric, ‘ sure we were bombing Libya, but we were not engaged in ‘ hostilities’ you see’. As Orwell once put it, “you have to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that, no ordinary man could be such a fool. [ Gene Healy The Examiner]

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