Ehud Barak is in town today for meetings with Leon Panetta at the end of a week in which Netanyahu has criticized the P5+1 talks and given a humdinger of a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) speech equating a nuclear Iran with Nazi Germany and stating that it is not only his right but his duty as Israeli prime minister to invoke the memory of the Holocaust when speaking of current threats to Jews worldwide. In the meantime, Barak said this week that Israel has no obligation to refrain from attacking Iran while negotiations are ongoing and expressed his view that Iran is unlikely to give up enriching uranium. Jeffrey Goldberg thinks that a June attack is now possible, pointing to a recent report on Israeli TV about the IAF’s preparedness for a strike, and believes that because Barak could have blocked the report from airing and chose not to, it indicates that a strike will come soon (if one is indeed coming).
I still think that this kind of action on Barak’s part is not necessarily a sign that an attack is coming, but the latest maneuver to put pressure on the U.S. to continue holding Iran’s feet to the fire. Barak is a smart strategist and knows that such comments will put pressure on Iran and also give the next round of talks in Baghdad a greater sense of urgency if the negotiating states believe that an Israelis strike is imminent. That Barak”s warning comes this week is no coincidence, since if he is unsatisfied over the fact that the P5+1 talks last Saturday did not yield any tangible concessions from Iran, the message that Israel is becoming impatient and antsy may prompt a more fruitful conclusion to the talks in Baghdad next month. In any event, I remain convinced that Barak is the crucial figure here and that Netanyahu cannot take any action without his being completely on board, a sentiment that Andrew Exum stated as well in his World Politics Review column yesterday.
So, that leaves today’s meeting with Panetta. Israeli rhetoric is once again urgently bellicose, and the face to face discussion today between Barak and Panetta might be the best remaining opportunity for the U.S. to press its reservations about a strike and make them stick. Barak has a much cooler head than Netanyahu, and if I were Panetta, I would be using today to convince Barak that Iran is being squeezed through sanctions, covert action, and military threats, and that Israel needs to back away from gearing up its air force for a pending mission. If Barak needs convincing on this front (and I am not sure that he does, since he is far more opaque than Netanyahu) and Panetta cannot convince Barak today, in person and without the distractions that come when Bibi is around, then an Israeli strike might indeed be coming sooner rather than later.