Which Of These Two Things Is More Important?

May 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are both abroad and are, among other things, engaged in their usual efforts to keep the pressure up on Iran. Netanyahu is in Prague while Barak was in Washington, but there are mixed signals coming from their dual diplomatic missions. After bringing seven cabinet members with him (including Avigdor Lieberman, who is apparently allowed to engage in actual diplomacy on rare occasions) and meeting with the Czech president yesterday, Netanyahu today said that he sees no evidence that Iran is about to halt its nuclear program, and compared its negotiation strategy to that of North Korea with the ultimate goal of delaying and buying more time. In doing so, he threw a bucket of cold water on the P5+1 talks scheduled for May 23 by making it clear that he views them as a farce. This is of course not surprising, but coming on the eve of the NATO summit and less than a week before the negotiations in Baghdad, it certainly reads as Netanyahu communicating his desire to strike Iran sooner rather than later, and unilaterally if need be. He also emerged with some support from his hosts, as Israel and the Czech Republic issued a joint statement expressing concern over Iran’s uranium enrichment program and the Czech foreign minister reiterated that the Czech Republic plans on continuing to support Israel within the EU. Combined with the story in Yediot that Israeli military and defense officials have suddenly gone quiet on Iran, it points to Israel preparing to attack on its own timetable and by itself if need be.

Meanwhile, Barak was in the U.S. meeting with Leon Panetta to request more money for the Iron Dome missile defense system and undoubtedly to talk about Iran as well. This comes on the heels of Israeli military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi’s secret visit to Washington a couple of weeks ago to talk about Iran as well. Barak’s meeting with Panetta must have gone well, because it was announced afterward that not only is the U.S. committing more money to Iron Dome down the road, it is providing an immediate extra boost of $70 million so that Israel can fund more Iron Dome batteries in 2012. It seems unlikely to me that the funding guarantees for Iron Dome do not come with a promise of Israeli restraint in return, since this is a crucial component of Israel’s defense strategy and this is an area where the U.S. has leverage over the Iran issue. It is widely presumed that the U.S. does not want Israel to attack Iran, and it certainly does not want Israel to do so before the U.S. strategy of sanctions and P5+1 negotiations is exhausted, so the fact that top Israeli officials are still shuttling to Washington for close consultations and emerging with money for Israeli military priorities indicates that the U.S. and Israel are on the same page with regard to a strike on Iranian facilities.

So which of these two events has more explanatory power in thinking about what is going to happen next with Iran? As my regular readers know, I think that actions speak louder than words here, and I don’t believe that we are going to see an Israeli strike on Iran this summer. There are obviously electoral considerations in play that make some think that Israel will launch an attack before November, which is presumed to then tie President Obama’s hands and leave him no choice but to fully support Israel irrespective of the strike’s consequences. While this makes sense, I don’t think that the Pentagon would be authorizing extra money for Iron Dome that was not in the original defense budget if Obama and Panetta thought that Israel was going to flout their wishes, and so my money is on Barak’s itinerary being a lot more consequential than Netanyahu’s this week.

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