As the AP
and the New York Times
have reported, Obama administration officials have acknowledged that the United States is not sharing all of the details of the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. That reticence is well-justified. As the Washington Post
recently reported on the leaks coming from the Netanyahu government
, on January 31, “an unnamed senior Israeli official had told Channel 10 TV news that the United States was ready to allow more than 7,000 centrifuges and had ‘agreed to 80 percent of Iran’s demands.’” As one American official responded to the Israel cherry-picking, “What they don’t tell you is that we only let them have that many centrifuges if they ship most of their fuel out of the country.”
Given Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s all-out effort to undermine a deal that could prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons short of war, it’s no wonder State Department spokesperson had to explain the American response to the Israeli subterfuge:
"I think it's safe to say that not everything you're hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate reflection of the details of the talks. There's a selective sharing of information."
What is surprising is that the Netanyahu government would complain about “empty” briefings from the U.S. and statements like that from former national security adviser General Gen. Yaakov Amidror, “It makes us question in Israel, are they open with us or are they trying to hide from us?” After all, the Netanyahu government has made it clear for years that he will not warn the U.S. in advance
of Israeli military strikes against Iran. And that attack, one made much more likely should Bibi’s sabotage succeed, could leave U.S. forces and American interests in the region unprepared for the Iranian retaliation that would certainly follow.
Word that Israel would not give Washington a heads-up about a decision to unilaterally hit Iranian nuclear facilities first became public in 2011. That November, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey acknowledged the differences between Israeli and U.S. expectations over sanctions as well as differences in perspective about the future course of events. As Reuters reported:
Asked directly whether Israel would alert the United States ahead of time if it chose to go forward with military action, Dempsey replied flatly: "I don't know."
Dempsey’s revelation came just days after the Netanyahu government refused to give the Obama administration assurances it will first notify the U.S. of its intentions. In an October 2011 meeting with Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
came away empty handed:
Once all but a handful of trusted staff had left the room, Mr Panetta conveyed an urgent message from Barack Obama. The president, Mr Panetta said, wanted an unshakable guarantee that Israel would not carry out a unilateral military strike against Iran's nuclear installations without first seeking Washington's clearance.
The two Israelis were notably evasive in their response, according to sources both in Israel and the United States.
"They did not suggest that military action was being planned or was imminent, but neither did they give any assurances that Israel would first seek Washington's permission, or even inform the White House in advance that a mission was underway," one said.
Israeli intransigence continued into the election year of 2012. While Netanyahu made no secret of support for his friend and Republican nominee Mitt Romney
, his government again told the White House Israel would not seek Washington’s permission before launching operations against Tehran. As The Independent reported on February 29, 2012
Relations between Israel and its staunchest ally, the United States, appear increasingly strained after Israeli officials said they would not give Washington any advance warning of a decision to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, according to US intelligence sources…
Far from allowing Washington a veneer of deniability, however, the claims seem likely to drive a deeper wedge between the two countries at a time of deep frustration in Washington over Israel's hawkish intentions towards Iran, which many fear could draw the US into a prolonged Middle East war.
Six months later, USA Today
warned, “Israel is unlikely to provide much if any advance notice to the United States if it attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, Middle East experts say.” While most, including President Clinton’s former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, rightly predicted that Israel would not initiate hostilities before that November’s presidential election, many feared a surprise Israeli strike could catch American assets in the Persian Gulf unprepared and with their guard down:
The assumption is that U.S. warning of an Israeli attack would come "significantly less than an hour" before it began, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "How much of that would come from Israeli notification and how much would come from sensors we have in the region, I don't know”…
That puts the United States at a disadvantage. Getting a warning would allow the United States to reposition military and other assets to defend against a counterattack by Iran or its surrogates in the Gulf and around the world, says Michele Dunne, an analyst with the Atlantic Council.
While it’s true the United States received no advance warning about the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 or suspected Syrian facilities in 2007, the Iranian scenario is altogether different. Neither Saddam Hussein (then an American ally) nor Bashar Al-Assad posed a serious threat of military retaliation to the one-off Israeli strikes. Crippling Tehran’s nuclear capability would require a sustained military campaign that, short of total invasion and occupation, would only temporarily delay the Iranian program. And the danger from an Iranian response is quantitatively and qualitatively of a different magnitude.
At a minimum, thousands of Iranian civilians would die in an American attack against Tehran's nuclear installations. Even if the Israelis alone launch a strike against Iran's nuclear sites, Tehran will almost certainly hit back against U.S. targets in the Straits of Hormuz, in the region, possibly in Europe and even potentially in the American homeland. And Israel would face certain retaliation from Hezbollah rockets launched from Lebanon and Hamas missiles raining down from Gaza. In November 2012, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that a U.S. campaign of air strikes would cost the global economy $700 billion; a full-scale invasion could have a total impact of $1.7 trillion. Two months earlier, a bipartisan report including signatories Brent Scowcroft, retired Admiral William Fallon, former Republican Senator and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, retired General Anthony Zinni and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering warned Americans about the cost of trying to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program once and for all:
A unilateral Israeli attack would set back the Iranian nuclear program by only 2 years and an American attack by 4 years. But if the objective is "ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb," the U.S. "would need to conduct a significantly expanded air and sea war over a prolonged period of time, likely several years." In order to achieve regime change, the report says, "the occupation of Iran would require a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
After reviewing the results of a 2004 war gaming exercise
conducted by The Atlantic
in conjunction with leading national security experts, James Fallows last month was moved to ask, “Would a U.S. Strike Against Iran Actually Work?”
Israel doesn't have the military capacity to "stop" Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and neither does the United States, at least not in circumstances short of total war.
That said, the U.S. and Israeli arsenals have improved since then and now feature more advanced (and more powerful) bombs and warheads capability of penetrating reinforced and underground facilities. But the great risk to the United States—that unilateral Israeli action would trigger retaliation against American targets by Iran and its proxies—remains.
Which is why it is essential for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government must give the U.S. warning before any strike on Iranian targets. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. After all, as Bibi has repeatedly reassured Americans, “Israel has no better friend than the U.S. and the U.S. has no better friend than Israel."
It’s long past time for Netanyahu to start acting like it.