A message from Israel arrived on our shores this week. It came from the prime minister and defense minister of Israel.
The message was not sent in a diplomatic pouch. Nor did it come in a private conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barak Obama, though we have to assume the same message had already been sent to the White House.
The message was a warning that the Strong Man of the Middle East will go to war against Iran before Election Day, November 6, unless Barack Obama meets two Israeli demands. The warning was delivered by the New York Times in a news analysis, “Israeli Leaders Could Be Dissuaded From Striking Iran”, by the Times’ Jerusalem correspondent, Jodi Rudoren.
A former Israeli national security adviser said Wednesday that the prime minister and the defense minister told him this week they had not yet decided to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and could be dissuaded from a strike if President Obama approved stricter sanctions and publicly confirmed his willingness to use military force.
Got that Mr. President? Only you can prevent this forest fire from engulfing the Middle East. Israel has lit the flame. Netanyahu has sent the warning: Either you do exactly what we demand—stricter sanctions and a public statement that the U.S. is willing to use military force against Iran—or else we will ignite the deadly flame of war against Iran.
The message carries the ominous deadline language Israel puts on the table in all of its threats. The warning came from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak through a credible source, Uzi Dayan, who met with the two Israeli leaders Monday.
“There is a window of opportunity,” said the official, Uzi Dayan, a former deputy chief of staff in the military. “This window is closing, but if the United States would be much clearer and stronger about the sanctions on one hand and about what can happen if Iran won’t make a U-turn — there is not a lot of time, but there is still time to make a difference.”
Dayan is currently chairman of the national lottery.
He was being considered for the post of minister of the military’s Home Front Command, which he said he turned down, and therefore extensively discussed with the two leaders the security threats that Israel is facing, particularly from Iran. (Another leading security official, Avi Dichter, is expected to be confirmed by Parliament as the home front minister on Thursday.)
Netanyahu has experience setting conditions that end with the bully’s growl, “or else”. For their part, the Palestinians are accustomed to Netanyahu’s tactics. He has successfully prolonged the failed peace talks with the Palestinian Authority by making new demands that move the goal post further down the field to failure.
“Recognize Israel’s right to exist” was not on the peace talk table until after a few years into the negotiations. Netanyahu decided he would play the “right to exist” card as a demand he knew the Palestinians would refuse to accept.
When the Palestinians make progress toward stability on the world stage with steps like negotiating for recognition as a state, Netanyahu offers some crumbs if the PA would delay its talks with the UN. The PA wisely ignored him.
Tony Karon, veteran Middle East observer for Time magazine, described the intense discussion within Israeli media, for and against an Israeli attack.
One of Israel’s most senior columnists, Maariv’s Ben Caspit, sought to calm the media frenzy. “You can all relax,” wrote Caspit. “In the last two weeks, nothing new has happened with regards to an attack on Iran.
The Cabinet hasn’t convened, the Defense Minister hasn’t summoned the IDF general staff, and no new information has been received. Everything that is known today was also known two weeks and two months ago.”
Caspit suggested that the new “bomb Iran” talk wasn’t based on any qualitative shift in the nature of Iran’s nuclear work. The U.S. intelligence assessment until now has been that despite steadily accumulating the means to build nuclear weapons, Iran has not thus far moved to enrich uranium to weapons grade or to begin the process of actually building a bomb. Nor has it taken a strategic decision to do so as yet.
The problem is that the “red lines” adopted by Israel and the U.S. for triggering a military response are different: President Obama has vowed to take military action to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, whereas Israel has insisted that Iran can’t be allowed to maintain the capability to build such weapons — a technological capacity it essentially already has.
Despite this difference in perspective described by Karon, Netanyahu is depending on his allies in the U.S. to support him as he makes his demands on Obama during the politically sensitive final months of President Obama’s reelection campaign.
Should Obama be reelected, Netanyahu’s threat may prove to be a major misstep. A second term Obama would be free to proceed at his own pace to make his own demands on Israel. Assuming that is, Obama does not give in to the arrogance of Netanyahu’s demands, which appears unlikely, given the strong lead Obama currently has over his opponent.
Of course, anything could happen between now and November 6. Elections do have consequences.
The picture of Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting above, is a pool photo taken by Abir Sultan. It is from Reuters.