Israel may rule out a unilateral attack in Iran should the US toughen its stance with regards to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, a senior official in Jerusalem claimed. "The problem is that the Iranians are not identifying determination on the American side. This is why they have been accelerating the pace of their uranium enrichment over the past four months. They are also developing the weapon itself at a fast pace," the official said.
"The Iranian regime is certain that in any case 2012 will pass peacefully. They assume the US will not attack for fear of soaring oil prices and because of the presidential elections. They do not believe we will attack without a green light from Washington. Therefore, it is in the Americans' interest to convince the Iranians that the US may attack, not to convince us not to attack."
So what, according to the official, must the US do to prevent Israeli warplanes from taking off en route to Iran? First of all, Obama must repeat, publicly (at the UN General Assembly for instance), that the US will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and that Israel has a right to defend itself, independently. Jerusalem would view such a statement as a virtual commitment by the US to act, militarily if needed, and would likely cause Israel to reconsider the unilateral military option.
Israeli officials have noted that Obama has not made a clear statement to this effect since the AIPAC conference in March. They claim that his silence is giving the Iranians the impression that the US administration is not determined to stop the nuclear program.
Israel is also demanding that Washington inform Iran that if significant progress in the negotiations with the P5+1 group (the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) is not made within the next two weeks, the talks will be suspended. The reason: As long as the negotiations persist, the Iranians will remain certain that they are immune to an attack or additional drastic economic measures and will continue to buy time in order to enrich uranium to a level of 20%. Israel has also suggested that the US present Iran with an ultimatum: Suspend the efforts to refine uranium to 20% during the negotiations, or we will quit the talks. We won’t negotiate while you advance towards nuclear "breakout" capability.
Israel is also urging the US and the European Union to increase the direct economic pressure on Iran. Government officials in Jerusalem have admitted that the sanctions are very effective, but they claim that the Iranian military nuclear program is advancing faster than the sanctions' "hourglass." Therefore, they assert, Washington must impose a complete boycott on countries and institutions that conduct business with Iran's central bank (such as India, Turkey and China) and cancel the exemptions given to countries such as South Korea and Japan, which are permitted to purchase oil from Tehran.
Another demand is a noticeable reinforcement of American forces in the Persian Gulf and emphasizing, mainly in the press, Washington's capabilities to stop Iran's nuclear program. The US has a substantial amount of forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, but many of them are busy with the war in Afghanistan and the piracy off the Horn of Africa. Moreover, some of the American, French and British forces in the Gulf are exposed to sea missiles, mines and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' small assault boats. The concentration of US naval forces in the Indian Ocean, off Iran's shores – would demonstrate that Washington is determined to prevent the closure of the Strait of Hormuz and is prepared to strike if necessary.
Dialogue in the press
Israel considers the gradual, cautious exposure of the Pentagon's military options and means to be just as important, as it would clarify to Tehran that the US is serious. But the focus should be on revealing these options to the American press, not to the Israeli media. Articles published by the New York Times or the Washington Post will constitute more than just a hint to Iran that Obama will not hesitate to act militarily after the elections.
Another Israeli demand refers to the so-called "red line" of Iran's nuclear program. The Obama administration claims that it will strike once intelligence agencies identify a "breakthrough" in the development of nuclear weapons, as defined by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Israel argues that Iran must not be allowed to even come close to achieving nuclear "breakout" capability. Jerusalem further claims that it is not at all certain that the US will be able to identify when Iran reaches the nuclear “breakout" point, or whether it will be able to identify it in time. Perhaps by then Iran's nuclear facilities will be fortified to the point where a strike would be futile. Therefore, Israel prefers not to wait for incriminating evidence regarding nuclear "breakout" capability. It wants someone to act before Iran reaches this stage.
The senior Israeli official estimated that should Washington accept the main demands, Israel would reconsider its unilateral measures and coordinate them with the US.
The problem is that the Israeli-American discourse on the Iranian threat is being conducted in the press, instead of through secret diplomatic channels and direct talks between the most senior officials. It is safe to assume that the reason for this is that both sides wish to take advantage of the influential Jewish vote in the US to leverage their positions. This is not how close allies should be dealing with such a critical matter, regardless of the tense relations between Israel's leaders and the Obama administration.