Archive for Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Israeli strike should worry U.S.

February 8, 2012


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is refreshingly frank, sometimes stunningly so. He outdid himself on a trip to Europe last week, making headlines on two sensitive topics.

Panetta said U.S. forces in Afghanistan would end their combat role by the middle of 2013, more than a year before they’re scheduled to leave the country (I’ll write more about this in another column.)

And in an even bigger bombshell, he told a Washington Post columnist that he’s worried Israel will attack Iran in April, May or June.

Some may surmise the secretary spoke out of turn or was just trying to raise the heat on Tehran. But the straightforward Panetta meant what he said. And if he’s worried about a possible Israeli attack this spring, Americans should be worrying, too.

All the more so, since U.S. officials believe that Israel may give Washington no warning, even though an Israeli strike could cause big trouble for the United States.

Not a pressing issue?

Unfortunately, the American public isn’t worrying, because the immediacy of the issue hasn’t been evident. Tough talk about Iran has become a mainstay in this election year, with Republican candidates competing to tout military action against Tehran.

President Obama, too, has insisted all options are on the table to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But the administration is focused on ratcheting up an unprecedented level of global sanctions and economic pressures on Tehran. Many have dismissed the rhetoric from Israel as little more than an adjunct to that pressure. Not so.

There is another reason Americans have been slow to grasp that an Israeli attack may be coming. U.S. and Israeli officials concur that, while Iran is developing the capability to build nuclear weapons, it hasn’t yet decided to do so. The two countries also agree that it will take time to develop a weapon if a decision is made.

“The consensus is, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb,” Panetta said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last week. It would take another one to two years to put a weapon on a delivery vehicle.

Time to squeeze Iran

In other words, the administration believes there is still sufficient time to squeeze Iran through diplomacy and sanctions. Top U.S. officials from President Obama down have been trying to impress on their Israeli counterparts the need to operate in tandem. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, carried that message to Jerusalem last month.

And Panetta regularly repeats a call for U.S.-Israeli cooperation. As he put it recently on CBS’s “Face the Nation”: “We have common cause here. And the better approach is for us to work together.” Yet U.S. officials now believe Israel may make the decision to act on its own.

Israeli leaders insist time is running out because Iran is moving facilities into mountain bunkers that can’t be destroyed by air strikes. “Whoever says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak insisted Thursday. At that point, he said, Iran’s program would enter an “immune zone” where it could be completed “without effective interruption.”

Barak, who with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a strong advocate of a military strike, says Israel must consider “an operation” before Iran reaches that point.

So here’s why Americans should be worried about a possible spring strike on Tehran:

One: There is broad agreement among top U.S. and Israeli security experts that an Israeli strike would not destroy Iran’s nuclear program, which is scattered in several locations, some underground. At best, it might delay it one or two years. This is one major reason there are still strong divisions over the wisdom of an attack within Israel’s security community.

So why take such a huge risk, if the program will remain operational? As I was told by one Israeli security expert, “If a strike will only set the program back a couple of years, it makes more sense to do the same thing through covert means.”

Big consequences

Two: Despite such a small reward, the negative consequences could be enormous. Israel may be willing to risk rocket and missile attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah. But a strike would probably boomerang by increasing Iran’s determination to build a weapon, while increasing support for the regime at home.

Even if Iran didn’t, or couldn’t, close the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices would spike, further hurting the global economy. The entire Mideast region would be further destabilized. And for what, if Iran’s nuclear program was only temporarily set back?

Three: Even if Israel attacks on its own, the United States will be blamed, with repercussions for U.S. forces in the region, and in Afghanistan. “If the Israelis made that decision,” Panetta told “Face the Nation,” “we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation. And that’s what we’d be concerned about.”

Four: If Israel goes it alone, without warning its closest ally, what does that say about the state of the alliance? Is this the way Israel would treat an American ally that aids and backs it to the max?

A premature strike would jeopardize U.S. interests, while failing to achieve Israel’s goal of destroying the Iranian program. The unintended consequences of such a strike could fray the alliance itself.

The Obama administration has built up unprecedented international pressure on Iran. A premature Israeli strike would undercut those U.S. efforts before they have played themselves out. “The most important thing is to keep the international community unified,” Panetta told the Associated Press on Friday. He’s right.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her email address is


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

"Foreign embassies in Israel have recently started to formulate contingency plans to evacuate their citizens from the Jewish State in case of a missile attack on Israel.

Senior officials in Jerusalem said that several diplomatic missions have shown great interest in preparing for various emergency situations, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday."

Clipped from:,7340,L-4186799,00.html

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

I hope Prime Minister Netanyahu and our government are just talking big.

There is absolutely nothing that will rally a population behind a government as much as an attack on their nation, no matter how unpopular it is.

And, I'm quite sure that the government of Iran is not all that popular among the citizens of Iran.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

(Warning: The following is not politically correct.)

Pick one: 1) The government of the USA controls the USA military. 2) The USA military controls the government of the USA.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 3 months ago

You win a pair of shiny, new jackboots!

repaste 6 years, 3 months ago

1 +1 = 4? How is that anti-Semitic? Our support of Israel is well documented. Israel's well funded army of lobbyists is obvious. The weapons Israel use are American, the bombs they use to kill Iranian scientists use American technology.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

Quite a few people think it's the CIA that's been doing it.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 3 months ago

While I disagree with observant's comment, it is certainly not anti-semitic. The Jewish lobby, along with many other lobbies, attempt to influence our government. As long as what they do is legal, and I've seen little to indicate it's not, then they have every right to lobby the government. As do other groups.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 3 months ago

There seems to be some confusion between Jewish and Israeli. Israel is a nation that has citizens of many different faiths, and Judaism is a religion.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 3 months ago

If Israel is a nation that has citizens of many different faiths, why do they call themselves the "Jewish Strate"?

labmonkey 6 years, 3 months ago

Why would Israel warn us or listen to us? We have a president that is almost hostile toward them, demanding they give up land to a people who have elected a terrorist party to lead them. Now they have a country within a missile or jet flight away from them, who has said they would wipe Israel from the face of the earth while is trying to build Nuclear weapons. Israel has every right to defend themselves. It is thanks to them that Saddam did not have nuclear weapons. Usually when Israel does something militarily, they do it surgically and do it right.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 3 months ago

So doing it surgically makes it right? While I don't want to get into an argument of Israel's right to exist, let me pose a question. So Israel and the West are against Iran getting a nuclear weapon but seems comfortable in having them, themselves. Is this normal to you? No country except the USA has ever used nuclear weapons on another people, but we stand there and deny another country the ability to defend themselves. I, for one, do not like the way the government of Iran works and I think that they are over the top in their support for Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah, but what is the difference? We support a country that wants to eleminate Palistinians from the face of the earth as Israelis destroy Palistinian habitat and then claim it as their own.

Obama may appear to give the cold shoulder to Israel, but he, like many, think that the pathway to peace there is through Israel's stopping of building on Palestinian land. If Israel stops, there is no reason for not going ahead with a formalized peace plan.

notaubermime 6 years, 3 months ago

Israel wants to destroy Palestinian by destroying Palestinian habitat? Is that why this military base was attacked by extremist settlers?

Are you really comparing the Israeli military which is trying to protect Palestinian land to the acts of the Syrian military most recently in Homs or the Iranian military against people peacefully protesting an election? If these militaries are going to do this to their own people, why on earth should anyone be comfortable with them possessing weapons capable of such destructive capacity in the present, with effects extending into the future? That sounds like a horrible idea.

mae 6 years, 3 months ago

I usually quote what I watch on tv in my papers. It's a regular journalistic practice.

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