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Israel's Power Play on Obama

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The evidence from these two interviews that Israel is eager, if not desperate, for a deal with the Obama administration on Iran suggests that the new wave of reports in the Israeli press in the first two weeks of August about the unilateral Israeli option cannot be taken at face value.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 12 a "frenzy of newspaper articles and television reports over the weekend ... suggesting Netanyahu has all but made the decision to attack Iran unilaterally this fall." But Netanyahu and Barak have always been careful to distinguish between consideration of a unilateral military option and a commitment to carrying it out.

A central objective of the recent press reports -- and of the larger Netanyahu-Barak campaign that began earlier this year -- has been to make the idea of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites credible, despite all evidence to the contrary.

On Aug. 10, for exampIe, Israel's television Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu and Barak had been saying in recent conversations that there is "relatively slight chance" that an attack on Iran would "result in a full-scale regional war in the circumstances that have emerged in the Middle East in last few weeks or months." The report said the "working assumption" is that, although Hezbollah and Hamas would retaliate, "it is assessed that Syria will not react."

It is neither Syria nor Hezbollah, however, but Iran itself that that worries Israeli military and intelligence officials the most. When challenged by Haaretz's Shavit on the likely serious consequences of war with Iran, given the hundreds of Iranian missiles capable of hitting Israeli cities, "the decision-maker" argued, "(W)hat characterizes the Iranians all along is caution and patience."

That argument, aimed at making the threatened attack seem reasonable, involves an obvious contradiction: on one hand, Iran is too cautious to retaliate against an Israeli attack, but on the other hand, it is too irrational to refrain from going nuclear, despite the obvious risks.

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Barak also argued in the Haaretz interview that Israel could delay the Iranian nuclear program for eight to 10 years -- enough time, he suggested, for regime change to take place. Top Israeli military and intelligence officials have been reported as believing, however, that an attack on Iran would ensure and accelerate Iran's move toward a nuclear weapon rather than delay it.

In fact, Barak declared on Sept. 17, 2009, "I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel." And in a Nov. 17, 2011, interview with Charlie Rose, he even denied that the Iranian nuclear program was aimed at Israel.

The Barak argument on Iran contradicted Netanyahu's assertion, most recently reported in an Aug. 5 Channel 2 report, that Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is "an irrational leader."

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Gareth Porter (born 18 June 1942, Independence, Kansas) is an American historian, investigative journalist and policy analyst on U.S. foreign and military policy. A strong opponent of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, he has also (more...)
 

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