Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress on matters related to Israel in order to maximize the likelihood that the United States would participate in an attack on Iran.
Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United States from any Israeli attack.
New evidence surfaced in 2011 that Netanyahu has been serious about dealing a military blow to the Iranian nuclear program. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left his job in September 2010, revealed in his first public appearance after Mossad Jun. 2 that he, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin had been able to "block any dangerous adventure" by Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
Dagan said he was going public because he was "afraid there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak." Dagan also said an Israeli attack on Iran could trigger a war that would "endanger the (Israeli) state's existence," indicating that his revelation was not part of a psywar campaign.
It is generally agreed that an Israeli attack can only temporarily set back the Iranian nuclear program, at significant risk to Israel. But Netanyahu and Barak hope to draw the United States into the war to create much greater destruction and perhaps the overthrow of the Islamic regime.
At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and the new head of CENTCOM, Gen. James N. Mattis, expressed their disappointment that he had not been firm enough in opposing an Israeli attack, according to Sale.
Obama responded that he "had no say over Israel" because "it is a sovereign country."
Obama's remark seemed to indicate a desire to distance his administration from an Israeli attack on Iran. But it also made it clear that he was not going to tell Netanyahu that he would not countenance such an attack.
Trita Parsi, executive director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), who has analyzed the history of the triangular relationship involving the United States, Israel and Iran in his book "Treacherous Alliance," says knowledgeable sources tell him Obama believes he can credibly distance himself from an Israeli attack.
In a Dec. 2 talk at the Brookings Institution, while discussing the dangers of the regional conflict that would result from such an attack, Panetta said the United States "would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases."
Panetta's statement could be interpreted as an effort to convince Iran that the Obama administration is opposed to an Israeli strike and should not be targeted by Iran in retaliation if Israel does launch an attack.
Parsi believes Obama's calculation that he can convince Iran that the United States has no leverage on Israel without being much tougher with Israel is not realistic.
"Iran most likely would decide not to target U.S. forces in the region in retaliation for an Israeli strike only if the damage from the strike were relatively limited," Parsi told IPS in an e-mail.