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Your Summer Schedule: Vacation, Beach, Iran War

Man, if Leon Panetta doesn’t get into trouble for revealing details of Anwar al-Awlaki’s targeting or confirming that Pakistani doctor Shikal Afridi was working for the CIA when he collected DNA from Osama bin Laden’s compound, I wonder if he’ll get in trouble for (apparently) telling David Ignatius when Israel will attack Iran?

Panetta believes there is strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb.

Now perhaps this is another sanctioned leak meant to ruin Bibi Netanyahu’s surprise (though I’m not sure how Iran would prepare to defend against an Israeli attack).

If so, Ignatius’ article sure sends a divided message. On one hand, it suggests the US would not participate.

The administration appears to favor a policy of staying out of the conflict, unless Iran hits U.S. assets, which would trigger a strong U.S. response.

This U.S. policy — signaling that Israel is acting on its own — might open a breach like the one in 1956, when President Eisenhower condemned an Israeli-European attack on the Suez Canal.

Yet at the same time it lays out the circumstances under which the US would get involved.

Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The United States has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the United States could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.

I’m sure the Israelis would never be able to cock up a Scary Iran Plot targeted at Tel Aviv.

What Ignatius doesn’t emphasize–though he does hint at it–is the real reason for this schedule.

Complicating matters is the 2012 presidential campaign, which has Republicans candidates clamoring for stronger U.S. support of Israel.

Bibi’s biggest political donor, Sheldon Adelson, has already dumped $10 million into the GOP primary. To imagine that Bibi is not, at the same time, gaming out how the electoral schedule might play into the optimal time to pick a war with Iran is naive.

Which, I guess, may be why Panetta is blabbing this particular detail.

Weaning Ourselves Off War in the Middle East? Or Preparing for Israel’s War?

Gary Sick speculates that all the seeming confusion in the Obama Administration’s policy on Iran may be an attempt to create political space to shift our policy on Iran. After laying out some Leon Panetta flip-flops in December and the latest scientist assassination and the “False Flag” response, he describes Obama’s political problem with trying to shift relations with Iran.

The Obama administration has three problems with the Iran issue.

First, it is an election year, and the Congress is determined to impose total sanctions against Iran’s petroleum sector. In a sense, this is the ultimate stage of the sanctions process. For 16 years, the United States and its allies have piled more and more sanctions on Iran for the avowed purpose of getting Iran to change course on its nuclear program. It didn’t work. When the sanctions started, Iran had zero centrifuges. Sixteen years and many sanctions later, Iran has about 8,000 operational centrifuges and a substantial stock of low enriched uranium.

In this process of ever-accelerating sanctions, we have arrived at a point where sanctions begin to blur into actual warfare. If the sanctions succeed in their purpose of cutting off nearly all oil exports from Iran, that is the equivalent of a blockade of Iran’s oil ports, an act of war.

It was always said that the failure of sanctions would leave nothing but war as an option. It was not always appreciated that, at a certain level, sanctions and warfare would converge. With the latest sanctions rider on the Defense Authorization Bill, reluctantly signed into law by President Obama, the Congress has maneuvered the executive branch into a tacit declaration of war.

Second, it is my judgment that the Obama administration has looked hard at the potential effects of getting dragged into a war with Iran and has decided that a return to the negotiating track is essential.

But third, the Netanyahu government distrusts the diplomatic track. Israel signals as strongly as possible that it is prepared to strike unilaterally if necessary; and it uses those threats as leverage to keep the situation at a constant crisis pitch, while pressing for the most extreme sanctions. Israel’s influence is not to be underestimated, particularly in an election year and with an Israeli prime minister who makes no attempt to conceal his disdain for President Obama.

As illuminating as I think Sick’s speculation to be, even there the story is muddled. He links to Jim Lobe’s post describing that an Israeli-US joint defense operation planned for March has been delayed. The CNN story reporting that suggests the US postponed the operations just before Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey visited Israel. But as Laura Rozen reported, Israel, not the US, postponed the exercise.

A major U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise that had been planned to take place in the spring has been postponed due to a request by the Israeli Defense Ministry, American and Israeli officials told Yahoo News Sunday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a request to the Pentagon last month that the planned joint exercise be postponed, a U.S. official told Yahoo News Sunday.

“It was Barak,” the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Read more

The False Flag Waves in the Fog

“Absolute nonsense!” Israel has responded to Mark Perry’s “False Flag” claim that Mossad agents recruited Jundallah members by posing as CIA officers. They’ve responded clearly, they claim, because they don’t want US-Israeli intelligence cooperation to get as bad as it did when we caught Jonathan Pollard spying for Israel.

But I’m just as interested in the “proof” Israel offers that this didn’t happen: that Meir Dagan is still welcome in Washington.

The senior Israeli government official said that if there were any truth the claims in Perry’s report, Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad at the time of the alleged operation, would have been declared a persona non grata in the U.S. and that “Dagan’s foot would not have walked again in Washington”.

Now, it is true that Dagan ran Mossad at the time–2007-2008–when the recruitment in question is alleged to have taken place. And it is true that under Dagan Mossad got rather embarrassingly caught using US (and other Western allies’ passports to facilitate their assassination squads in the Dubai assassination of Quds Force surrogate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

But it is also notable that Dagan has made a series of increasingly strident remarks against war with Iran and for the kind of engagement that the latest scientist assassination seems designed to undercut. And then there’s the presumably intentional irony in the statement: Dagan’s ability to travel is limited not by his welcome among Western allies, but because Bibi Netanyahu revoked Dagan’s diplomatic passport last summer in response to his efforts to prevent war against Iran. Since traveling without diplomatic immunity would expose him to arrest for acts that include the al-Mabhouh assassination, Dagan, the former head of Israel’s assassination agency, cannot travel freely to prevent such assassinations in the future.

In other words, this is a very witty but nevertheless quite serious reminder that the same people now trying to find a peaceful path forward are themselves thoroughly implicated in the same crimes they now disown. This is Bibi’s camp reminding that everyone has been breaking the rules in ways that could cause significant legal trouble.

Right on cue, Iran has sent diplomatic notes to both the US and Britain, claiming that the CIA is behind the most recent assassination.

The message addressed to the U.S. government, read, “According to authentic documents and reliable information, the assassination plot was directed, supported, and planned by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was carried out with the direct involvement of the agents affiliated with this organization, and the government is directly responsible for it and should be answerable based on international regulations and rights and bilateral commitments.”

[snip]In the protest note, Iran also said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the inhumane assassination, calls on the U.S. government to provide an immediate explanation, seriously warns about its repercussions, and calls on the (U.S.) government to stop supporting any kind of anti-humanitarian terrorist action against the lives of Iranian citizens, which is in contravention of international rights and the relevant commitments and pose a serious danger to international peace and security. In addition, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right to pursue the issue.”

In the note addressed to the British government, the Foreign Ministry pointed to the remarks that MI6 chief Sir John Sawers made on October 28, 2010, in which he said, “Stopping nuclear proliferation cannot be addressed purely by conventional diplomacy. We need intelligence-led operations to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”
The note read, “The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran takes into consideration the fact that the assassinations of Iranian scientists began right after the announcement of the very attitude of the British government by Mr. John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, and once again expresses its protest about the repercussions of the mentioned attitude of the British government and holds the country responsible for such terrorists acts.”

Gosh, Iran could have drafted these letters using the letters the US issued after it busted the Scary Iran Plot allegedly involving Manssor Arbabsiar as a model! (Which reminds me. Has anyone checked in on the Saudi involvement to defeat Iran, of late? And what they–and the Pakistanis–think about Israelis purportedly running terrorists out of Pakistan?)

Remember, too, according to Perry’s “False Flag,” the recruitment of the Jundallah members–by whomever–largely took place in London, “under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers.” So if Perry’s piece was meant as preemptive inoculation against evidence his sources knew might be revealed, it would not be surprising if such evidence implicated both the US and Britain.

Now, if it weren’t for the latent lethality behind all this posturing (and if weren’t so clear that, whatever Iran has, Israel surely has evidence of our complicity here, if they ever feel the need to reveal it), this might be a somewhat amusing and overdue spat between Israel and the US.

But as it is, it seems the winner of this conflict between Israeli and US neocon Hawks (some of who presumably remain in government positions) on one side, and those trying to avoid war (if not regime change) on the other threatens may depend most on who wins the infowar that has broken out. Clearly, all sides have the goods on the others, but no one can risk having all this damning information come out.

Update: Corrected post to reflect that Mossad did not use US passports in the Dubai hit.

Truth, Justice, and the American Way of Empire

One of my first reactions to the news that Nicolas Sarkozy told Obama he doesn’t like Bibi Netanyahu is to note that Sarko is right.

“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.

“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

Bibi is a liar. Particularly in the context of relations with the Palestinians, Bibi has repeatedly broken promises not to expand settlements.

Nevertheless, the Neocons are now gunning against Obama for his response–which was effectively non-committal.

Hell, it’s not even like Obama responded by calling Bibi an ungrateful ally, like Bob Gates has said on the record.

But I couldn’t help but connect this flap to the firing, last week, of the general in charge of training Afghans, John Allen.

Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, just announced that he fired Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, the deputy commander of the crucial mission to train Afghan security forces. Fuller, a recent arrival to Afghanistan, gave a surprisingly harsh interview to Politico criticizing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan generals he mentors as “isolated from reality.”

Allen is having none of it. “These unfortunate comments are neither indicative of our current solid relationship with the government of Afghanistan, its leadership, or our joint commitment to prevail here in Afghanistan,” Allen said in a statement.

His crime? Pointing out how ungrateful Hamid Karzai is for our efforts in Afghanistan (which is pretty similar to what Gates did with Bibi).

A senior U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan called key elements of the government “isolated from reality,” said they don’t appreciate America’s sacrifice for their nation and offered up some choice words for President Hamid Karzai.

[snip]

The two-star general flashed irritation when he brought up Karzai’s recent remarks that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in a war against the U.S., blasting the president’s comments as “erratic,” and adding, “Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me … I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care’?”

Now, frankly, I think Allen mistook our own actions for generosity rather than strategic self-interest. Gates, at least, seemed to acknowledge that we would continue to support Israel anyway out of our own (misguided) self-interest.

But it seems worth note that we are increasingly whining about the ungrateful response to our exercise of self-interest. And then trying to pretend we didn’t.

Turki al-Faisal Picked the Wrong Day to Make Veto Threats

From everything I know, Saudi Prince and former Intelligence Chief Turki al-Faisal is incredibly shrewd. And I believe Saudi Arabia has already started to make the kind of strategic realignments he threatens in his op-ed threatening consequences if the US vetoes Palestinian’s bid for statedhood at the UN Security Council.

The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has. With most of the Arab world in upheaval, the “special relationship” between Saudi Arabia and the United States would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.

Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy. Like our recent military support for Bahrain’s monarchy, which America opposed, Saudi Arabia would pursue other policies at odds with those of the United States, including opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq and refusing to open an embassy there despite American pressure to do so. The Saudi government might part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well.

The reason why this threat wouldn’t work even if supporting Israel unquestioningly weren’t already a third rail of our politics has to do with NY-9, Anthony Weiner’s congressional seat.By all appearances, Democrats are going to suffer an embarrassing loss there tomorrow. And while pollsters offer mixed messages about its true impact on the race, the Republican, Bob Turner, has made real efforts to suggest Obama is anti-Israel.

One surprise in Siena’s polling, however, is the relative importance of Israel to the race. Turner has made it an absolutely critical issue for his campaign, slamming Obama’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at every turn in an effort to win over Jewish voters in the district. Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, has a similar position on Israel but Turner has argued that unless he breaks with Obama entirely and refuses to endorse him, he’s still tainted.

But according to the numbers, it may be less of a factor than it seems.

“I don’t see it at all,” Greenberg said, when asked about the “Israel effect.”

Siena asked voters to pick from five options to explain their vote, including the candidate’s party, position on Social Security and Medicare, whether they were endorsed by a trusted source, their position on economic issues, and finally their position on Israel. Only 7% of voters picked Israel, including just 16% of Jewish voters.

That may not be the whole story, however: Weprin’s lead with Jewish voters has collapsed from 21 to 6 in the last month. It’s roughly in line with the total 12% drop among voters overall, but may be more complicated to tease out. Jensen, for his part, doesn’t want to make any conclusions on the Israel issue without seeing more detailed results first.

Between our sure veto of Palestine’s efforts at the UNSC and the increasingly dangerous squabble between Turkey and Israel, not to mention increasing tensions between Egypt and Israel, Obama ought to attempt a grand bargain to foster peace in the Middle East.

But it’s not going to happen.