There are a couple of items worth examining on this today.
The first one was a response ( obviously cleared with higher authority) to Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz from the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet's spokeswoman Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, who warned Iran that any disruption "will not be tolerated." She added that the U.S. Navy is "always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation."
That statement sent oil prices down today, with benchmark crude falling 77 cents to $100.57 a barrel in morning trading and Brent crude falling 82 cents to $108.45 a barrel in London.
The second item is a piece by national-security correspondent Eli Lake in the Daily Beast that claims Israel and the US are currently arguing/negotiating over red lines that would trigger taking out Iran's nuclear infrastructure.
Reportedly, SecDef Leon Panetta's remarks to the Israelis at the Saban Center 3 weeks ago didn't go over well, especially combined with remarks by other Administration figures and surrogates. Ambassador Oren made a formal diplomatic protest, a demarche, which according to Lake led to him gettng assurances from th eAdministration about their own red lines for launching an attack on Iran's nuke sites and therefore the Israelis could just sit back and relax, relying on the Obama Administration to take care of things.
Unfortunately - I can't imagine why - the Israelis mistrust President Obama's intentions, and if Lake is correct, there's been a fair amount of ongoing haggling over those red lines the Israelis are being told about:
With Republicans lining up to court Jewish donors and voters in America in 2012, Obama faces a tricky election-year task of ensuring Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear bomb on his watch while keeping the Israelis from launching a preemptive strike that could inflame an already teetering Middle East.
The stakes are immensely high, and the distrust that Israelis feel toward the president remains a complicating factor. Those sentiments were laid bare in a speech Netanyahu’s minister of strategic affairs, Moshe Ya’alon, gave on Christmas Eve in Jerusalem, in which he used Panetta’s remarks to cast doubt on the U.S.’s willingness to launch its own military strike.
Ya’alon told the Anglo-Likud, an organization within Netanyahu’s Likud party that caters to native English speakers, that the Western strategy to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons must include four elements, with the last resort being a military strike.
“The fourth element of this combined strategy is the credible military strike,” Ya’alon said, according to a recording of the speech provided to The Daily Beast. “There is no credible military action when we hear leaders from the West, saying, ‘this is not a real option,’ saying, ‘the price of military action is too high.’”
The two items are obviously related, with the somewhat bellicose naval rhetoric intended not only for the mullahs but for the Sunni rulers of the Gulf States, and also for the Israelis, in an effort to convince them to trust this president not to fold when it comes to the Iranian threat .
If the talks Lake describes are in fact being held and if that's the topic being discussed, there are going to be a number of things to be ironed out.
For one thing, the Israelis ( who almost certainly have better intelligence on the ground in Iran than we do) are convinced Iran is a lot further along with its nuclear weapons program than the Obama Administration is. They also are no doubt pointing out the every day of delay gives Iran more time to hide, disperse and harden its nuclear sites, making success in taking them out more difficult. The Israelis undoubtedly reason that the longer they or the Americans wait, the stronger Iran will be and the greater the possibility of casualties or failure.
On the other hand, the chief concern of the Obama Administration is politics. As I mentioned before, the Iranians have a suspicion that a down- in- the- polls President Obama might just try and revive his fortunes with a pre-emptive strike as an October Surprise in 2012. Part of the Iranian strategy is to warn him off by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, reminding him that an attack by the US or the Israelis or even meaningful sanctions could lead to a spike in world oil prices that could effect the US economy and the president's re-election prospects.
From President Obama's perspective, there's no question that he would rather delay any decision on a military strike on Iran until much later, depending on how his re-election campaign is going. Unfortunately, in order to do that, he's going to have to convince the Israelis to hold off.
If there actually are negotiations on Iran going on between the Obama Administration and Israel, that's the real topic of conversation. President Obama is likelyreaping the harvest of three years worth of distrust and discord he sowed with Israel and I doubt things are going smoothly.