Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tensions Ratcheting Up With Iran?

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.


B.Poster said...

So far sanctions against Iran or proposed sanctions have been little more than a cross between a tap on the shoulder and a pin prick. In response to this, Iran threatens to close the Stait of Hromuz. The closure of this vital waterway or the attempt to do so would be like a punch to the jaw of Iran's adversaries.

Can we say "dispropinate response.?" Don't America and Israel both come under criticism regularly for such things. The answer to both is yes. This is clearly a dispropinate response on the part of Iran. Consistency would demand the Iranian government face the same kind of criticism for such things that America routinely faces. Somehow I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen.

Such a threat by Iran means one of three things. 1.)The Iranians have an agreement with other OPEC members not to make up for the loss in oil supplies should they choose this course. 2.)The Russians and Chinese have agreed to beack Iran in a confrontation with America and the "West." 3.) The Iranians may be about to overreach.

I'm cautiously thinking that Iran may be about to over reach but we should be very wary and we should be vigilant and be prepared for the other possibilities. If Iran does try to make good on its threat, we may finally be able to get the kind of support we would need to be able to confront Iran in a meaningful way.

If Mr. Obama were to try an "October surprise" invasion of Iran and conditions are similar to how they are now, he would be virtually handing the election to whomever his challenger is and the public would probably be demading that Mr. Obama be tried and convicted for something. In otherwords, unless there is a MAJOR change in the situation such a move would be political suicide for Mr. Obama. I think he and his team know this and would act accordingly.

louielouie said...

the only difference between now and 1967 is the current occupant of the white house loathes israel.
the similarity between now and 1967 is that israel is once again going to have to give up land.
is something doesn't happen by october, hussein will start something. iran will start lobbing missile after missile into israel, and as mighty as they are israel won't be able to keep up.
hussein will tell the joos if they go back to the 1967 lines he will step in.
either way, hussein's numbers with the american joos will go through the roof.

Anonymous said...

The real discusion is here in Israel between the IDF, the Mossad, the political establishment, with the American reaction only a side-issue. The prevailing view, the consensus, is that this is uniquely our decision.
No one in their right mind would trust the Obama administration.
The issue is about the chance of success & the consequences (meaning an outbreak of hostilities from Hezbollah,Syria, & Hamas, specifically, massive missile attacks on our civilian centres).
We will most likely sustain many casualties & major damage, exactly how much being dependant on how ruthless we are in suppressing missile attacks.
Personally, I see this as a major opportunity. A successful war in which we destroy Hamas, Hezbollah, & inflict major damage on Syria will change the entire regional power balance in our favour. And, of course, a successful strike on Iran could result in regime change.

Terry, Eilat - Israel

Rob said...

Hi Y'all,
When you say 'support' I assume you mean form the so-called 'international community'. I don't think we would get that across the board by any means,nor do I think we need it or should count on it.

You're simply incorrect that the other OPEC members would fail to make up a shortfall. They need to sell their oil, and in fact many of them, particularly the Sunni Gulf States and KSA have already said they would. They hate and fear Shi'ite Iran.

The Iranian strategy's time until the nukes are ready.

Louie I don't agree that Israelis going to give up much more land,no matter what. Without the high ground in Judea and Samaria and control of the Jordan Valley, the country's not defensible.The Israelis and Arabs understand that, most Americans and Europeans do not. or don't want to.

Mah nah mim Terry!
I essentially agree with you - there's no reason to trust Obama. It is in fact a major opportunity to finish things once and for all.

Israel will undoubtedly sustain casualties but far less than if they simply wait to be attacked.Agreed, they need to be fairly ruthless about winning.In the end, it's all in Hashem's hands, chaver.

Believe it or not, I wouldn't be surprised if Hezbollah, Fatah and Hamas sat things out. Hamas has the full control of the 'Palestinian' land to look forward too, as well as a partnership with Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt.A war with Israel would not be like Cast Lead and could be fatal for their regime. Hezbollah sustained a lot of criticism after the 2006 war, and may likewise be content not to risk losing control of Lebanon. And Fatah has all that aid money to lose.

I wouldn't make book on it, but they all might choose to sit things out unless they see a major opportunity to win.