Opinion: Mixed Signals, Muddled Intentions

Photo courtesy of Official White House Photo / Pete Souza

Recently US President Barack Obama’s administration praised their efforts to isolate Iran. Sanctions are intensified, that’s true. But the US and others in the West have sent such diverse signals on their approach to Iran that it is leaving a different country entirely looking rather isolated: Israel.

And in a disastrous irony, Western fears of a premature war on Iran could create one.

The Bad

The conflicting signals from the US are almost bewildering. First, the top US military official yet again issues discouraging comments on the lack of effectiveness of an Israeli military strike. The Guardian newspaper reported US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said such an attack would delay but not likely be able to destroy Iran’s program.

He even went further than any Obama official had previously when he said of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, “I don’t want to be accused of trying to influence, nor do I want to be complicit if they choose to do it,” according to The New York Times.

An even more troubling report from Yedioth Ahronoth, carried by their Ynet English website, said the US has informed Iran through European nations that in exchange for not attacking US forces and facilities in the Middle East, America won’t back an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear program that could lead to a regional war.

If that was the whole story, the other international comments on Iran would make it appear that the US is creating a coalition of the unwilling who are isolating Israel—not Iran.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that roughly a couple weeks before the Ynet’s claims of a backdoor deal between the US and Iran, Germany warned Israel not to attack Iran on their own. France sent their own warning last week. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told BFM TV, in comments re-reported by Haaretz, “I’m absolutely hostile to Iran having nuclear weapons but I think that if there were an Israeli attack, unfortunately it could come back to haunt Israel by (allowing) Iran to cast itself as a victim.”

So the US has issued one discouraging comment after another, mostly from the Defense Department of all places. And judging from Germany and France, it looks like two of the other six nations that form the powerful P5+1 group negotiating with Iran feel similarly. Meanwhile, Russia and China are roadblocking even sanctions on Iran. Would the sixth member of the P5+1, the UK, come to the rescue? Would it matter?

Suddenly, Iran is looking like they’re the ones with powerful friends and liaisons, while Israel is alone to face the world’s main sponsor of terror.

But wait, that’s not the whole story.

The Good

The New York Times, not long after the Ynet report, said the Obama administration was debating over how President Obama should approach red lines and consequences for Iran beyond just saying they won’t accept a nuclear-armed Tehran.

Israel certainly wants a more clearly defined red line. Suddenly the US is considering obliging? After all the discouraging comments?

And there’s more. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday was quoted by an Israeli press release as saying, “We stand together with Israel, which means, of course, that we share also the concern about the Iranian nuclear program. For us any kind of… nuclear arms in the hands of the Iranian government is not an option and we will not accept this.”

The US has even reiterated that no options are off the table.

The Reality

So which is it? Is the West doggedly-determined to wait out diplomacy to the bitter end and hope it’s enough? Or are they equally determined to prevent a nuclear Iran at any cost?

Perhaps it’s both. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak may have hit the nail on the head last week when he was quoted in a press statement as saying of the US and Israel: “We face a common challenge but the clock is ticking at a different pace for each of us. We also have our differences; Israel keeps its sovereign right to act independently, and the US understands this. However, there is no doubt about the US readiness to face the challenge on every level.”

In other words, the US is indeed opposed to a nuclear Iran. Strongly, in fact. And considering the Germans have let the Israelis buy nuclear submarines, it looks like they too are wary of a Tehran with the bomb.

But Germany and the US also are terrified of another Middle East war that could rattle or even shatter an already fragile global economy. Could it survive the oil price surge that would inevitably come from such a conflict?

So the US, France and Germany are doing everything they can to send Israel the message of “not now.” Maybe later, if necessary; just not now. But one can’t prevent Iran from having yellow-cake and eat one’s words too. In an effort to prevent a war, the West may be forcing one.

This website is not advocating conflict with Iran. Hopefully such a battle will never be necessary. But for all the necessary threats and rhetoric and sanctions on Iran, the truth is that it hasn’t been enough. Iran is still moving forward. Obama can’t claim victory when there’s no results.

It’s like someone who boasts of dieting but who loses no weight.

By not making it clear that there are definite red lines on Iran’s nuclear progress, Tehran can and does assume it can go further still—after all, The New York Times pointed out a number of global “red lines” have been crossed already.

Furthermore, if Iran is careful enough to move forward quietly, what’s to stop them from crossing the nuclear threshold and surprising the world? Even if the US and Europe have means of knowing in time to stop them, Iran may be bold enough to try anyway.

This will create the need for a war—not prevent one. And if Israel keeps getting signals that the world is willing to risk a nuclear-armed Iran to prevent a war, they might just act on their own.

So what should the West do? They need to make their rhetoric and red lines more clear, not less. Rather than discourage Israel publicly and encourage them privately, they should do the opposite—and the discouragement should be accompanied by reassurance on exactly when they will act.

Iran should feel more pressure than ever before. Yes, that could provoke a war. That could convince Iran to retaliate. But it worked once before.

According to the 2007 US intelligence estimate on Iran, the Ayatollah regime actually halted nuclear weapons work, or at least it’s most official form of it, in 2003. What happened in 2003?

The US went to war in Iraq to take Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. And Iran wasn’t the only one that reacted with fear and trembling. Libya took steps to give up their own WMDs.

That doesn’t mean the US needs another war to stop Iran now. But by making it very clear they are preparing for war and won’t hesitate to stop Tehran well in time, the Americans could frighten the Ayatollah’s to back down. Or at least slow down, so as to buy themselves another chance in the future.

Mixing tactics—more intensified sanctions, tougher rhetoric and more globally-focused diplomacy to convince China and Russia to step up pressure on Iran—could work.

Mixing signals, by saying they won’t accept a nuclear Iran but then implying they won’t act in time to stop them, will only worsen the crisis.

The nation that needs to be clearly pressured is Iran, not Israel. Otherwise, a major “incident” in the region won’t be isolated. It will be a direct result of not isolating Iran, but isolating Israel instead.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 9, 2012)