Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent
Obama, McCain aides agree: Israel, U.S. must discuss strike on Iran
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WI) has just published the final version of a report by the Task Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel relations. The title is appealing: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge. But no less appealing is the list of people endorsing this report: Tony Lake and Susan Rice of the Obama campaign, Vin Weber, James Woolsey of the McCain camp.
Dennis Ross, former Mideast peace envoy, and Rob Satloff, of the WI, were the two who made this happen, but the list of endorsers also includes other important people, some of whom close to the presidential campaigns. Among them, former counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, Bob Blackwill of the Council on Foreign Relations, former Senator Bob Kerry and others.
These people raise some concerns regarding the depth and content of U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue. They think this dialogue should be enhanced, especially so because of the challenge Iran poses to both countries. If you want it in a journalistic headline format, here is one way to do it: Obama, McCain advisors agree: US-Israel should discuss preventive military action against Iran.
But this is, of course, the simplistic way of describing this document which merits a more nuanced reading. Here's a couple other things all signatories agreed upon:
Achieving peace between Israelis and Arabs while Iran is going nuclear will be difficult: "Moreover, our collective ability to wage peace or prevent conflict will, in many ways, be shaped by the success of Iran's nuclear ambitions."
The NIE report of Iran was as bad as people like me thought it was: "Regrettably, however, the NIE's crediting past efforts to pressure Iran with partial success had the unintended consequence of reducing the sense of urgency for additional pressure. The result is that the prospects for significant strengthening of international resolve to raise the cost to Iran of continuing to pursue objectionable policies in the nuclear field are less hopeful today than they were prior to the publication of the NIE."
Israel is understandably nervous, and the U.S. should take it into account: "Israelis across the political spectrum see nuclear weapons in the hands of the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran as constituting a threat to the state of Israel of unprecedented scope and seriousness. They will, as a result, always err on the side of "worstcase scenarios" in assessing timeframes for progress in the Iranian nuclear program and will consider all steps, including their own preventive military action, in order to stop or slow Iran from attaining this capability. Our leaders will have to take these factors into account".
And here is an important reminder: "Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because, if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly. The consequence is that any suggestion that a policy of deterrence is America's preferred option only reinforces the idea among many Israelis that, in the end, they may be left alone to bear the brunt of the Iranian nuclear threat."
And the subsequent warning: "The result is that an American commitment to deterrence, especially if seen by Israelis as a substitute for prevention, is itself likely to spur Israel to consider independent action".
The recommendation: "We urge each leader to identify one or two aides to represent them. These aides should be among the most trusted advisors to the president and prime minister - officials or emissaries empowered to engage in all manner of discussion with the utmost creativity and maximum discretion". This will be the forum in which to discuss "diplomatic engagement (including coordinating the agenda and timetable of a potential U.S.-Iran dialogue)", "political and economic pressure," "coercive options (such as an embargo on Iran's sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products)," "preventive military action." The signatories also want to use this forum for discussions related to the peace process and the Israeli-Arab conflict.
And here is another interesting nugget, signed by the two most senior Obama advisers: The President should begin "a national conversation with the American people on the challenges, risks, and dilemmas posed to U.S. interests by the potential Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability, and on ways to prevent it - to raise popular awareness of the fact that Iran's nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger a surge of nuclear proliferation and raise the potential of terrorists gaining nuclear weapons."
Apparently, this is not saber rattling. It's facing reality.