Obama to Israel: No US War on Iran

President Obama is caught in a dilemma, how to dissuade Israel from going to war with Iran without alienating pro-Israeli voters in November. So, the Obama administration has told Israel that the U.S. won’t support an attack on Iran but has done so quietly, Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders on Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.

Dempsey’s warning, conveyed to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, represents the strongest move yet by President Barack Obama to deter an Israeli attack and ensure that the United States is not caught up in a regional conflagration with Iran.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey (left) with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and former JCS chairman Mike Mullen (White House photo by Pete Souza)

But the Israeli government remains defiant about maintaining its freedom of action to make war on Iran, and it is counting on the influence of right-wing extremist views in U.S. politics to bring pressure to bear on Obama to fall into line with a possible Israeli attack during the election campaign this fall.

Obama still appears reluctant to break publicly and explicitly with Israel over its threat of military aggression against Iran, even in the absence of evidence Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon.

Dempsey’s trip was highly unusual, in that there was neither a press conference by the chairman nor any public statement by either side about the substance of his meetings with Israeli leaders. Even more remarkable, no leak about what he said to the Israelis has appeared in either U.S. or Israeli news media, indicating that both sides have regarded what Dempsey said as extremely sensitive.

The substance of Dempsey’s warning to the Israelis has become known, however, to active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS, according to a military source who got it from those officers.

A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander Patrick McNally, offered no comment Wednesday when IPS asked him about the above account of Dempsey’s warning to the Israelis.

The message carried by Dempsey was the first explicit statement to the Netanyahu government that the United States would not defend Israel if it attacked Iran unilaterally. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had given a clear hint in an interview on “Face the Nation” on Jan. 8 that the Obama administration would not help defend Israel in a war against Iran that Israel had initiated.

Asked how the United States would react if Israel were to launch a unilateral attack on Iran, Panetta first emphasized the need for a coordinated policy toward Iran with Israel. But when host Bob Schieffer repeated the question, Panetta said, “If the Israelis made that decision, we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation. And that’s what we’d be concerned about.”

Defense Minister Barak had sought to dampen media speculation before Dempsey’s arrival that the chairman was coming to put pressure on Israel over its threat to attack Iran, but then proceeded to reiterate the Netanyahu-Barak position that they cannot give up their responsibility for the security of Israel “for anyone, including our American friends.”

There has been no evidence since the Dempsey visit of any change in the Netanyahu government’s insistence on maintaining its freedom of action to attack Iran.

Dempsey’s meetings with Netanyahu and Barak also failed to resolve the issue of the joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise geared to a missile attack, “Austere Challenge ’12”, which had been scheduled for April 2012 but had been postponed abruptly a few days before Dempsey’s arrival in Israel.

More than two weeks after Dempsey’s meeting with Barak, the spokesman for the Pentagon, John Kirby, told IPS, “All I can say is that the exercise will be held later this year.” That indicated that there has been no major change in the status of U.S.-Israeli discussions of the issue since the postponement of the exercise was leaked Jan. 15.

The postponement has been the subject of conflicting and unconvincing explanations from the Israeli side, suggesting disarray in the Netanyahu government over how to handle the issue. To add to the confusion, Israeli and U.S. statements left it unclear whether the decision had been unilateral or joint as well as the reasons for the decision.

Panetta asserted in a news conference on Jan. 18 that Barak himself had asked him to postpone the exercise. It now clear that both sides had an interest in postponing the exercise and very possibly letting it expire by failing to reach a decision on it.

The Israelis appear to have two distinct reasons for putting the exercise off, which reflect differences between the interests of Netanyahu and his defense minister. Netanyahu’s primary interest in relation to the exercise was evidently to give the Republican candidate ammunition to fire at Obama during the fall campaign by insinuating that the postponement was decided at the behest of Obama to reduce tensions with Iran.

Thus Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, explained it as a “joint” decision with the United States, adding, “The thinking was it was not the right timing now to conduct such an exercise.” Barak, however, had an entirely different concern, which was related to the Israeli Defence Forces’ readiness to carry out an operation that would involve both attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and minimizing the Iranian retaliatory response.

A former U.S. intelligence analyst who followed the Israeli military closely told IPS he strongly suspects that the IDF has pressed Barak to insist that the Israeli force be at the peak of readiness if and when they are asked to attack Iran.

The analyst, who insisted on anonymity because of his continuing contacts with U.S. military and intelligence personnel, said the 2006 Lebanon War debacle continues to haunt the thinking of IDF leaders. In that war, it became clear that the IDF had not been ready to handle Hezbollah rocket attacks adequately, and the prestige of the Israeli military suffered a serious blow.

The insistence of IDF leaders that they never go to war before being fully prepared is a primary consideration for Barak, according to the analyst. “Austere Challenge ’12” would inevitably involve a major consumption of military resources, he observes, which would reduce Israeli readiness for war in the short run.

The concern about a major military exercise actually reducing the IDF’s readiness for war against Iran would explain why senior Israeli military officials were reported to have suggested that the reasons for the postponement were mostly “technical and logistical.”

The Israeli military concern about expending scarce resources on the exercise would apply, of course, regardless of whether the exercise was planned for April or late 2012. That fact would help explain why the exercise has not been rescheduled, despite statements from the U.S. side that it will be.

The U.S. military, however, has its own reasons for being unenthusiastic about the exercise. IPS has learned from a knowledgeable source that, well before the Obama administration began distancing itself from Israel’s Iran policy, U.S. Central Command chief James N. Mattis had expressed concern about the implications of an exercise so obviously based on a scenario involving Iranian retaliation for an Israeli attack.

U.S. officials have been quoted as suspecting that the Israeli request for a postponement of the exercise indicated that Israel wanted to leave its options open for conducting a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the spring. But a postponement to the fall would not change that problem. For that reason, the former U.S. intelligence analyst told IPS he doubts that “Austere Challenge ’12” will ever be carried out.

But the White House has an obvious political interest in using the military exercise to demonstrate that the Obama administration has increased military cooperation with Israel to an unprecedented level. The Defense Department wants the exercise to be held in October, according to the military source in touch with senior flag officers connected to the Joint Chiefs.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

19 comments for “Obama to Israel: No US War on Iran

  1. flat 5
    February 9, 2012 at 17:38

    Iran: Genocide of Jews is a Moral Obligation
    Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed a new doctrine explaining why it would be ‘legally and morally justified’ to commit genocide and wipe Israel off the map.
    The article was written by Khameini’s close adviser Alireza Forghani and endorsed by the Supreme Leader whose writings played a critical role in its drafting.
    The article has since appeared on numerous Iranian government and military websites.
    “Israel is a cancerous tumor in the Middle East,” the article in the ultraconservative Farsi-language Alef news site said. “Israel is a satanic media outlet with bombers. Every Muslim is required to arm themselves against Israel.”
    “I have already noted the usurper state of Israel poses a grave threat to Islam and Muslim countries. Islam and Muslim states must not lose this opportunity to remove the corruption from out midst. All of our problems are because of Israel – Israel of America.”
    “The first step should be the absolute destruction of Israel. To this end, Iran could make use of long-range missiles. The distance between us is only 2,600 KM. It can be done in minutes.”
    The crux of the piece says Iran would be justified in launching a pre-emptive strike against Israel because of the threat the Jewish state’s leaders are posing against its own nuclear facilities.
    However, during a lengthy discussion of the ‘jurisprudence of Jihad,’ the article makes it clear that an Israeli strike ‘isn’t required’ and would ultimately serve as a pretext for genocide.
    Instead, he says ‘defensive Jihad’ justifies annihilating Israel and targeting its civilian population because Israel has “spilled Muslim blood” and “oppresses” its Muslim neighbors.
    “With regard to the fake state of Israel in Palestine, which is included in the first Qibla of Muslims, we must defend the sacred blood of Muslims in Islamic Palestine using any means necessary,” it goes on to explain.
    “If the enemy should invade Muslim lands and spill Muslim blood, it is obligatory upon the Muslim masses to use every means possible to defend the lives and property of their brothers. It does not require a judge’s permission.
    “But regardless of the Israeli aggression against Palestine and the Muslims, it is clear the heads of this fake regime seek to dominate other Islamic lands on its borders and to develop hegemony over the region,” it reads.

    The article makes it clear Iran sees no place in the Middle East for the Jews.

    “Political subdivisions of states and political boundaries between units are not relevant and what is important is to divide the nations and territories based on beliefs and religions groups, blood and blood. Muslim blood must be separate from Infidel blood,” it says, citing Khameini’s writings.
    The document then cites statistics saying 5.7 million of Israel’s 7.5 million citizens are Jewish – as a justification for attack. It then proceeds to break down Israel by region and demographic concentrations in order that the most Jews possible would be killed.
    It specifically states that Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa ,contain more than 60 per cent of the Jewish population, which could be hit by Shahab 3 ballistic missiles to “easily kill everyone.”
    The publication of the doctrine comes after Khamenei announced that Iran would support any nation or group that attacks the ‘cancerous tumor’ of Israel.
    Since its publications several Iranian officials have called for a strike on Israel “within the year.”
    Source: IsraelNationalNews

  2. TheAZCowBoy
    February 6, 2012 at 17:35

    Interesting, as the US tears up the Constitution, violates American’s civil liberties and spits on the Nuremburg Protocols, the US/Britain and France’ said were the ‘Rule of Law’ throughout the planet and would ‘outlaw’ aggression – we begin to make sense of Herr’s Hitler, Gobbel’s, Himmlers and Eichmanns war with the Rothchilds and their plans to take the “light unto the Nations.’ and stick them where they would not continue like some Ebola epidemic from the time they left Kahzaria in 520BC and as we now see they behavior today in savaged Palestine, Lebanon, Golan/Syria, Bekka farms/Syria and all the places on the planet where that 1/2 acre of Zionist hell is costing people their freedom, land and water – like say in West Bank Palestine where 400,000 Jews use up more water than 2.3m ‘parched’ Palestinains.

  3. February 5, 2012 at 03:46


    • flat 5
      February 5, 2012 at 12:07

      such naive antisemitic bullshit reminicent of Joseph Goebbels and Adolf.

    • charles sereno
      February 6, 2012 at 17:34


  4. KQuark
    February 4, 2012 at 15:52

    It would be abjectly insane for Israel or the US to go to war with Iran now. It would send the global economy in a death spiral because oil would go up over $200/barrel overnight. All for a perceived threat that probably does not even exist. Even if Iran gets nukes it can never use them because then the superior Israeli nuclear arsenal will just obliterate Iran. The fact is the only reason Iran is seeking nukes is to spur an attack because they know more than anyone what would result.

  5. February 4, 2012 at 05:07

    we should drop an atomic bomb on Iran and end this already, kill all those terrorists and protect our freedom.

    • Aaron
      February 4, 2012 at 13:20

      LOL ! How about those “Freedom Fries” for ya ! LOL !

    • KQuark
      February 4, 2012 at 15:53

      Only an insane right winger would think like that.

    • use thy brain
      February 5, 2012 at 05:23

      what does US freedom have to do with Iran or terrorism?

    • TheAZCowBoy
      February 6, 2012 at 17:04

      You have a very poor understanding of the words ‘terrorist’ and the word ‘Freedom. 1.4 massacred Iraqi civilian’s by AmeriKKKa = ‘terrorism.’ Living in a Patriot Act nation that can lock you up forever without legal counsul or Habeous Corpus is not ‘Freedom,’ Pilgrim. One supposes the ‘Sheeple’ have not (realized) that the US Gestapo at the Pentagon has ‘little-by-little’ taklng our freedoms away.

  6. Kenny Fowler
    February 3, 2012 at 22:12

    The Israeli war hawks really hate being told NO. They won’t stop trying though. At this point it’s pretty obvious this comes down to Israel’s focus on regime change in Iran. They think that somehow the Mullahs can be overthrown. And they think the U.S. is delusional enough to be sucked into their fantasy. The answer is NO. You can check back with me in 6 months to see if things change. Until then, NO.

  7. elmerfudzie
    February 3, 2012 at 21:18

    Why not ask for the return of those bunker busters we sent to the IDF? If not, wouldn’t that imply that we already know Israel has an equivalent weapon in it’s arsenal, perhaps nuclear? At bottom it seems all so fake to me, first we deliver a very specific type of bomb capable of destroying deep underground facilities and then we forbid the attack. This sort of logic escapes me!

    • F. G. Sanford
      February 4, 2012 at 04:36

      Haven’t any of you read the WSJ article about Boeing’s new “Massive Ordnance Penetrator”? Hey, you can’t make this stuff up. It sound like a prop they’d use in a movie starring Misty Muffins, Tammy Tease and Wendy Bender. Well, apparently, it weighs 30,000 pounds, which is the maximum payload any tactical jet in our (Israel’s) arsenal can carry. The amazing thing is the reader comments, which seem to be largely pro trying this thing out on Iran. Of course, you gotta kinda keep in mind who their readership likely represents. Just think of the B-movie script possibilities! The big concern seems to be that a single M.O.P. might not be enough to do the job. So one reader writes, “Why not just drop two of them?” Think of it: does that amount to ‘double penetration’? I can see the B-movie trailer now…Dick Pickler and Max Massive fly in low under the radar to deliver their payloads…Wendy is sweating in the sandbox, but Misty and Tammy provide hardened reinforcement…No, you really can’t make this stuff up.

      • TheAZCowBoy
        February 6, 2012 at 17:15

        Re: About deep ‘Penatrators’ and ‘Dildos.’

        I guess the Taliban kicking the US/NATO’s arses so magnificiently (With antiquated Vietnam era AK-47’s and RPG-7’s at that) has led many to believe that the 800 lb. US gorilla and its 400 lb. Jewish hemmoroid are invincible, huh Pilgrims? (Guess who’s suing the Taliban ‘as we speak’ for peace and who’s ‘tip-toeing-through-the-tulips’ with Hezbollah? LOL!).

    • TheAZCowBoy
      February 6, 2012 at 16:57

      Its a struggle between the ‘spineless’ Obama admin, the warmongering US pro-Israel Pentagon and the fear that Israel’s saber rattling is its arse ‘over-loading’ its mouth which in the end could bring the US into the frey to save AmeriKKKa’s ‘sacred’ hyena’s.

  8. charles sereno
    February 3, 2012 at 12:13

    Why is there a blackout of realistic news about Iran’s possible retaliation in case of an attack beyond the well-worn stories — mining the Strait, speedboats, missiles to Israel, missiles to the US (!). Missiles surely are their most potent response. They are widely deployed. More effective than Scuds, particularly when aimed at nearby targets. In a desperate MAD strategy, Iran is capable of wiping out S Arabia’s Gulf terminals and even closer facilities with impunity. If such information was more widely discussed, it might preempt foolish actions on the part of Israel and the US.

    • TheAZCowBoy
      February 6, 2012 at 16:51

      Because no one is sure if the X-55h Russian Mach 4 cruise missiles that Iran has obtained from Bellaruss in 2010 carry the ‘standard’ 10 kiloton warheads. Or if the Russian supersonic anti-ship ‘Sunburn’ missile (That can cut a Nimitz class atrcraft carrier in half in one fell swoop) are in Irans hands in sufficient quantities to make a US attack on Iran ‘regretable.’

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