By Daan de Wit
Translated by Ben Kearney
While the world is getting the impression that a war with Iran has drawn a few steps closer, representatives of Israel and the U.S. are making some remarkable statements about the Islamic Republic. These statements are remarkable in part because, at the same time, the build-up to a military confrontation would seem to be continuing apace.
While Iran test fires missiles and threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz, Europe and the U.S./Israel are meanwhile putting new sanctions against Iran in place and are proposing others, and assassination attempts are being carried out on Iranian nuclear scientists. It is part of a battle that more recently has been waged with the forthcoming elections in mind, both in Iran and especially in the U.S.
While keeping one eye focused on the presidential election contest and the Israeli lobby, President Obama wants to avoid coming off as too measured when it comes to Iran. This also applies to the Republican presidential candidates - with the exception of Ron Paul. To these candidates, a nuclear Iran is likewise unacceptable. But when it comes to the presumed consequence of taking such a position - the bombing of Iran - U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was notably less enthusiastic last November: an attack would set back the Iranian nuclear program by only three years at the most.
On the subject of Iran, Panetta is quite clear: 'Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability, and that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us', said Panetta while speaking earlier this month. Despite his unambiguous language, not everyone had the chance to hear that Iran is not currently engaged in the development of a nuclear weapon: viewers of PBS Newshour got a much different impression. Newshour edited out the first part of Panetta's sound bite, instead airing the clip from the point at which he says 'But we know that [...]'. 'So Panetta's statement--that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon--is being used to argue that the United States disputes Iran's long-standing contention that it not building a nuclear weapon', writes FAIR.
Those who listen to what Panetta says and who are also aware of the facts know that a war with Iran should simply be out of the question. Yet this is still what dominates the news. That’s because facts so often take a back seat to rhetoric. One example of something that got drowned out by the rhetoric was this recent statement by Dan Halutz, the former head of the Israeli Defense Forces: ‘Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel.' Halutz has also sought to qualify some of the harsh statements made by his colleagues, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres, when saying: 'I don't think there's room for any doomsday scenarios or comparisons with the Holocaust. I also don't think Israel should be the one to lead any operation against Iran.'
According to Israel, Iran not working on a nuclear weapon
Halutz is not alone. Israeli Defense Minister Barak also made the same statement, albeit in 2009, as did ex-Mossad director Halevy in 2011, followed shortly thereafter by another ex-director of Mossad, Meir Dagan, who said that the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. Barak’s most recent statement: Israel is “very far off” from making a decision on a possible strike on Iran. At the same time that this statement was made, it was made clear that, according to Israel, Iran has not as of yet decided whether they want to make a nuclear weapon. This was contained in an intelligence brief that was shared shortly thereafter with the U.S. In mid-2011 it was revealed that 18 former heads of Israeli security services and related agencies were extremely concerned about the direction in which the current Israeli Prime Minister was heading - in the direction of a military conflict with Iran. CNN reports: 'Asked if the Pentagon was concerned about an [Israeli] attack, the senior military official replied "absolutely."'
Despite some of the nuanced views coming out of Israel, this cause for concern would seem to be justified. This became clear with the news of the recent decision to postpone a massive joint military exercise involving U.S. and Israeli forces. The well-informed Laura Rozen 'reported Monday that "several current and former American officials" had told her Sunday that the delay had been requested last month by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. One official suggested privately that there is concern that the alleged Barak request could be aimed at keeping Israel's options open for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in the spring', write Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe, who nevertheless consider the possibility that this is a smokescreen. What is actually going on, according to these two journalists, is that the U.S. wants to send Israel a signal that any Israeli attack on Iran which is carried out without consulting the U.S. beforehand will not be tolerated.