Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months. Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.
In the three days since the column was published, we are still waiting to find Panetta’s exact words, and in what context were they made. All we have David Ignatius reading of the Secretary of Defense’s mind.
It has been my experience that if you hear a rumor about an upcoming Israeli action, it is probably fake. If Israel is good at anything, its good at keeping secrets. In fact even when the country gets falsely accused of some sort of covert military action, Israel’s government will refuse to confirm or deny the accusations even if they are false.
Barry Rubin puts it this way:
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Israel has talked about attacking Iran and one can make a case for such an operation. Yet any serious consideration of this scenario — based on actual research and real analysis rather than what the uninformed assemble in their own heads or Israeli leaders sending a message to create a situation where an attack isn’t necessary — is this: It isn’t going to happen.
Indeed, the main leak from the Israeli government, by an ex-intelligence official who hates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been that the Israeli government already decided not to attack Iran. He says that he worries this might change in the future but there’s no hint that this has happened or will happen. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has publicly denied plans for an imminent attack as have other senior government officials.
Of course, one might joke that the fact that Israeli leaders talk about attacking Iran is the biggest proof that they aren’t about to do it.
My sources within Israel have reported that even in private, Netanyahu Government leaders have said there is no attack planned as of now.
Perhaps Mr. Panetta’s angst comes from the the fact that Israel refuses to promise Obama that it will seek US approval before making a preemptive strike against Iranian Nukes, an indication of Israeli mistrust of the Obama administration.
Once all but a handful of trusted staff had left the room, Mr Panetta conveyed an urgent message from Barack Obama. The president, Mr Panetta said, wanted an unshakable guarantee that Israel would not carry out a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations without first seeking Washington’s clearance.
The two Israelis were notably evasive in their response, according to sources both in Israel and the United States.
“They did not suggest that military action was being planned or was imminent, but neither did they give any assurances that Israel would first seek Washington’s permission, or even inform the White House in advance that a mission was underway,” one said.
Here’s what we are left with. Israeli leaders have said both privately and publicly that, unless thing change (and nothing has). Israeli leaders lack of trust in the Obama administration has led them to say they will not ask for permission or even warn the administration prior to a preemptive action against Iran. A left-wing columnist working for a left wing newspaper creates hype that Panetta is worried about an Israeli attack, which they have already said won’t happen.
It seems to this observer that the Ignatius article was written to help Obama continue his passive aggressive policy of declaring that he is Israel’s buddy on one hand, and trying to demonize the Jewish State on the other.