How America can stop what the New York Times calls “Israel’s March to War” is the hot topic this month. The issue—for the Times—is whether Israel is on the verge of bombing Iran’s nuclear sites, or can be persuaded to delay that decision and rely on the United States instead. This is what a parade of U.S. officials visiting Jerusalem this summer have counseled (and pressured) Israel to do. But the comments of Israel’s top officials suggest that its patience is wearing thin and that it may act soon, in weeks if not months. As the Associated Press put it, “Israeli leaders, who have long issued veiled threats against Iran, now appear to be preparing the country for war. … The heightened rhetoric has fueled jitters that the zero hour is near.”
Why would Israel, with so much less power than the United States, decide to take on a task at the far outer edge of its military capacities? Why not leave that task to the superpower, which would do a much better job? The answer is simple: Israelis do not believe the United States will perform the task—will ever use military force, even as a last resort, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
In that belief Israel is not alone; its view is shared by Iran. The Iranian record in the nuclear negotiations demonstrates that its leaders do not see themselves at the edge of the apocalypse. Instead they feel free to delay forever, present ridiculous proposals, and refuse to engage in serious bargaining. Meanwhile they push their nuclear program forward, with ever more centrifuges producing ever more enriched uranium, while they also test improved missiles.
Just last week there were several more proposals about how to bridge the gap between Israel and the United States, and give the reassurance Israel needs. Dennis Ross, adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama on the Middle East, presented his view in the Times.
“First, the United States must put an endgame proposal on the table that would allow Iran to have civil nuclear power but with restrictions that would preclude it from having a breakout nuclear capability,” Ross wrote. “Second, America should begin discussions with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany (the so called P5+1) about a ‘day after’ strategy in the event that diplomacy fails and force is used….Third, senior American officials should ask Israeli leaders if there are military capabilities we could provide them with — like additional bunker-busting bombs, tankers for refueling aircraft and targeting information — that would extend the clock for them. And finally, the White House should ask Mr. Netanyahu what sort of support he would need from the United States if he chose to use force…”
Nice try, but that won’t persuade either Israel or Iran. When negotiating with the Iranians, there is no “end game proposal;” everything is a first bid and Ross’s “restrictions” become colonial impositions that must disappear. Moreover, the United States and the P5+1 have repeatedly made such proposals before, to no avail. Discussions about a “day after” strategy, or more weapons for Israel, show no greater U.S. resolve. Finally, asking what Israel needs if it uses force only reinforces the view that the United States will not do so.
Almost simultaneously, the former head of Israeli military intelligence Gen. Amos Yadlin weighed in. In an interview with the Times of Israel, he described the situation: “The diplomatic negotiations that took place in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow produced nothing….And therefore if you’re not prepared to live with an Iran with a nuclear bomb, you are left with only one option and that’s the option of military intervention.”