As the US election draws near and issues involving Iran grow more tense, I find my task of reporting responsibly and accurately ever more difficult. Rumors are being floated. Leaks are being leaked. Denials are being issued that may be honest and may be covers. And some of the information we're receiving may be deliberate disinformation to throw us off track.
Tension between Netanyahu and Obama has increased over the issue of Israel attacking Iran before the election. The heart of the matter, with all the leaks and denials and rumors, is the question of whether Israel will attack and how Obama is responding to that possibility.
Yediot Ahronot came out with a story, which was picked up by other sources but has been denied by the US, regarding an offer Obama made to Iran, via third parties, to refrain from backing Israel in an attack if Iran would promise not to hit US installations.
As this report followed Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey's (confirmed) comment that he wouldn't want to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack on Iran, my inclination was to believe it. But, not only has it been denied, there are stories suggesting other approaches by Obama. Although these other approaches and the message to Iran are not necessarily mutually exclusive -- Obama might be hedging his bets.
PM Netanyahu has been talking about the need for US red lines: A clear message from Obama to Iran regarding "this far and no further" in their nuclear development. There are reports now that this may be forthcoming. A red line, says the prime minister, would indicate true resolve on the part of the US and convince Iran that the Americans were serious. The clearer the message of resolve, he maintains, the less the likelihood of war, as the Iranians would be more inclined to back off.
The New York Times yesterday said that the Obama administration was moving forward "with a range of steps short of war that it hopes will forestall an Israeli attack, while forcing the Iranians to take more seriously negotiations that are all but stalemated."
Now, we must keep in mind that this is the NYTimes, but the headline of this piece read: "To Calm Israel, U.S. Offers Ways to Restrain Iran."
So by the lights of the NYTimes, we need "calming" because we are waxing hysterical on the matter of Iran. I would instead say that Obama has finally realized that Israel is serious about taking on Iran, and soon, and so is acting in an attempt to preclude an attack that might damage his chances for re-election.
The dead serious question that must then be asked is, if Obama has ways to "restrain" Iran ("a range of steps short of war"), why didn't he implement them sooner? The answer, of course, is that the election and not Iran is the primary motivating factor here.
The platform that will be brought for approval at the Democratic Convention, which began today, reflects a response to Netanyahu's pressure for a firmer US stand on the issue:
"President Obama believes that a diplomatic outcome remains the best and most enduring solution. At the same time, he has also made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options – including military force – remain on the table.
"But we have an obligation to use the time and space that exists now to put increasing pressure on the Iranian regime to live up to its obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or face the consequences...
"The president is committed to using all instruments of national power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
(That's lovely. But see more on the platform below!)
In addition to all of this, we have the following report:
"The United States may supply Israel with advanced Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bunker-buster bombs that can penetrate through up to 60 feet (almost 20 meters) of reinforced concrete, reports Maariv Tuesday.
"This is part of a deal being worked out between the countries, which also includes the supply of refueling jets.
"This equipment will make the job of demolishing Iran's nuclear weapon production array more feasible for Israel, should it decide to do so.
"In exchange for the weapons, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will agree to hold off on an independent attack until after the U.S. elections."
Having those bunker buster bombs -- if this report, as yet unconfirmed, is true -- would extend our window of opportunity for hitting Iran. And would enable us to do a more effective job once we did.
HOWEVER...Channel 2's major news show has reported that the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran in the near future is very great -- which, if true, would mean that talk of a deal involving the delivery of those bombs to Israel is no more than rumor.
As Times of Israel reports it (emphasis added):
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have 'almost finally' decided on an Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities this fall, and a final decision will be taken 'soon,' Israel’s main TV news broadcast reported...
"Critically, the station’s diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal said, Israel does not believe that the US will take military action as Iran closes in on the bomb.
"The US, the TV report said, has not provided Israel with details of an attack plan. President Obama has not promised to attack Iran if all else fails. Conditions cited by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for an American attack do not calm Israeli concerns. And Obama has a record of seeking UN and Arab League approval before action. All these factors, in Jerusalem’s mind, underline the growing conviction of Netanyahu and Barak that Israel will have to tackle Iran alone, the TV report said.
"Obama does not want to intervene militarily before the presidential elections in November, and it is doubtful that he would act afterwards, runs the Israeli assessment, the TV report said. Obama may believe that the US can live with a nuclear Iran, but Israel cannot, the report quoted those in 'Netanyahu’s circle' as saying...
"The US can live with Iran as a 'breakout state' — on the edge of attaining a bomb, the report said the prime minister’s circle believes. But 'for Israel, a breakout state is a nuclear state.'
"Netanyahu, for his part, 'is convinced that thwarting Iran amounts to thwarting a plan to destroy the Jewish people,' Channel 2′s Segal said. The prime minister considers Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to be acting rationally in order to achieve 'fanatical' goals.
"Segal said that, when considering the imperative to attack, Netanyahu and Barak reason that 'we may have reached the moment of truth' after which it would be too late to stop Iran, and that 'the price of an attack is far lower than the price of inaction.' It will be 'a matter of a few months' before it is too late, Segal said — before, that is, Iran would be immune from damage by an Israeli strike.
The TV report cited intelligence information suggesting that Iran 'is much further ahead' than previously thought in its uranium enrichment and in other aspects of its nuclear weapons program."
How many times in this posting have I used the phrase "if this report is true"? It's anyone's guess what's going to happen in the next two months.
As Israeli leaders make their critical decision, the issue of whether Obama can be trusted looms paramount. And so, with an eye towards this, I share additional information about the new Democratic party platform that I've just picked up (emphasis added):
"Several pro-Israel sections of the 2008 Democratic Party platform have been removed from the 2012 platform—on Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and Hamas. The new platform represents another shift by the Obama Democrats toward the Palestinian position on key issues in the peace process.
"For Jerusalem, the new platform has been brought into line with the Obama administration’s policy of not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and supporting its division. Jerusalem is unmentioned in the 2012 document, whereas the 2008 and 2004 Democratic Party platforms declared 'Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel…It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.' The Obama administration’s refusal to recognize Jerusalem has been a point of significant controversy in recent months.
"On the issue of Palestinian refugees, the new document has removed language from the 2004 and 2008 platforms specifying that Palestinian 'refugees' should be settled in a future Palestinian state, not in Israel...
"Gone as well is the language from 2008 on the terrorist group Hamas, which currently controls the Gaza Strip. That platform declared, “The United States and its Quartet partners should continue to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and abides by past agreements.”
"The 2012 platform contains no mention of Hamas.
"Previous platforms also contained promises to maintain Israel’s 'qualitative military edge' in the region. The 2008 platform, for example, spoke of a 'commitment which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense.' The 2012 platform mentions only that '[t]he administration has also worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region' with no commitment to doing so in the future."
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.