Should Israel bet the farm on US promises?
Recently, Israel’s security cabinet met for 10 hours to discuss, among other things, Iran. Details of the meeting were secret, but
It is likely that among the issues discussed were the “red lines” that Israel would like the United States to establish as a way of deterring Iran from moving ahead. While Netanyahu has not publicly declared what he thinks those red lines should be, Uzi Arad, the former head of the National Security Council, said that they could include a declaration that any uranium enrichment beyond 20 percent would be a direct trigger for military action.
Arad, in an Israel Radio interview, said other possible red lines could be the discovery of additional uranium enrichment plants – like the once secret facilities at Natanz and Fordow – or the interference with the work of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
In addition, Arad said that the US has not yet spoken in “categorical terms” making crystal clear its determination to stop the Iranian nuclear march.
An example of this, he said, would be clearer presidential declarations to the effect that the US will not tolerate or allow a nuclear Iran, and will use all means to prevent it.
Other “categorical” expressions of this determination, Arad said, could be congressional authorization now of the use of force if diplomacy fails to convince the Iranians to halt, and a clear statement that the military objective of any US action would not be to “buy time,” but rather to prevent Iran from ever being able to build a nuclear bomb.
There is also this, from an AP report:
After tense exchanges with the Americans, Israeli political and defense officials said Tuesday that the sides are now working closely together in hopes of getting their positions in sync. Clearer American assurances on what pressure it is prepared to use against Iran, including possible military action, would reduce the need for Israel to act alone, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a security matter.
I hope that this does not represent the thinking of Israeli policymakers. It is imperative to deal with reality as it is, not as we would wish it to be. And reality is 1) that only military action or a credible threat thereof will stop Iran from developing deliverable nuclear bombs, and 2) that an Obama administration, or even a Romney administration, is highly unlikely to provide this.
A strategy of stopping Iran by getting the US to promise to enforce red lines is only a promise; and nations — the US is not alone in this — do not keep promises when doing so is not determined to be in their interest.
Here is an example. In 2004, the US was very interested that Israel carry out its proposed withdrawal from the Gaza strip. President Bush wrote a letter to then-PM Ariel Sharon — I would link to the original, but it has been removed from the White House website — promising that
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…
Israeli officials insisted that there was also an informal agreement that this would be understood as allowing construction in settlements located in areas that Israel intended to keep in any proposed agreement with the Palestinians.
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, at a news briefing in January , suggested that Bush’s 2004 letter was aimed at helping Sharon win domestic approval for the Gaza withdrawal. “The president obviously still stands by that letter of April of 2004, but you need to look at it, obviously, in the context of which it was issued,” he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected Israeli assertions that the Bush administration had reached a binding agreement with Israel on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“We have the negotiating record, that is the official record that was turned over to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush administration,” Clinton said Friday at a joint press conference with her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.
“There is no memorialization of any informal or oral agreement” concerning the settlements, she said.
Since coming to office in January, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on Israel to halt all settlement activity in Palestinian areas, a demand rejected by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israelis say they received commitments from the previous US administration of President George W. Bush permitting some growth in existing settlements.
They say the US position was laid out in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Israeli premier Ariel Sharon.
Clinton rejected that claim, saying any such US stance was informal and “did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”
Is this the kind of promise-keeping that a nation can bet its existence on? I don’t think so.