A US drone forced down by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian government has demanded an apology from the Obama administration for violating its airspace., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
May 17, 2012
U.S. Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran
By JODI RUDOREN
New York Times
JERUSALEM — The American ambassador to Israel said this week that not only was America willing to use military force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but that preparations had already been made for a possible attack.
“It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically and through the use of pressure than to use military force,” the ambassador, Dan Shapiro, said Tuesday at a meeting of the Israeli bar association. “But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. And not just available, but it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.”
While American leaders, including President Obama and his defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have frequently said all options are on the table regarding Iran, the notion of specific plans being made is not something they typically talk about.
In fact, at a March speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, Mr. Obama warned that “loose talk of war” could actually speed Tehran’s move toward weaponization, saying “now is not the time for bluster.”
Some analysts here said Thursday that Mr. Shapiro’s remarks might have been aimed at reassuring an Israeli administration — and an Israeli public — worried that the United States was softening its stance ahead of the talks with Iran and other world powers scheduled for next week in Baghdad.
Israeli officials, who describe a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, constantly talk about the possibility of a military strike if diplomacy fails, and some have tired of Jerusalem always playing the bad cop to Washington’s good cop.
“Any expression that all options are on the table can only strengthen the negotiations,” said Dore Gold, a former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
“There’s an irony in the situation, because a hawkish position on Iran probably makes a peaceful diplomatic outcome more likely, and that could be what he was trying to do,” he said.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence who now runs the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that “what’s important is to make the military option credible” and that Mr. Shapiro’s remarks did so.
“If you’re saying that the military option is on the table and at the same time you transmit that a military option will be a doomsday and will be a World War III and the Middle East will be in flames, then nobody will take you seriously,” Mr. Yadlin noted. “A serious military, even if it’s not on the plan for next week or next month, but strategically thinking that this is an option, they have to prepare a contingency plan, that makes sense.”
In Iran, officials reacted coolly to the ambassador’s remarks. “These are words to calm down the extremists and radicals in Israel,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a political analyst who is close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He said that if Iranians reacted to the remarks they would “without a doubt” have a negative effect on the coming talks.
Mr. Taraghi, who has inside knowledge of the negotiations, emphasized that threats had never changed Iran’s position, and added, “Nor will such remarks be of any influence now.”
He added, “When Americans understand there will be no Iranian nuclear weapon and our technology is not against their interest, there will be no need for threats.”
While Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, Israel and the United States suspect it aims for weaponization, something both governments see as unacceptable. The Obama administration has increasingly focused on diplomacy and sanctions as the crucial tools, while the Netanyahu government has emphasized the possibility of a strike on the nuclear facilities and a ticking clock for its effectiveness.
“We do believe there is time — some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Mr. Shapiro said, according to The Associated Press, which said it obtained a tape of the remarks. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”
Ambassador Shapiro, who spoke about Iran during a question-and-answer session with about 150 lawyers that was first reported by the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, declined to discuss the issue on Thursday. Spokesmen for the prime minister and the defense minister — both of whom were traveling abroad — also had no response.
But one top official in the Netanyahu administration, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do so publicly, called Mr. Shapiro’s comments “a significant contribution to making the American military threat credible,” though he noted that they were made in a low-profile forum.
“Quite clearly he didn’t mean this to be public,” the official said. “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they have to hear it publicly and clearly.”
Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya, said that Ambassador Shapiro’s statement was not just “a warning to Khamenei’s government in Tehran to take the upcoming negotiations seriously.”
A second audience, he said, was “Republicans in the U.S. who have tried to hurt Obama’s credibility on Iran by saying that the president has been too soft on Iran and that Iran’s leadership don’t take his warnings regarding the existence of a possibly military option seriously.”
Mr. Javedanfar’s colleague Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzilya, was unmoved by Mr. Shapiro’s statement.
“Saying it is not enough,” Mr. Bar said. What would have more significant effect, he said, is to show actual preparations for a military option by, for example, increasing deployment in the Persian Gulf.
“What actually the U.S. administration is doing is blowing hot and cold,” said Mr. Bar, who previously worked as an intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Force and in the prime minister’s bureau. “Actions do speak louder than words. The actions say the U.S. has a very strong aversion to any kind of military action.”
Mr. Bar pointed to a recent post on the Web site of the Iranian supreme leader that he described as “an analysis of why the U.S. cannot and will not go to war.”
“That is their candid evaluation of the situation,” he said. “When the Iranians see this, they say the Americans are doing everything they can to prevent Israel from attacking.”
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran.
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran.