For the past six years or more, military strategists, diplomats, and political analysts have been trying to decide if and when Iran will have an operational nuclear weapon. If the Iranian claim — that it is only seeking to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes — is the charade it is assumed to be, the United States, Israel, the West, and the Arab states (led by Saudi Arabia) should have a common concern for the future of regional stability and the consequences of nuclear proliferation.
The technological issues, the fissionable material, the fabrication capacity, and a delivery system have all been subject to debate, with everyone citing a different calendar as to when an Iranian nuclear program could be operational. Now it has become clear that the major intelligence communities whose information has been considered to be the most reliable agree that they still do not have a firm picture as to when Iran might have full nuclear capability. This is not for lack of trying, but due to a lack of hard, definitive information.
The United States and Israel share intelligence and respect each other’s work, although they do not operate the same way. There is one understood aspect to the high level of shared intelligence that underscores the value of the deep-seated relationship between the Israeli Mossad and U.S. intelligence agencies. As The New York Times acknowledged on Sunday, March 18, America has very little human intelligence coming out of Iran. It was suggested that this has forced the United States to rely on extensive and highly sophisticated technology to provide credible information. Meanwhile, it seems that Israel, unlike the United States, likely has boots and/or bodies on the ground in Iran. If indeed that is the case, the intelligence shared by the United States and Israel is vital to providing both nations with the maximum amount of attainable information. In addition, such a partnership goes a long way to explaining why Israel appears to have lowered its level of saber-rattling since the Obama-Netanyahu talks in Washington.
In addition, despite any intelligence gaps, it seems that the Obama administration now believes there is still time to maximize diplomatic initiatives: Sanctions are working, international cooperation has increased, and Iran’s economy is definitely suffering. This conclusion should placate at least some of those skeptical of Obama — both in Jerusalem and among American Jews — especially those who believe the president will not act in Iran.
They need to remember that Obama did demonstrate the capacity to act once already — even though there was a potential for disastrous political fallout. President Obama went after Osama bin Laden based on a reported 60 percent probability that the mission would be successful. Just as President Jimmy Carter’s re-election effort was doomed after the failure of the April 1980 attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages in Teheran, Obama fully understood that if that mission in Pakistan had failed, his entire re-election campaign might have collapsed.
It appears likely that the United States bought some additional time from Israel not only because of the shared intelligence, but as a result of a weapons decision. Israel wanted access to a higher level of sophisticated U.S. weapons systems that the Bush administration had denied them — a new generation of aerial refueling planes and the latest bunker-buster bombs. After Netanyahu and Obama exchanged the latest intelligence concerning Iran’s success with its weapons development, it gave Israel this new equipment. This decision had the added psychological effect of causing Iran to believe that Israel now is receiving sufficient materiel to make a preemptive attack on Iran feasible. This Iranian perception might justify Israel’s giving Obama additional time to let sanctions work and to develop a diplomatic solution to the confrontation.
Meanwhile having provided the United States with its latest intelligence and received the latest offensive and support equipment it needed, Israel now also will require additional time to integrate the new systems into any attack plan.
Obama received assurances that — barring any new or surprise developments — Israel may now feel it does not need to do anything against Iran, at least until after November. Israel itself feels reassured, however, that if it needs to act, the White House will provide support.
Finally, after November — assuming his re-election — President Obama will be able to withstand any political fallout and economic consequences if and when the United States decides to act — rather than Israel. In other words it’s Israel’s call until November and after that the Obama team will handle the matter, assuming sanctions and diplomatic initiatives fail. Ironically, it will also be about the same time that the Netanyahu government will be in the early stages of its own 2013 reelection campaign.