by Joseph Klein
Israel has established a clear-cut red line when it comes to preventing the transfer of advanced arms from Syria to Hezbollah. And unlike the Obama administration, Israel means what it says. Israel has conducted military strikes to destroy advanced Iranian and Russian weapons in the Syrian regime’s hands before they could be added to Hezbollah’s growing stockpile of offensive arms aimed at Israeli population centers or used to thwart Israeli defense systems.
Instead of providing covert support for Israeli operations, or at least staying out of Israel’s way, the Obama administration is deliberately compromising Israel’s security by leaking sensitive information on Israeli attacks against the Syrian weapons targets.
The latest episode of Obama administration betrayal of America’s closest ally in the Middle East came last week when an Obama administration official leaked to CNN that Israeli warplanes had attacked a Syrian base, targeting “missiles and related equipment” to prevent their delivery to Hezbollah. The Israeli Air Force attack targeted Russian-made SA-8 Gecko Dgreen mobile missiles in the Syrian port of Latakia. Israel reportedly also struck a similar shipment in Damascus. The latest leaks continue a disturbing pattern, including the U.S. intelligence community’s public disclosure last summer of an Israeli air and naval strike on a shipment of highly advanced Russian anti-ship missiles.
Israeli TV Channel 2’s military analyst, Roni Daniel, explained that Israel’s policy of not openly acknowledging the attacks it conducts is meant to avoid publicly humiliating Syria’s President Bashar Assad. Such humiliation would be likely to lead Assad to respond to the attacks in order to save face. The U.S. leaks are working at cross-purposes with this strategy. In Daniel’s words, the leaks risk “pushing Assad closer to the point where he can’t swallow these attacks, and will respond.”
The Israeli military intelligence website DEBKAfile cites military sources who disclosed that “the US media reports of Israeli Air Force attacks in Syria that quoted US officials aroused indignation in government circles in Jerusalem and military headquarters in Tel Aviv.” The DEBKAfile report went on to say that Israeli government and military insiders consider the Obama administration’s leaks to be “in breach of the understandings and agreements reached between Israel and the White House on Syria.” The leaks were said to undermine the cooperation that the U.S. and Israeli governments had supposedly worked out, according to DEBKAfile, “in the effort to prevent advanced weapons reaching the Hizballah terrorist organization in Lebanon from Syria.”
Having decided instead to throw in his lot with Russia’s diplomatic initiative that requires working cooperatively with Syrian President Assad to enable the peaceful destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international auspices, President Obama wants to handcuff Israel. He does not want the Israelis upsetting either the Russians or Assad with strikes on the conventional weapons the Russians provided to Assad, irrespective of their ultimate destination. DEBKAfile, citing its Washington sources, explained that “because the administration is immersed in a complicated joint diplomatic maneuver with Moscow on Syria, it can’t afford to leave the impression of US involvement in the Israeli attack or its approval.” So the Obama administration overcompensated by blowing Israel’s cover.
Likewise, Obama does not want anything to interfere with the negotiations now underway with Iran regarding its nuclear program. It is in this context that the Obama administration is doing whatever it can to discourage a unilateral Israeli air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which would be virtually certain to derail the current negotiations with Iran. It is also planning to take pressure off of the Iranians by loosening the existing sanctions and dissuading Congress from approving any new sanctions.
Voice of America reported on October 31st that the Obama administration is “indicating some softening, with a chief U.S. official involved in the talks telling VOA recently that the time is coming for a pause in new sanctions.” Previously, the Obama administration’s chief negotiator with Tehran, U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, had told Voice of America that any push for additional U.S. sanctions by Congress should be delayed to see if nuclear talks can “gain traction.”
According to DEBKAfile, there are already talks underway between the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions regime, and senior staff from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s administration to determine which current sanctions will be lifted and when.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a harsh critic of any softening of the sanctions until Iran completely dismantles its nuclear enrichment and plutonium facilities and submits to unfettered international inspections. Warning of Iranian duplicity and the existential threat to Israel and the region that a nuclear armed Iran would pose, Netanyahu has not ruled out unilateral military action to stop Iran before it reaches that capability. He has less confidence than ever in Obama’s willingness to exercise the military option against Iran, especially following Obama’s pull back from his own red line in responding militarily to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.
The leaks appear to be part of the Obama administration’s strategy to put Netanyahu in his place by telling him, in effect, that the U.S. has the capacity to monitor every move the Israelis make, including preparations for a military strike to halt Iran’s nuclear program, and to expose Israel’s plans preemptively, if the Obama administration deems necessary, to protect its ongoing negotiations with Iran.
Now comes word, revealed by DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Iranian sources, that there was an unexplained explosion last week at Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor that is under construction and would have the capability to produce plutonium for use in nuclear bombs as an alternative to enriched uranium. There is no indication yet whether Israel may have been involved in some sort of act of sabotage. But if Israel was involved, will the Obama administration sabotage Israel’s covert activities with yet another embarrassing leak? Based on its pattern of leaking Israel’s strikes on advanced weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, the answer sadly is most likely yes.
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