In recent weeks, intense discussions have taken place in Israeli military and intelligence circles about whether or not to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Apparently, the key question in the debate was how to ensure that the United States took part in the attack or, at the very least, intervened on Israel’s side if the initial strike triggered a wider war.
Reports of these discussions have caused considerable alarm in Washington and in a number of European capitals. Some Western military experts have been quoted as saying that the window of opportunity for an Israeli air attack on Iran will close within two months, since the onset of winter would make such an assault more difficult.
Concern that Israel may decide to attack without giving the United States prior warning is thought to be the main reason for the visit to Tel Aviv on 3 October of the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. His aim seems to have been to rein in the Israeli hawks. Amos Harel of the Israeli daily Haaretz summed up Panetta’s message as follows: America is standing by Israel, but an uncoordinated Israeli strike on Iran could spark a regional war. The United States will work to defend Israel, but Israel must behave responsibly.
At his joint press conference with Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta said: The United States is “very concerned, and we will work together to do whatever is necessary” to keep Iran from posing “a threat to the region.” But doing so “depends on the countries working together.” He repeated the word “together” several times. In other words, Israel should not act without an American green light.
According to the 6 October edition of TTU, a French intelligence bulletin, the United States and Israel are planning an unprecedented joint land forces exercise next May with the goal of establishing a common “intervention force” ready for action in the event of a major regional war. Admiral James Stavridis, head of Eurocom -- America’s European command -- paid a recent unpublicised visit to Israel for talks with General Benny Gantz, Israel’s chief of staff. According to TTU, the plan is to set up American command posts in Israel and Israeli command posts in Eurocom. Cooperation between the two powers has rarely been closer.
These are dangerous times in the Middle East.