“In a high-stakes meeting at the White House, Obama stressed that there’s ‘still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution’ to the Iranian nuclear threat and that the United States, together with other nations, would continue to ‘tighten pressure’ on the regime through stiffer sanctions in the coming months.
“Even before their two-hour meeting and working lunch, there appeared to be some daylight in the approach to Iran between the two leaders, who have a famously cool relationship.”
“At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes…
“[S]ome intelligence officials and outside analysts believe there is another possible explanation for Iran’s enrichment activity, besides a headlong race to build a bomb as quickly as possible. They say that Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call ‘strategic ambiguity.’ Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions. Some point to the examples of Pakistan and India, both of which had clandestine nuclear weapons programs for decades before they actually decided to build bombs and test their weapons in 1998.”
“This disagreement between allies has been brewing for nearly a year. As Newsweek reported last month, Israel stopped sharing key military planning data on Iran with the United States last summer. And while the exchanges have resumed, Israel is still keeping a ‘top layer’ of data to itself.
“Eiland told The Daily Beast that Obama had the ability to call off an Israeli attack if he sought an explicit promise from Netanyahu not to do it. ‘The real concern is what might happen if the president said in explicit terms something like ‘don’t do it,’ or ‘promise you won’t do it,’ and will insist on such a guarantee,’ Eiland said. ‘I am not sure this scenario will occur. But if it happens, and if the president is determined to convey such a clear message and will leave no room for any possible interpretation, then I think no matter what Bibi really wants, it will be almost impossible to make a decision in absolute contradiction to the president’s wishes.'”
“Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.
“Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to convince them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program…
“But the apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel’s frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran.”
“‘Two words: Jericho missiles,’ said one former White House and Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, when asked how Israel would attack Iranian targets at great distances. ‘They are conventionally armed, have a very small CEP (circular error of probability, meaning they are highly accurate) and can be used in conjunction with a strike fighter operation.’…
“The Jerichos are stored in tunnels in limestone formations around Hirbat Zekharyah and rolled out for firing. They would likely be used as part of a one-two punch, the officials say. The first attack would be carried out by Israeli strike fighters and would be intended to breach the heavily fortified outer ceilings of the facilities. The second (and possibly even third) wave would be missile attacks aimed at destroying the facilities within, the officials said.
“Asked if Jerichos would have the accuracy and the explosive power to take out hardened bunkers or fortifications believed to be protecting Iran’s most-sensitive underground nuclear facilities, a current U.S. official replied, ‘You would be surprised at their accuracy.’ The official added that the missiles’ warheads would contain a special mix of explosives that could penetrate the Iranian defenses.”
“The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces…
“In November, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said any Iranian retaliation for an Israeli attack would be ‘bearable,’ and his government’s estimate that Iran is engaging in a bluff has been a key element in the heightened expectations that Israel is considering a strike. But Iran’s highly compartmentalized security services, analysts caution, may operate in semi-rogue fashion, following goals that seem irrational to planners in Washington. American experts, for example, are still puzzled by a suspected Iranian plot last year to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
“‘Once military strikes and counterstrikes begin, you are on the tiger’s back,’ said Ray Takeyh, a former Obama administration national security official who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘And when on the tiger’s back, you cannot always pick the place to dismount.'”
“If the U.S. ever bombs Iran’s nuclear facilities, it’ll be Gen. Norton Schwartz’s planes and pilots that pull off the attack. So the Air Force chief of staff wants someone to explain what the hell the military objective of bombing Iran will actually be.
“‘Everything we have to do has to have an objective,’ Schwartz told reporters at a breakfast meeting Wednesday. ‘What is the objective? Is it to eliminate [Iran’s nuclear program]? Is it to delay? Is it to complicate? What is the national security objective?’
“‘There’s a tendency for all of us to go tactical too quickly, and worry about weaponeering and things of that nature,’ Schwartz continued. ‘Iran bears watching’ is about as far as the top Air Force officer was willing to go.”
“‘The United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security,’ Obama said, repeating a line from the Sunday speech as Netanyahu nodded in agreement…
“‘For them, you’re the great Satan, we’re the little Satan,’ Netanyahu said. ‘For them, we are you and you are us. And you know something, Mr. President? At least on this last point, I think they’re right. We are you and you are us. We’re together. … Israel and America stand together.'”