U.S. and Israel: War Games Replaced by Diplomatic Games
The largest joint US-Israeli war game in history, Austere Challenge 12, two years in the planning, was abruptly called off yesterday, setting off initial conjecture that the Obama administration is concerned about an imminent Israeli strike on Iran. The Israel Air Force (IAF) and the US European Command (EUCOM) were scheduled to launch the missile defense drill for the two countries this April. The war games were intended to reassure Israel and strike fear into Iran. In U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta's words, the joint missile drill was a sign of Washington's 'unshakable' commitment to Israel's security.
The cancellation, according to the New York Times, "appears intended to avoid further escalating tensions with Iran."
Speculation at this point is running in all directions.
Initial reports by DEBKAfile's unnamed and, at times, unreliable sources, said the war games were cancelled by an angry Obama White House, "in reprisal for a comment by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon" who praised the U.S. Congress for passing sanction legislation with real bite, but was critical of White House implementation.
The Hill reports that Yaalon said the White House was delaying strong sanctions for fear of a spike in oil prices during an election year.
Today Debkafile reports that their initial reports were wrong, and that it was the Israelis who called off the joint military exercise for the shock effect to underline the message to Washington that real sanctions are required now, no fooling.
Apparently, despite the headlines generated by a White House announcement of sanctions on Iran's central bank and energy sector, the administration didn't mean now. The plan is to implement these sanctions gradually over the course of a year. According to Debka, Israel feels another six months and Iran's progress towards a bomb will be irreversible.
Washington's strange passivity towards Iran is causing grave alarm in Israel. We have done nothing about Iran's capture of our stealth drone. We have been silent about the beginning of an Iranian 20-percent grade uranium enrichment facility, while Israeli Defense Minister has been on TV twice warning this facility is a game changer. Iran's threats to block U.S. aircraft carriers from the Straits of Hormuz were greeted by the usual American statement of condemnation, but we have not defied Iran by sending the USS Stennis through the Straits.
A New York Times column yesterday, Don't Do It Bibi, spells out the liberal thinking on these crucial issues. On the danger of a nuclear Iran destabilizing the Middle East, getting a dirty bomb to explode in American cities, and Israel being hit with nuclear weapons versus a spike in oil prices harming Obama's re-election, the Times column came out on the side that an Obama victory is top priority. Author Roger Cohen quotes an unnamed U.S. Ambassador giving this advice to Israel: "Maybe, once in a while, ask the president if there's anything you can do for him. And above all stay out of our election-year politics."
According to the Time's columnist, Obama is in a 'fury' because he thinks Netanyahu sees him as a one term president, and is not willing to put Obama's campaign calculus above Israel's defense needs. Cohen writes that Obama called Bibi last Thursday asking him not to bomb Tehran in the next several months, and that the Israel Prime Minister refused.
Cohen explains why Obama is so angry:
An Israeli strike a few months before the U.S. election in November would stymie Obama. He would be in no position to express anger given the clout of the pro-Israel lobby, the important Jewish vote in Florida and the fulsome support any Israeli bombing would get from the Republican contender -- probably Mitt Romney.
The liberal Richard Cohen's advice to Bibi: Obama's displeasure is more important than the threat of a nuclear strike.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Knesset Monday, "As long as there will not be effective sanctions on Iran's central bank and oil industry, there won't be any effect on its nuclear program."
President Obama, are you listening?