'Cooling off Israel' and Riling up Americans

Shoshana Bryen
While noting in The Washington Post that Israel "cannot afford to outsource its security to another country," Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, contends that President Obama can/should frame "a nuclear-armed Iran as an impermissible threat to the national interests of the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf."  This, he says, would have the effect of "cooling off" Israel and, presumably, permitting more time for U.S.-led diplomacy.  He requests that the President:

  1. Notify the U.S. Congress in writing that he reserves the right to use military force to prevent Iran's acquisition of a military nuclear capability.
  2. Signal its intentions via a heightened US military presence in the gulf, military exercises with Middle East allies and missile defense deployments in the region.
  3. Provide advanced military technology and intelligence to strengthen Israel's military capabilities and extend the window in which Israel can mortally would Iran's program.
  4. Speak publicly about the dangers of possible Iranian nuclear reconstitution in the wake of a military strike.
  5. Publicly commit to the security of U.S. allies in the Gulf.
He's thinking -- reasonably enough -- like an Israeli.  But all of those actions that would "cool off" Israel, would rile the American public, particularly if the public believes eventual American military action against Iran is only in the security interest of another country and not essential to our own.  Here, in fact, is where the President and Israel have an enormous gap in perception -- none of MG Yadlin's five recommendations adequately explains why Iran is a threat to the United States, only that the U.S. is prepared to go to war again over something.

The President has sent strong and unmistakable signals that he understands that Iran poses an unacceptable threat to Israel, which under certain circumstances the United States would eliminate for Israel. Not bad for Israel, but Americans have been engaged in two wars (and several semi-wars) over eleven years and unless someone convinces us that another war is necessary, our government ought not to be making promises to someone else. This, the President has failed to do.

How could the President ensure that Americans understand the danger posed by Iran to the United States and our interests abroad and thus provide himself the flexibility to act if/when it becomes necessary? He could:

1. Explain specifically why Iran is a threat to the United States. Talk about how the war against the U.S. engendered by the 1979 Iranian Revolution never ended.  It is not ancient history. Explain the expansionist nature of the Iranian regime.

2. Stop saying, "The tide of war is receding," particularly while announcing that the U.S. is committed to ensuring the safe passage of oil through the Strait of Hormuz despite Iranian threats.  This may require military action -- it may well require a war -- though not on behalf of Israel.  Oil through the Strait benefits sellers (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE) and buyers who are primarily not us (China, India, Japan, South Korea and European countries that are much more dependent on Middle East oil than the 18% the U.S. imports from there).  Americans might, actually, agree that to a war that secures Israel, but would they agree to a war that benefits Saudi Arabia and China? It isn't clear, but the case for why the U.S. might find itself at war in the Strait has not been made.

3. Prepare the American people for a rise in oil prices and prepare for an exponential rise in domestic oil production. The Obama administration has consistently and publicly balanced America's need for oil at an acceptable price with threats to Iran.  At the moment, the Administration is talking about opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- "to keep Iran from profiting from the rising price of oil." Nonsense. There isn't enough oil in the Reserve to do it; but there is quite enough to ensure that Americans don't feel a higher pinch at the gas pump. If the President was serious about cutting off Iran's ability to export oil and thus serious about minimizing its income, he wouldn't have given waivers to 20 importing countries, including China and India -- two of Iran's biggest clients.

4. End the waivers.

5. Discuss Iranian-supported Hezb'allah in its proper context as an enemy of the United States.  Hezb'allah is, in fact, on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, but U.S. fully recognizes and works with and provides aid to the Hezb'allah-controlled government in Beirut. Lebanon was a party to Eager Lion 2012, the U.S. Special Operations exercise in Jordan in May. This makes it hard to protest the EU decision not to list Hezb'allah as a terrorist organization. The Europeans asked for "proof" of its terrorist nature but the U.S. didn't mention that until September 11, 2001, Hezb'allah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other group.  The 241 Marines killed in the barracks in Lebanon, the 16 Americans killed in the bombing of our Beirut Embassy, Navy Diver Robert Dean Stethem and Col. Rich Higgins, USMC are not ancient history either. They should have been on the tip of the Administration's tongue. Instead, it simply supports Israel's contention that Hezb'allah threatens Israel.

Seriously preparing Americans for the possibility of American intervention in Iran as an American national security interest would have the salutary effect MG Yadlin seeks for Israel, with the added benefit of honesty and clarity for our own citizens.  It hasn't happened.  And since the President continues to discuss Iran primarily in terms of a threat to others -- while fairly loudly insisting that "others" not do anything about it -- it is unlikely he will fulfill the general's conditions for "cooling off" Israel.

Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.  She was previously Senior Director for Security Policy at JINSA and author of JINSA Reports form 1995-2011.

While noting in The Washington Post that Israel "cannot afford to outsource its security to another country," Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, contends that President Obama can/should frame "a nuclear-armed Iran as an impermissible threat to the national interests of the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf."  This, he says, would have the effect of "cooling off" Israel and, presumably, permitting more time for U.S.-led diplomacy.  He requests that the President:

  1. Notify the U.S. Congress in writing that he reserves the right to use military force to prevent Iran's acquisition of a military nuclear capability.
  2. Signal its intentions via a heightened US military presence in the gulf, military exercises with Middle East allies and missile defense deployments in the region.
  3. Provide advanced military technology and intelligence to strengthen Israel's military capabilities and extend the window in which Israel can mortally would Iran's program.
  4. Speak publicly about the dangers of possible Iranian nuclear reconstitution in the wake of a military strike.
  5. Publicly commit to the security of U.S. allies in the Gulf.

He's thinking -- reasonably enough -- like an Israeli.  But all of those actions that would "cool off" Israel, would rile the American public, particularly if the public believes eventual American military action against Iran is only in the security interest of another country and not essential to our own.  Here, in fact, is where the President and Israel have an enormous gap in perception -- none of MG Yadlin's five recommendations adequately explains why Iran is a threat to the United States, only that the U.S. is prepared to go to war again over something.

The President has sent strong and unmistakable signals that he understands that Iran poses an unacceptable threat to Israel, which under certain circumstances the United States would eliminate for Israel. Not bad for Israel, but Americans have been engaged in two wars (and several semi-wars) over eleven years and unless someone convinces us that another war is necessary, our government ought not to be making promises to someone else. This, the President has failed to do.

How could the President ensure that Americans understand the danger posed by Iran to the United States and our interests abroad and thus provide himself the flexibility to act if/when it becomes necessary? He could:

1. Explain specifically why Iran is a threat to the United States. Talk about how the war against the U.S. engendered by the 1979 Iranian Revolution never ended.  It is not ancient history. Explain the expansionist nature of the Iranian regime.

2. Stop saying, "The tide of war is receding," particularly while announcing that the U.S. is committed to ensuring the safe passage of oil through the Strait of Hormuz despite Iranian threats.  This may require military action -- it may well require a war -- though not on behalf of Israel.  Oil through the Strait benefits sellers (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE) and buyers who are primarily not us (China, India, Japan, South Korea and European countries that are much more dependent on Middle East oil than the 18% the U.S. imports from there).  Americans might, actually, agree that to a war that secures Israel, but would they agree to a war that benefits Saudi Arabia and China? It isn't clear, but the case for why the U.S. might find itself at war in the Strait has not been made.

3. Prepare the American people for a rise in oil prices and prepare for an exponential rise in domestic oil production. The Obama administration has consistently and publicly balanced America's need for oil at an acceptable price with threats to Iran.  At the moment, the Administration is talking about opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- "to keep Iran from profiting from the rising price of oil." Nonsense. There isn't enough oil in the Reserve to do it; but there is quite enough to ensure that Americans don't feel a higher pinch at the gas pump. If the President was serious about cutting off Iran's ability to export oil and thus serious about minimizing its income, he wouldn't have given waivers to 20 importing countries, including China and India -- two of Iran's biggest clients.

4. End the waivers.

5. Discuss Iranian-supported Hezb'allah in its proper context as an enemy of the United States.  Hezb'allah is, in fact, on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, but U.S. fully recognizes and works with and provides aid to the Hezb'allah-controlled government in Beirut. Lebanon was a party to Eager Lion 2012, the U.S. Special Operations exercise in Jordan in May. This makes it hard to protest the EU decision not to list Hezb'allah as a terrorist organization. The Europeans asked for "proof" of its terrorist nature but the U.S. didn't mention that until September 11, 2001, Hezb'allah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other group.  The 241 Marines killed in the barracks in Lebanon, the 16 Americans killed in the bombing of our Beirut Embassy, Navy Diver Robert Dean Stethem and Col. Rich Higgins, USMC are not ancient history either. They should have been on the tip of the Administration's tongue. Instead, it simply supports Israel's contention that Hezb'allah threatens Israel.

Seriously preparing Americans for the possibility of American intervention in Iran as an American national security interest would have the salutary effect MG Yadlin seeks for Israel, with the added benefit of honesty and clarity for our own citizens.  It hasn't happened.  And since the President continues to discuss Iran primarily in terms of a threat to others -- while fairly loudly insisting that "others" not do anything about it -- it is unlikely he will fulfill the general's conditions for "cooling off" Israel.

Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.  She was previously Senior Director for Security Policy at JINSA and author of JINSA Reports form 1995-2011.