Israel and Iran to go to war?
Iran shows every sign of trying to hide its nuclear program from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Barack H. Obama turns out to have offered Israel a crude bribe, not to stop a war, but to put it off until the American people (as he hopes) re-elect him. Israel and Iran will very likely go to war, sooner or later.
Iran tries to clean up
On Monday, the government of Iran told the United Nations that they would welcome inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency into their country. But several diplomats from other countries, all officials of the IAEA, now say that Iran is hiding something. Moreover, satellite photographs show that Iran is removing large amounts of topsoil from the site that they offered to let the UN inspect. The purpose: to remove hints that they were testing a neutron initiator, a device that sets off an atomic or hydrogen bomb. These developments clearly worry the IAEA. But no one at the IAEA will give his name to any of these reports.
On the same day that this news broke, the man now holding office as President, Barack H. Obama, did something that made relations between America and Israel even more frosty.
Obama offers Israel a bribe
The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported yesterday that Obama had offered to give Israel several modern air tankers and “bunker-buster” bombs, if Israel would delay attacking Iran until next year. (Agence France Presse picked up the Ma’ariv story but gave no original link.) The air tankers (based on the Boeing 767 airframe) would greatly extend the range of the F-15 and F-16 fighters that the Israeli Air Force flies. (The IAF is still flying 707-analogue KC-135 tankers that have been in service since 1972.) In theory, a heavier bomb would give the Israelis more time to crack even the hardest underground targets.
The Lavi Affair
But in fact this offer is a sick joke. To understand how sick, one must review a sorry chapter in the history of American-Israeli relations. This was the aborted development of the Lavi multi-role jet fighter. Israel Aerospace Industries, beginning in 1980, sought to replace the aging A-4 attack planes and Kefir jet fighters. (IAI derived the Kefir from the French-built Mirage 5 fighter after Charles de Gaulle refused to sell any more planes to Israel.) At first, the USA supported the Lavi project and even let Israel buy components for it, under its Foreign Military Sale (FMS) credit program. (This is the extent of the aid that America provides to Israel. FMS credits are, in essence, merchandise credits that Israel uses today to buy planes and spare parts for its Air Force.)
IAI rolled out at least two prototypes in 1986. Then in 1987, the Americans pulled the funding, because:
- The Americans resented Israel for changing the design from an A-4 upgrade to a direct competitor to the F-16.
- The Americans were afraid that Israel was getting a lot of advanced American technology and might transfer this technology to third countries. (One report, later denied, said that Israel sold a Lavi prototype to the Chinese, who then used it to develop their own multi-role fighter. Sources close to the Chinese program have since denied that they took anything from the Lavi program.)
- The Lavi was costing a lot of money, in dollars and in shekels, to develop. This sort of thing happens all the time whenever a country develops a new weapon.
- Once the Lavi was in production, General Dynamics, builder of the F-16, would now have to compete with IAI for sales, in addition to losing direct sales to Israel.
- The Department of State, and especially its Arabist faction, said that the Lavi program unfairly biased American foreign relations in favor of Israel.
The government of Israel hotly debated whether to continue the Lavi program on their own. On August 30, 1987, by a vote of 12 to 11 (with one member abstaining), the Israeli cabinet canceled the Lavi program. This was a failure of nerve by Israel. Israel still had many socialistic features of its government, and so the old “guns-for-butter” debate tilted toward butter. (To be fair, many IAF officers felt that the Lavi would never make a better F-16, and that Israel might as well stick with a tried-and-true design, even if they had to buy it from America.)
Israel did not lose everything by canceling the Lavi. They still got enough technology to launch their own spacecraft in the 1990s. But they still hurt their economy, and would have every reason to resent the Americans for pulling the funding as they did. Had the funding continued, Israel might have Lavi fighters today.
Such is the context in which Barack Obama made his offer of modern air tankers and heavy bombs as a bribe for Israel not to go to war with Iran immediately.
A denial and an empty promise?
Today the White House flatly denied that they had offered any such bribe to Israel. But Ma’ariv also reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had spoken openly of an American attack against Iran. (NOTE: Both links to Ma’ariv are in Hebrew. Any of several free services can translate them into English.) The Associated Press also reports that the diplomats are stalling for time.
Given the historical context, very few things that Obama could do would infuriate the Israelis more. Nor is Iran likely to change its mind. Economic sanctions have merely made Iran intransigent. Today their ambassador to France told the French Foreign Ministry that Iran would never stop enriching uranium.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said it best: Israel will not go to war with Iran within days, or even weeks. But it will not wait years, either. In fact, CNAV sees no reason to believe that Israel will wait until after the election. Obama says that the diplomats can still stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, if Israel will only wait. Netanyahu says that Israel cannot wait much longer.
Leon Panetta’s disguised promises are either empty, or a hint that America might go to war directly with Iran. Obama might do that to make sure that he wins a second term, if he can be sure that the Jewish and evangelical votes he would win would be more than the anti-war votes he would almost certainly lose. Quite apart from whether Obama can do such a thing under the Constitution, Israel is not likely to stake its own survival on Obama’s political calculus.
See also this related article on Israel and Iran going to war.
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