"They say they want to create a new and greater Middle East under the U.S. and the Zionist regime's dominance. I am telling you that a new and greater Middle East will be established without the existence of the U.S. and the Zionist regime…." – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a large crowd in Sanandaj, Iran, April 20, 2011.Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sparked a pile of tinder this weekend by telling The Washington Post that Israel may likely attack Iran's nuclear sites between April and June. Israel is not worried about whether or not Iran has the technology to produce a nuclear bomb at this moment; the concern is that Iran will store its enriched uranium deep underground, entering a "zone of immunity" beyond Israel's bombs. Jerusalem does not want Tehran to have the undisturbed means and time to develop nuclear weapons, which it could then use to blow Israel to dust, and Panetta believes Israel will act sooner than later.
Whether or not Panetta is correct, his statements resulted in hundreds of protestors gathering in New York City and other major metropolitan areas in a "Day of Mass Action" against the possibility of war with Iran. An estimated 500 demonstrators marched from Times Square to the United Nations and to the Israeli consulate, bearing banners that blared slogans like, "No war, no sanctions, no intervention, no assassinations."
"The actions of the Iranian government in no way justify a US war on Iran," Debra Sweet, director of the organization "The World Can't Wait," told AFP.
It is fairly certain that the United States has close to zero interest in declaring war on Iran. Facing mounting debt and in the process of pulling troops out of Afghanistan, the Obama administration is about the business of putting political pressure and sanctions on Iran. A war with Iran is on the US priority list up there with killing baby seals and setting mad cow disease loose in Oshkosh.
For that matter, Iran does not appear interested in starting a war. Tehran has not even offered serious retribution for the assassinations of five of its nuclear scientists, which it blames on Israel and the West. Azerbaijan recently did nip a planned attack on two Israelis working at a school in Baku, apparently in retaliation for those scientists' deaths, but the Iranian government did not blast Israel with missiles over the matter. Not yet.
Israel, on the other hand, sees Iran as a very clear and present danger, and Israel has a history of doing what it perceives as necessary for its security, regardless of how the rest of the world glares in response. Iran has never stopped percolating animosity toward Israel with an agenda to sizzle it out of existence.
Just last month, the President of Iran again spoke cavalierly about the end of Israel. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in addressing a delegation from the Turkish-Palestinian Parliamentary Friendship Group on January 3, 2012, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "Zionists, who have no faith in religion or even God, now claim piety and intend to take away the Islamic identity of the Holy Quds [Jerusalem]. This ridiculous move is in fact the continuation of the colonialist polices of oppressors, which will not save the Zionist regime, but also take the regime closer to the endpoint of its existence."
The United States, however, has made it clear – with a certain amount of gravity - that bombing Iran does not have its blessing. The U.S. government is currently working to move things with Iran by use of sanctions. On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized new measures which require businesses in the U.S. to block and freeze financial transactions with links to Iran. Iran has already been struggling to export goods because while things like rice and iron ore can be shipped out to buyers in the Middle East and Asia, traders are having difficulty getting the payments to go through. Purchases from India have to detour through Dubai, where the rial can be converted into dollars to get money back to India. South Korean banks are piled high with Iranian money because they cannot legally transfer their won back to Tehran.
"We don't do money laundering with Iran and our won-denominated bank accounts have nothing to do with the toughened U.S. measures," a Bank of Korea source told Reuters.
The bottom line is that Iran is hurting in its imports and exports trade, and America wants to capitalize on that and not have Israel poke a burning stake into a hornet's nest.
While the U.S. has frowned on the possibility that Israel would take action, the Obama Administration has not yet said how it would handle such an event. If Israel bombs the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, or attempts to destroy the underground enrichment facility at Qom, they would be very precise, contained attacks. Syria did not even respond to strategic attacks on its nuclear reactor in 2007, and Israel has reportedly considered that Iran will avoid a full-out war. If Iran does retaliate, Israel suspects Iran will make use of Hezbollah rockets and hit Israel from Lebanon rather than send a land-charring barrage. The U.S. still has a 60-year-long commitment to the security of Israel, and cursing and fuming, America will still be obliged to help defend Israel from an onslaught.
Of course, Iran could still cause a lot of trouble. U.S. ships are sitting out in the Gulf. Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the outside world. Tehran could, in fact, make attempts to annihilate Israel, trusting Allah to be its protection from the infidels. At the least, it could get even more secretive and determined about a nuclear weapons program.
Peril Peril Everywhere:
Israel faces constant danger in its little alcove of the Middle East. Stability has not returned to Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, and the oil pipeline that runs across the Sinai from Egypt to Israel has been attacked at least 12 times in the past year. This Sunday, an explosion damaged the gas pipeline, which also feeds Jordan. The Egyptian Natural Gas Company (GASCO) cut the flow of gas and brought the fire under control by early Monday morning, but it will take time before the flow of gas resumes.
While Iran has not shot up every Israeli that walks by or blown holes through its olive groves, last week its agents did seek to kill a a rabbi and a teacher at a school in Baku before Azerbaijan thwarted the planned attack, as previously noted.
"The Azeri security forces acted covertly without alerting us," said Rabbi Shneor Segal, one of the two targets. "It was published that they originally planned to attack 'people who look Jewish and hold foreign passports,' near the school, but when the school guards began suspecting them, they started monitoring the area where I live," he told Haaretz.
Azerbaijan and Iran are not on friendly terms anyway, and the Azerbaijani government has taken the planned attack as "hostile activity" against their country, but the matter demonstrates the precarious position of Israelis anywhere in the Middle East.
Why The Leak?
It is uncertain what the United States' motive is for "leaking" Israel's alleged plans to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, but it is clear that U.S. officials do want to discourage Israel from making those attacks. It may be that moving the issue from, "Will Israel bomb Iran?" to "Israel is planning to bomb Iran" will blow Israel's slight cover. It might also be a move to force Tehran to consider negotiations a bit more seriously. The U.S. wants Tehran to be more open about its nuclear program and to ensure that it keeps its program civilian and not military in nature. If America can push Iran to behave, there's the hope that Israel will not feel it necessary to attack at all.