U.S.-Israeli Differences Not Likely Lost on Iran

At the Daily Beast, Ali Gharib quotes from a letter that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.

As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time—Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Yet, writing about prospective Iranian retaliation by means of terrorism to an Israeli attack, should it occur, Daniel Byman at Foreign Policy suggests that Iran still sees little difference between the policies toward it of Israel and the United States.

Even if the most provocative measures against Iran’s nuclear program are taken by Israel alone, the United States should expect to find itself the target of attacks, particularly abroad. Although the two countries do not march in lockstep, the subtle distinctions in Iran policy that divide Washington and Jerusalem are often lost in Tehran. U.S. support for aggressive sanctions and Israel’s covert campaign are considered part of a shared effort to undermine the Islamic Republic, and reportedly joint operations like the computer virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear program further blur differences.

Though, as the Guardian reported, at the end of August about Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey:

Distancing himself from any Israeli plan to bomb Iran, Dempsey said such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programme”.

He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”

As if to highlight those distinctions, the Wilson Center just issued a report titled Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran signed and endorsed by many American national security figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sam Nunn, William Fallon, Chuck Hagel, and Anthony Zinni. The Associated Press summed it up:

U.S. military strikes on Iran would shake the regime’s political control and damage its ability to launch counterstrikes, but the Iranians probably would manage to retaliate, directly and through surrogates, in ways that risked igniting all-out war in the Middle East, according to an assessment of an attack’s costs and benefits. … It says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Suggesting that Tehran doesn’t draw much distinction between the policies towards it of the United States and Israel doesn’t give Tehran much credit. At Haaretz, Daniel Kurtzer (behind a pay wall) maintains that it’s time to, in essence, blur those distinctions again.

The United States and Israel do many things well together. … The one thing we are not doing well together these days is quiet diplomacy. … Put bluntly, there’s too much noise about critical security issues. … The language used by officials – again, primarily Israeli, but sometimes American – is highly charged and quite unusual in the discourse between allies.

In fact, writes Kurtzer:

It is actually a crisis of significant dimensions, for the hyperbolic accusations, chatter, leaks, and distortions that increasingly mark our public discourse toward each other actually undermine our mutual security and undercut the possibility of accomplishing important national security objectives.

You can be sure that Tehran not only gets it, but is no doubt watching the all-too-public diplomacy between the United States and Israel with some amusement.