Here’s a question that has yet to be fully answered: What agreement did US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hatch out in her meeting with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia late March?
“They talked about ensuring the uninterrupted supply of oil at this time,” was all her entourage was willing to disclose. But that’s only part of the story; we know what the Americans wanted and what they got. What we have yet to learn is what the Saudis asked in return for their generosity in holding oil prices at bay. What we also don’t know is what Clinton promised the Saudis in connection with what disconcerts them at least as much as Israelis, namely Iran’s race towards the bomb. What is clear, however, is that Saudi confidence in the American resolve to stop the [Iranian] nuclear arms race is not particularly high. Some opine that it’s smaller than Israel’s.
The conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation concluded yesterday [August, 15] in Mecca, having seen the participation of the Iranian president alongside the Saudi king. Although affable to each other, the tension between the two leaders remained unabated. The question of Iran’s nuclear program is not the only reason for the gulf between them. The deteriorating situation in Syria is also a contributing factor. Addressing journalists [at a Pentagon press conference on 14 August] together with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — an appearance that was ballyhooed in Israel too — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [Four-Star] General Martin Dempsey stated that there was mounting evidence of Iranian presence in Syria. More than serving as a platform to convey his long-standing stance to the effect that Israel alone will not be able to wipe out Iran’s nuclear program, Dempsey’s statements sought to warn Tehran.
That Israel can only ‘delay’ and not ‘destroy’ Tehran’s nuclear program remains undisputed both in Jerusalem and in Washington. For all its massive destructive power, an American operation would also not be more than a recipe for “delaying” the Iranians until: a) they go at it again and meet another forceful reaction; b) come to their senses and give up nuclear development; or c) the regime is replaced. Thus Israel’s actions at this time are nothing short of a device to get the Americans involved in what would be a protracted campaign to check Iran’s nuclear development. The entire disagreement between the proponents and opponents of an Israeli offensive is a tactical dispute to determine which avenue would get the Americans embroiled in this campaign.
Pitted on one side are those who believe that only a severe crisis, to wit a gradually escalating war, will force the Americans to intervene in Israel’s defense, as the voters clamor, or to quash an anti-American Iranian retribution. On the other side of the divide are those who believe that President Obama is gradually coming to terms with the prospects of launching an operation. This may take place after the elections, either in Obama’s second term when he is no longer dependent on his constituents, or as a president in his final months in office, who - in tandem with his victorious rival, Mitt Romney, will orchestrate the American military blow in the Gulf.
Twisting the arm of the Americans to get them involved obviously entails risk: superpowers don't like it when the tail wags the dog; further, their citizens could change their belligerent mind about Iran if the price in terms of money and blood turns out to be higher than anticipated. But embracing and trusting [the Americans] also harbors risk. Obama may very well be coming to terms [with a military operation] today, but he will not be bound by it tomorrow. Promises made by the presumptive presidential candidate Romney do not mean a commitment by Romney the President. As the Hebrew aphorism goes: what you see from here is not what you see from there. Indication, if any, about future American intent could only be derived from Dempsey’s reference to Syria. If Washington has any intention of signaling Tehran that it is serious about taking military action to stop its nuclear program, it can confine that first signal to the Syrian arena. Launching a military action [against the incumbent Syrian regime] would yield three-fold effective results: it will help topple the Syrian regime; it will show Tehran that Washington is prepared to cross the military Rubicon if the need arises; and it will also show Israel that the administration is really gearing up for action that will render an imminent Israeli offensive uncalled for.