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Israel Won’t Warn US of Attack on Iran

The prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran has become more realistic in recent weeks. Israeli officials told the AP that they would not even inform the United States in the event of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And there’s a sense that the window for an attack that would actually damage the nuclear program is short, perhaps just through this spring.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington next week for talks with the White House. He plans to pressure the US to come out more firmly for military action, according to Haaretz. And according to this AP story, Netanyahu was the one behind the information that the Israelis wouldn’t warn the US:

Israeli defense officials confirmed that there are no plans to alert the U.S. ahead of time about any operation against Iran, though they stressed no decisions have been made on whether to attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a confidential security matter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of high-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser, the director of national intelligence and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said […] But the apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel’s frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, the Israelis became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded that if there were any strike they would have to conduct it unilaterally — a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said.

First of all, this won’t change the target of opprobrium from Iran in the event of a strike, which would include US as well as Israeli targets. The idea that this would shield the US from criticism is hokum. Netanyahu just wants to go it alone, despite the risks to his own country and allies, and the threat of a wider war. American credibility would fall along with Israeli lives.

The other issue here is that Netanyahu’s cowboy unilateralism is unpopular in Israel, whose public would prefer a coalition-based approach.

In a poll conducted this month by Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Israel’s Dahaf Institute, only 19 percent of Israelis said they would support an Israeli military attack on Iran if it is not approved by the U.S.

But that’s not even the most striking result of the poll.

The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis don’t support an Israeli military strike on Iran without U.S. approval is not because they are afraid of making the U.S. angry. The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis do not support an Israeli military strike on Iran without U.S. approval is that they share the cautions of U.S. officials against an Israeli strike on Iran: they think that the costs would be high, and the benefits small or nonexistent.

I don’t know if Netanyahu cares about public opinion, or rather whether the most important public opinion to him comes from his far-right base. He has more of a stake in institutional support rather than support of the broader electorate. And like most neocons, he probably has some delusion of grandeur about fighting a noble war from his armchair.

But this would be absolutely catastrophic for the region and for the state of Israel.

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David Dayen

David Dayen