Sunday, 4 March 2012

AIPAC - An Iranian Policy Anti-Climax

What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, the Israeli government was threatening to go it alone, launch unilateral strikes against Iran, and 'daring' the US to either get involved or step aside. Iran, by merely pursuing its nuclear programme, creating as big a rift between the two allies as seen in over a year.

On February 17th, in Louisiana, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned that "We, the United States, have all the options on the table but as the Prime Minister of Israel himself said, (military action) ought to be the last option, not the first."
A day later, on a trip to Tokyo, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak hit back: "Once (Iran) have a nuclear weapon...always they will have a higher level of immunity. Not immunity for the military nuclear programme, but immunity for the regime."
And just to emphasise the point, the Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed a conference in Jerusalem on February 23rd to warn: "A nuclear Iran is a strategic threat to Israel, but not only to Israel but to the entire world."

In the last ten days, a succession of US defence and intelligence officials have parachuted in to Jerusalem to lobby their Israeli counterparts. The number and frequency of the visits described by observers here as 'unprecedented'. And although the encounters were held behind closed doors, with no news conferences or press releases, the signs were widely interpreted as the USA seeking to cool Israel's impatience.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was reported to have spent several days working with his advisers on his AIPAC speech. It would "break new ground" according to one report. Ehud Barak and President Peres travelled to the US in advance of their Prime Minister, laying the groundwork for the tough negotiations ahead.

Fast-forward to now, and talk of 'red lines', and ultimatums has dissipated into the usual placatory 'diplomat-speak'.

Netanyahu, we are told, will no longer demand that Obama define the US's 'red lines'. Why? Because Israel might have to reciprocate by defining its own 'red lines', and thus perhaps limit its room for manoeuvre.

President Peres, in his speech to AIPAC on Sunday, will stress the debt owed by Israel to the USA. "Sometimes it does no harm to say 'thank you'." he will say, adding "Israel is not rushing to war".

And Obama, in an interview with The Atlantic published on Friday, asks: "Do we really want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as the victim?".

The steam has clearly gone out of this dispute. The concern over Iran remains high, but the likelihood of a military strike remains very much the option of last resort.