JERUSALEM – Two reports today about Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of an Israeli military strike have analysts in Israel accusing the Obama administration leaking information to pressure Israel not to bomb Iran and for Iran to reach a compromise in upcoming nuclear talks.
The first report in Foreign Policy quotes anonymous American officials saying that Israel has been given access to airbases by Iran’s northern neighbor Azerbaijan from which Israel could launch air strikes or at least drones and search and rescue aircraft.
The second report from Bloomberg, based on a leaked congressional report, said that Iran’s nuclear facilities are so dispersed that it is “unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be…” A strike could delay Iran as little as six months, a former official told the researchers.
“It seems like a big campaign to prevent Israel from attacking,” analyst Yoel Guzansky at the Institute for National Security Studies told ABC News. “I think the [Obama] administration is really worried Jerusalem will attack and attack soon. They’re trying hard to prevent it in so many ways.”
The Foreign Policy report by Mark Perry quotes an intelligence officer saying, “We’re watching what Iran does closely…But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.”
If true, the deal with Azerbaijan “totally changes the whole picture,” says Guzansky, making it far easier for Israel to strike faster and harder, rather than having to fly 2,200 miles to Iran and back over Iraqi airspace.
Thursday’s reports come a week after the results of a classified war game was leaked to the New York Times which predicted that an Israeli strike could lead to a wider regional war and result in hundreds of American deaths. In a column this afternoon titled “Obama Betraying Israel?” longtime defense commentator Ron Ben-Yishai at Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper angrily denounced the leaks as a “targeted assassination campaign.”
“In recent weeks the administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran,” Ben-Yishai writes. “The campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such strike with minimal casualties.”
Ben-Yishai says much of the information in the reports has either been published or is simply wrong, but in the case of the Bloomberg report on American knowledge of Iran’s nuclear facilities, “instead of forcing the Iranians to piece together all the assessments themselves, the Congress report offers them everything in one place.”
The reports pressure both Israel and Iran, fellow Yedioth columnist and military analyst Alex Fishman told ABC News, but he doesn’t buy into the theory that Azerbaijan will be a base for potential Israeli operations.
“I don’t believe that there’s news behind this story because it doesn’t make sense. It’s very romantic, very John le Carre, but less practical,” he says, explaining that the airstrips as they are now are far too basic for a “huge wing of airplanes.”
The report’s purpose is “to show the Iranians that something is going on, to make them much more suspicious, much more nervous. You need this pressure in order to put them in a lower position when negotiations start.”
Iran has agreed to international nuclear talks next month, negotiations that the U.S. hopes will help avert a conflict but that Israel dismisses as a stalling tactic by Iran. Asked whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the reports as pressure from the Obama administration, an Israeli official indicated that they fall into the very category of “loose talk” of war that President Obama recently criticized.
“When we [Netanyahu's office] were in Washington [in early March], President Obama called publicly for people to tone down the rhetoric,” said the official. “The prime minister has called on ministers not to talk. We agree with Obama that loose talk is not doing anyone any favors.”