Foreign Policy Blogs

Israel and the U.S. Working in Concert Against Iran

CV-22 flight operations near Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. (Neg#: navair_aerial_41)
For years, the U.S. has seemed determined on preventing an Israeli attack on Iran. Both Presidents Bush and Obama stood firm in their opposition to Iran becoming a nuclear state. But Bush outright vetoed Israel’s request in the final months of his presidency, and Obama has stood resolutely opposed to green lighting a military option from Jerusalem.

Obama appeared to soften his stance during his visit to Israel last month, and this week Chuck Hagel, in his first visit to Israel since becoming the U.S. Secretary of Defense, affirmed that Israel is a sovereign nation and can choose to strike Iran if and when it sees fit. This would seem to be as green a light as Israel is going to receive, at least publicly, from the United States on this issue.

It is possible to see this as a continuation of posturing — a “good cop, bad cop” situation — from the U.S. and Israel as they work to create a united front against Iran. Sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy considerably, and the regime has been pushed to the very edges of the international community. But there has been no popular uprising in Iran. The lights are still on in Tehran. And most significantly, they are still advancing their nuclear program.

One way to understand Hagel’s comment is to assume that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are working from the same play book, and are still trying to make Tehran blink.

But these comments did not come in a vacuum; they were preceded by several other relevant developments in the region in recent weeks.

Before Israel and Turkey cut ties over the Mavi Marmara incident, the two had a strategic partnership. Along with diplomatic and economic cooperation, their militaries had a strong working relationship.

In the wake of the 2010 incident, in which nine Turkish nationals were killed (one had dual citizenship with the United States), Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel, and expelled Israel’s ambassador.

Last month, minutes before President Obama departed Israel, he convinced Netanyahu to speak on the phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and to apologize for the incident, something Netanyahu had long avoided. While Erdogan’s response in the days following was not exactly gracious and relations are still far from healed between the two states, this was a significant move for Netanyahu that certainly did not win him favor within his coalition.

Did Obama make promises about Iran’s nuclear red lines in return for Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan or did he simply convince Netanyahu that Israel cannot survive without friends in the region and that it is in the interest of all three actors — the U.S., Israel and Turkey — that they start to rectify their diplomatic situation?

More important to Israel than getting their ambassadors back into Turkey however, is getting their air force back into Turkey.

In the words of an Israeli military source, “until the recent crisis, Turkey was our biggest aircraft carrier. Using the Turkish airbases could make the difference between success and failure once a showdown with Iran gets underway.”

And the New York Times reported this week that “the Defense Department is expected to finalize a $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week that will provide missiles, warplanes and troop transports to help them counter any future threat from Iran.”

Part of this deal will reverse previous U.S. policy, allowing Israel to purchase aerial refueling planes. They will also be be able to secure “new missiles designed to take out an adversary’s air-defense radars,” “advanced radars for its own warplanes” and will be the first foreign military that the U.S. has permitted to purchase the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but flies like a plane and has air-to-air refueling capacity.

Is the U.S. preparing Israel to attack Iran? Or are Israel and the U.S. working in concert to further their “bluff” against the Islamic Republic? Will Turkey be partner to the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities? What would that mean for the current civil war in Syria? These are difficult questions. Share your answers in the comments or talk to me on twitter. @jlemonsk

 

 

Author

Josh Klemons
Josh Klemons

Josh Klemons has an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in the Middle East from American University. He has lived, worked and studied in Israel and done extensive traveling throughout the region. He once played music with Hadag Nachash.

He now works as a digital storyteller/strategist with brands on finding, honing and telling their stories online. Follow him on twitter @jlemonsk and check him out at www.joshklemons.com.

Great Decisions Discussion group