What to make of the recent leaks that the Israelis are telling Washington, “If we attack, we won’t tell you first”?
There is some speculation that the purpose of the warning is that “if they eventually decide that a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack, said one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions.”
This explanation rings a little hollow. What is the practical value of warning Washington that there is going to be no warning? Few—especially not Iran—will believe that any Israel action was done without the complicity or even covert assistance of the U.S. If there is blowback, it is probably going to blow on us.
Furthermore, Israel’s track record for “operational security”—keeping their next move under wraps to maximize the value of surprise—is well known. Surprise would be particularly important for a daring raid against Iran’s nuclear facilities. That would lead one to conclude that the more they talk about (much like the Iranian blustering over closing the Strait of Hormuz), the less likely it is that something will happen in the short run.
Might Israel not be using the threat of attack to stiffen the spine of the West, a way of prodding for tougher sanctions by suggesting, “If you guys don’t deal with this, we will”?
Even if neither side is up for unleashing the dogs of war, right now, all of this is cold comfort: The more the rhetoric heats up, the more potential for a confrontation that sparks an accidental conflict.
Even more troubling, the more everyone dithers, the more time Iran has to go nuclear—and unlike the HBO special, that really would be a game-changer.
The most effective tack the U.S. could take to forestall an attack is to let Israel know that the U.S. has its back.