You don’t need a PhD in international relations, or even an impressive IQ, to see that recent statements by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stressing Israel’s right to attack Iran are just words.
The White House, intelligence community, and Defense Department see it quite differently, as was evidenced by the kerfuffle back in 2011 and 2012 between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations. Back then, Israel’s war rhetoric was at its most intense and the Obama administration responded defensively.
Obama expended a certain amount of political capital by marching out his minions from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to reiterate the fact that Iran has not made the decision to pursue nuclear weapons.
Dempsey publicly explained that an Israeli strike would not only be counterproductive – in that it could prompt Iran to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program in earnest – but it would also be very dangerous in its potential to start a regional war.
Then the administration declassified a Pentagon war simulation that forecasted such a preemptive “strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States” and would immediately get at least 200 Americans killed in Iran’s retaliation, not to mention heavy Iranian and Israeli casualties.
Another incident occurred when Israeli press reports came out saying the Obama administration sent a surreptitious message to Iran promising not to back an Israeli strike, as long as Tehran refrains from attacking American interests in the Persian Gulf.
No doubt, Washington wants to get rid of the Iranian regime. But for now, the crafters of US foreign policy see it as in US interests to undermine the regime through sanctions like they did to Iraq in the 1990s. A preemptive (read: preventive) war on Iran at this time would be too costly and would get in the way of American hegemony in the Middle East.
So while Hagel’s statements backing Israel’s prerogative to attack Iran get antiwar activists riled, the US pursues a different policy behind the scenes. Here is Amos Harel in Haaretz on Hagel’s visit to Israel and the aid package he announced while there:
The military and diplomatic aid from the United States, which is slated to grow, will also require Jerusalem to coordinate fully with Washington in the most sensitive matter, the handling of the Iranian nuclear threat – in a manner that will limit Israel’s ability to act independently on this issue, despite the lip service paid by Hagel and U.S. President Barack Obama a month before him to Israel’s right to act independently to protect itself.
It’s an interesting way to get what you want: “Here’s a bunch of money and weapons…now quit this talk of unilateral war on Iran.” It shows how helplessly submissive the US is, politically, to Israel. It’s like bribing an unruly child to behave by promising to increase their weekly allowance.