David Sanger published a major piece on how the U.S. related to Israel in its dealings with Iran’s nuclear program. Though the reporter heralds it as a major piece of investigative journalism that spanned 15 months of reporting, much of the information has already been reported elsewhere (though perhaps not as well-sourced). Sanger’s major “revelation” is that Pres. Bush refused to give Israel authorization to use U.S. weapons and controlled air space that it would need to attack Iran. This was reported months ago in Haaretz (and by me as well). Here’s a report about it in the NY Daily News.
Some details the Times reports were not as widely known but could probably be assumed, i.e. that the U.S. was engaging in a covert program to disrupt Iran’s nuclear activity.
Though elements of this passage are also known, they do connect the dots nicely in ways they haven’t quite been connected till now:
Last June, the Israelis conducted an exercise over the Mediterranean Sea that appeared to be a dry run for an attack on the enrichment plant at Natanz. When the exercise was analyzed at the Pentagon, officials concluded that the distances flown almost exactly equaled the distance between Israel and the Iranian nuclear site.
“This really spooked a lot of people,” one White House official said. White House officials discussed the possibility that the Israelis would fly over Iraq without American permission. In that case, would the American military be ordered to shoot them down? If the United States did not interfere to stop an Israeli attack, would the Bush administration be accused of being complicit in it?
Admiral Mullen, traveling to Israel in early July on a previously scheduled trip, questioned Israeli officials about their intentions. His Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, argued that an aerial attack could set Iran’s program back by two or three years, according to officials familiar with the exchange. The American estimates at the time were far more conservative.
But the big question as far as I’m concerned is why publish this now? In one sense, the publication is timed to a book Sanger has written which will come out on Tuesday. But in another sense, the article seems designed to take pressure off the Bush Administration regarding its effort to end the Gaza crisis. If Bush can be made to look like a good guy for stopping Israel from bombing Iran, then maybe Americans will give him a break for letting Israel carry out a relatively harmless war on its own border with Gaza. I don’t think anyone should be letting George Bush and Condi Rice off the hook. Their conduct during this war has been disgraceful but totally in keeping with past lassitude.
Though Sanger does mention that Robert Gates warned Bush that a U.S. attack might create a regional war with disastrous consequences for U.S. standing and policy in the Muslim world, he does not bring any such analysis to bear in discussing the Israeli plans. He merely states what Israel hoped to do. It’d seem to me that if the U.S. was afraid of starting a war if it bombed Iran that Israel doing so would guarantee the possibility. That should be worth a word or two I’d think. But according to the article, the major concern raised by U.S. officials regarding an Israeli attack was that the U.S. might have to shoot down Israeli planes if they violated Iraqi air space.