US leaks hamstring action on Iran
A campaign of press leaks, led by some Obama administration insiders, is harming Israel’s and America’s ability to act militarily to end Iran’s nuclear quest.
Washington officials and sympathetic media plainly intend the campaign to erode public support for a military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. But reports on Israeli military methods, capabilities and alliances are actively aiding the Iranian regime.
You may have seen some of the headlines: “Congress Sez Iran Could Recover From Israeli Attack Within Six Months”; “Hundreds of Americans Will Die in the Aftermath of Iran Attack”; “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground for Attacking Iran.”
Israelis now believe that this public, noisy campaign has replaced an earlier (and much quieter) attempt by top Obama officials to talk directly to Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and his inner security circle, and persuade them to scrap any plan for an air attack on Iran’s nuclear installations at least until after Nov. 6.
Dennis Ross, until recently Obama’s top Iran adviser, told me yesterday he didn’t believe the administration is conducting an “orchestrated” leaking campaign. But he acknowledged that “some individuals, who don’t want Israel to do this,” may be using leaks for their purposes.
Yesterday Amir Oren, a columnist for the left-leaning Haaretz, predicted that, as a result of an earlier New York Times report on a US military simulated war game, the Netanyahu government will postpone its “capricious” plan for a massive aerial attack on Iran’s nuclear installations until at least next year.
The purely speculative column went viral on foreign-policy wonks’ Twitter accounts, cited as “proof” that “bluffing” Israel won’t attack before November’s US elections.
But why would Israel be swayed? The Times spun the results of the “classified” exercise like a pretzel. As Commentary’s Omri Ceren noted, the newspaper made it sound like the gamers concluded that at least 200 Americans would die if Israel attacks Iran — and then America would be forced to join the war. In fact, the exercise looked at what would happen if an Israeli attack led to an Iranian assault on US warships that caused 200 casualties. In real life, that’s a huge “if.”
To be sure, newspapers’ advocacy campaigns on behalf of this or that policy have their place — and leaks are many reporters’ bread and butter. That’s what we do.
But when administration officials so liberally leak military secrets, they risk seriously damaging their own goals.
Take a story that Foreign Policy broke on its Web site Wednesday night, detailing increasingly tight military cooperation between Israel and one of Iran’s neighbors, Azerbaijan. Israel, went the account, secretly plans to use Azeri airfields as a major staging ground — either before or after an attack on Iran.
The FP story was based on four unnamed “senior diplomats” and “intelligence officers.” One said: “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.” Written by veteran Israel basher Mark Perry, it was clearly designed by his similarly inclined sources to alert Iran to a military plan — one that may not exist.
As Ron Ben Yishai, one of Israel’s best-connected military analysts, wrote in y-Net yesterday, “the United States is leaking information to the media in order to avert an Israeli strike in Iran.” But the campaign is telling Tehran’s intelligence more than it ever hoped: how much Washington and Israel know about the secret nuclear program, what are Israel’s and America’s “red lines,” how a future attack might be conducted.
“This is not how one should be treating an ally, even if this is a relationship between a superpower and a satellite state,” Ben Yishai concludes.
It’s also at odds with Obama’s belief, stated at AIPAC this month, that Israel has the “sovereign right” to “defend itself, by itself.”
The leaking campaign provides Iran with too many details about America’s capabilities — weakening Obama’s (or a future president’s) ability to fulfill his promise to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by using “all options on the table.”