Panetta reaffirms U.S.’s “wretched” red line on Iran’s nuclear program

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s trip to the Middle East last week included reassuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in person, that the U.S. was committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — the U.S.’s “red line” on Iran. Panetta reiterated the U.S.’s position, essentially point by point, at a Pentagon Joint Press Conference with the Japanese Minister of Defense on August 3: “Bottom line is that we have common cause with them with regards to Iran.  Our positions are similar.  We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said in response to a question about the likelihood of an Israeli attack against Iran.

When Panetta says that the U.S. and Israeli positions are “similar”, he is acknowledging that they’re not the same, a significant detail considering growing pressure from Israel and various U.S.-based hawkish Israel advocacy groups and pundits aimed at reforming the U.S.’s policy.

The Israeli “red line” on Iran, at least according to public Israeli statements, is Iran’s acquirement of nuclear weapon-building “capability” or Iran crossing into a so-called “zone of immunity” where it can create a nuclear weapon at Fordow, the underground uranium enrichment facility that’s impenetrable by Israeli air strikes. (The Israeli position is confusing according to Colin Kahl and other experts who argue that you can’t bomb knowledge and the Iranians already have nuclear weapon know-how.) Importantly, as the Iranians themselves insist — and U.S. and Israeli defense and intelligence as well as International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) reports confirm — the Iranians have not yet made a decision to build a weapon.

Israeli frustration and impatience with the U.S.’s persistent Iran policy may explain why some “Israeli officials” are allowing their press to report statements that hardly seem diplomatic (one might even say appear antagonistic) about their important ally. Just yesterday the English version of Ynetnews reported that

Senior officials on Sunday leveled severe criticism against the US, declaring that the American position on a date for a military strike against Iran was a “wretched red line.”

“The US’ stance is pushing the Iranians to become a country at the brink (of nuclear capability),” explained sources well versed in the nuclear issue. “The Americans are de facto allowing the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium and become a country at the brink. We are not prepared to allow that (to happen).”

Meanwhile, according to an August 3 Haaretz post, Netanyahu is getting very agitated over public scrutiny regarding his plans for Iran — chest-thumping, table-banging mad. But that may be part of a ploy:

Others present at the meeting, however, pointed out that Netanyahu’s comments seemed to be part of the “psychological warfare” campaign that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are conducting, in order to pressure the U.S. into attacking Iran itself.

At one point during the meeting, a participant asked Netanyahu what he thinks could possibly happen the day after an Israeli strike on Iran. According to one of the meeting’s participants, the question angered Netanyahu. “If an investigative committee is formed, I’ll go and say that I, I am responsible,” said Netanyahu, as he pounded the table, and his chest, with his fist.

The fuming Netanyahu didn’t stop there. “I’ve had enough of this atmosphere,” he said. “It’s also felt in other discussions [on Iran], people keep showing me presentations prepared as if for an investigative committee. I’ve told them to stop with these presentations, stop speaking on protocol, and get to the point,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu made it clear to those present that he prefers that the U.S. “do the work,” though he admits that the U.S. is not prepared to pursue a military option at this point.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.