It seems that the notion that Bush may indeed be thinking hard about attacking Iran before leaving office — which i raised in my recent post as a more serious possibility than I had previously thought — has gained currency more quickly in Israel than here in Washington, particularly in the wake of his speech last week to the Knesset. And the speed and ill humor with which the White House apparently wants to bat down the idea is pretty remarkable, judging from today’s turn of events.
What happened is that Israel’s Army Radio reported this morning that there were “assessments in Jerusalem” that Bush will order an attack before the end of his term. It cited an “Israeli political source” as saying that a senior official official in Bush’s entourage said in a closed meeting” that Bush and Vice President Cheney “think that such an action is vital and necessary” — a conclusion that one could easily reach from Bush’s analogy between Iran today and Nazi Germany in 1939.
The on-line edition of the Jerusalem Post then published its own account of the radio broadcast:
“US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran in the upcoming months, before the end of his term, Army Radio quoted a senior official in Jerusalem as saying Tuesday.
“The official claimed that a senior member of the president’s entourage, which concluded a trip to Israel last week, said during a closed meeting that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action was called for.
“However, the official continued, ‘the hesitancy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’ was preventing the administration from deciding to launch such an attack on the Islamic Republic, for the time being.
“The report stated that according to assessments in Israel, recent turmoil in Lebanon, where Hizbullah de facto established control of the country, was advancing an American attack.
“Bush, the officials said, opined that Hizbullah’s show of strength was evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s growing influence. They said that according to Bush, ‘the disease must be treated – not its symptoms.’
“In an address to the Knesset during his visit here last week, Bush said that ‘the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages.’
“‘America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions,’ Bush said. ‘Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.'”
“Moments later,” according to Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now (APN), “the White House issued the following statement [by the Press Secretary]:”
“An article in today’s Jerusalem Post about the President’s position on Iran that quotes unnamed sources — quoting unnamed sources — is not worth the paper it’s written on.[Emphasis added]
“Let me respond by reaffirming the policy of the Administration: We, along with our international allies who want peace in the Middle East, remain opposed to Iran’s ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. To that end, we are working to bring tough diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior and to halt their uranium enrichment program.
“As the President has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
The Post then amended its original report by leading with the White House’s denial, although omitting the part about the worth of the “paper” on which the original was written. As a long-time observer of relations between the White House and the Israeli media, Nir told me that he could not remember such a harsh rebuke.
Which I guess underlines the White House’s sensitivity to the question.