When he first got word of Israel’s sneak attack on the Iraqi atomic reactor in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan privately shrugged it off, telling his national security adviser: “Boys will be boys!”
Would Barack Obama be so sanguine if today’s Israelis made good on years of threats and bombed Iran’s nuclear facilities, yanking the United States into an unprecedented Middle East eruption that could dash his goal of easing regional tensions through revived and redoubled U.S. outreach?
For that matter, would Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu readily take on Iran alone, given his country’s limited firepower and the risk of stirring up a backlash against the Jewish state among war-weary, budget-strapped Americans?
Obama is no Reagan. And many experts believe the two allies are now so enmeshed in strategic ties — with dialogue at the highest level of government and military — that complete Israeli autonomy on a major issue like Iran is notional only.
So while no one questions Israel’s willingness to attack should it deem U.S.-led talks on curbing Iranian uranium enrichment a dead end, such strikes would almost certainly entail at least last-minute coordination with Washington.
Israel would want to ensure that its jets would not be shot down by accident if overflying U.S.-occupied Iraq, and to give Americans in the Gulf forewarning of possible Iranian reprisals.
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“Whether or not Israel got the green light from Washington to attack Iran is almost immaterial, as everybody in the region would believe that the U.S. was complicit,” said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
One U.S. diplomat envisaged Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak telephoning Pentagon chief Robert Gates, unannounced, “to give a heads-up and explain” once the mission were under way.