The US is pulling out all the stops to prevent Israel from attacking Iran. Much of the campaign has been diplomatic, asking US allies to pressure Israel.
But it’s gone much farther than that, into a realm which could be called preemptive sabotage. Last week former UN Ambassador John Bolton suggested that a Foreign Policy article by Mark Perry reporting a ‘secret’ agreement with Azerbaijan to allow Israel to use its airfields was a deliberate leak:
Clearly, this is an administration-orchestrated leak … This is not a rogue CIA guy saying I think I’ll leak this out.
It’s just unprecedented to reveal this kind of information about one of your own allies.
Indeed. Perry wrote,
Why does it matter? Because Azerbaijan is strategically located on Iran’s northern border and, according to several high-level sources I’ve spoken with inside the U.S. government, Obama administration officials now believe that the “submerged” aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance — the security cooperation between the two countries — is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran.
In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior administration official told me in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
If this is true (the Azeris deny it, of course) then it would shorten the distance to Iran for Israeli planes significantly, allowing them to carry more weapons, which would make for a more effective strike. It would make it possible for them to reach Iran without midair refueling or flying over US-controlled Iraqi airspace.
It could be that the Iranian regime is already aware of this. But it’s also possible that there are details in the report that they were not aware of, and without a doubt it embarrasses the Azeri government. While relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are relatively poor, no country whose population is mostly Muslim likes to be associated with the Little Satan.
The article even speculates on precisely what location might be used and how. Quoting a retired US Air Force officer who did a study for the Swedish Ministry of Defense called “The Israeli Threat” (which predicts that the US would be drawn into war with Iran in the event of an Israeli strike), Perry writes:
“…it would have to be low profile, because of political sensitivities, so that means it would have to be outside of Baku and it would have to be highly developed.” Azerbaijan has such a place: the Sitalcay airstrip, which is located just over 40 miles northwest of Baku and 340 miles from the Iranian border. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sitalcay’s two tarmacs and the adjacent facilities were used by a squadron of Soviet Sukhoi SU-25 jets — perfect for Israeli fighters and bombers…
Even if Israeli jets did not land in Azerbaijan, access to Azeri airfields holds a number of advantages for the Israel Defense Forces. The airfields not only have facilities to service fighter-bombers, but a senior U.S. military intelligence officer said that Israel would likely base helicopter rescue units there in the days just prior to a strike for possible search and rescue missions.
Perry’s unnamed US official’s comment about ‘buying an airfield’ is particularly unfriendly, and the official doesn’t hide his or her distaste for the idea that Israel might preemptively defend herself against a nuclear attack:
“We’re watching what Iran does closely,” one of the U.S. sources, an intelligence officer engaged in assessing the ramifications of a prospective Israeli attack confirmed. “But we’re now watching what Israel is doing in Azerbaijan. And we’re not happy about it.”
With all due respect, Israelis aren’t happy about it either. They are not happy about the certain Iranian retaliation, which may include the tens of thousands of rockets in the hands of Hizballah, and even the possibility that Iran might get control of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
They are not happy about the deaths and damage to infrastructure that will result, nor the possible losses of planes, pilots and perhaps special forces personnel. But they are even less happy about a future in which Iran has nuclear weapons, which they view as likely to bring about the end of the Jewish state and even another genocide against the Jewish people.
As I have argued before, the argument that the US would be unwillingly drawn into war with Iran by an Israeli attack is a weak one, simply because Iran would rather fight Israel by itself than Israel and the US. It has no interest at all in having the US Air Force dropping Massive Ordinance Penetrators (video here) on its nuclear facilities, something Israel does not have the capability to do.
There is one consequence of an Israeli attack of which the Obama Administration does have a credible fear: that is the almost certain increase in the price of crude oil that always accompanies any rise in tension in the region, regardless of actual supply considerations. No doubt this would translate into at least a temporary increase in the price of gasoline in the US, which would be very bad for the President on the eve of the election.
The administration’s campaign against an Israeli attack has a public face, which I and others have discussed. But it doubtless also has a hidden one. It’s reasonable to assume that these pressures or threats are kept secret because they are even more ugly than, for example, the public disclosure of the Israeli-Azeri relationship.
Israel’s leadership understands that there is no alternative to stopping Iran. It has no confidence that if it waits until its window of opportunity closes that the US will do the job for it. And now it knows that the US will ramp up its activity designed to prevent such an attack the longer it waits!
The administration has consistently misread Iranian intentions. But a more completely incorrect reading of Israeli intentions couldn’t be imagined.
By acting against Israel rather than Iran, it is making it likely that Israel will act sooner rather than later.