Iranian Weapons Ship Seizure - The American Perspective

Prof. Zaki Shalom thinks that recent statements made by the US officials, on the weapons ship seizure, may indicate a change in its engagement with IranA change in the US policy towards Iran?

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who accompanied the Prime Minister in his visit to the United States last week, said a few days ago that the US and Israel were sharing intelligence information before the raid of IDF forces on the Iranian arms ship in the Red Sea.

He added that after the consultation it was decided that Israel/>, not the
United States/>/>, is the one to act against the ship. The ambassador added that Washington/> knows that Iran/> supports terrorism across the
Middle East/> and it welcomes this operation.

On all counts, this is an anomalous statement. It is hard to remember if ever before a senior
US/>/> government official openly admitted the existence of an Israeli-American military cooperation for an operation directed, in effect, towards a Middle Eastern country. It is also hard to remember a case in which the
US/>/> administration has expressed so vigorous support, and forthrightly, for an Israeli military operation like the one carried out by the IDF in the takeover of the Iranian arms ship.

So far, in such cases, the administration spokesmen tended to settle for implicit and indirect expressions of support. Often, even the lack of reference was considered as a reticent support in the Israeli operation. In other cases, government spokesmen expressed "understanding" of Israel/>'s motives and an “acknowledgment in
Israel/>/>'s right for self-defense”.

This time, as stated, the expression of support was explicit and determined and expressed by a relatively senior level. Moreover, the ambassador’s remarks clearly implied that the
United States/>/> had seriously considered that it itself will perform the action against the Iranian ship. It is hard to believe that Ambassador Shapiro, known as a very cautious person and moderate in his statements, shall make such statements without receiving approval from a higher government authority.

In my opinion, this statement sends a clear message from the Obama administration to Iran/> that it should not misjudge the determination of the
United States/>/> to halt its nuclear activities. United States/> makes clear that the fact that she conducts a dialogue with Iran/>, with an atmosphere of smiles, and ready to mitigate the sanctions extent, should not lead Iran/> to the conclusion that the United States/> would accept “foot-dragging” on the part of Iran/> or rigid positions, assuming that eventually the United States/> will also accept a nuclear
Iran/>/>.

US clarifies that it is ready to take military action against a civilian target acting on behalf of Iran/>, both by itself and in collaboration with
Israel/>/>. In any case, Iran/> needs to take into account that the United States/> may, under certain circumstances, act on the basis of a similar "model" against
Iran/>/>'s nuclear activities.

It may be that this statement comes on the background of the Obama administration’s assessment that Iran/> may try to take advantage of the seemingly declining status and deterrent image of the United States/> in the region, to bring about an erosion in its position toward
Iran/>/>'s nuclear program. The growing crisis between Russia/> and the Western powers around Ukraine/> may also lead
Iran/>/> to the conclusion that its ability to maneuver between the P5+1 countries is much higher than before.

Iran/> may estimate, with considerable justification, that the ongoing tensions between Russia/> and the United States/> around Ukraine/>, may lead to cracks inside the group of the P5 +1, and that the absence of a consensus among them will not enable a military action against
Iran/>/>. Beyond that, the Obama administration might appreciate that one of the consequences of the crisis in Ukraine/> is a reasonable possibility that
Iran/>/> will harden its stance on the issue of its nuclear activities.

As known, Ukraine/> gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees received from the United States/>, Russia/> and the
United Kingdom/>/> for ensuring its territorial integrity and its independence. The fact that the Western superpowers, at least at this stage, are unable to fulfill these obligations, may lead Iran to the conclusion that it must not give up at any price the continued exercise of its nuclear program.

Added to this is the fact that the House of Representatives of the United States/> in recent days received a bill entitled “US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act” which defines Israel/> “a major strategic partner of the
United States/>/>”. The law was approved by a huge majority of 410 members of the House of Representatives against one opposed. The law still requires the approval of the Senate, but the fact that it was submitted by 55 senators from both parties virtually guarantees its acceptance. The law allows the government to transfer advanced weapons to
Israel/>/>; continue and increase the support in “David’s Sling”, “Arrow” and “Iron Dome” programs; increase cooperation against cyber warfare. The law also allows increased cooperation between the two countries on energy issues, homeland security, agriculture, finding an alternative for fuel and more.          

The White House also announced that following President Obama's conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the National Security Advisor Susan Rice will arrive to Israel/> heading a delegation for conducting a strategic dialogue with
Israel/>/>. This is the first time the advisor Rice arrives in
Israel/>/> in her current position.

At this point it is hart to tell whether the facts discussed above indicate a strategic change in US/> administration policy towards
Iran/>/>. However, it is quite possible that a web of circumstances leads the United States/> to the conclusion that so far it has not succeeded in convincing
Iran/>/> that it is determined to prevent its nuclearization at all costs, including the use of military force. The growing criticism in the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, of US policy towards Iran, and the concern that Israel might act against Iran without coordinating this with the United States, my lead the Obama administration to the conclusion that it is time to "flex its muscles" against Iran by emphasizing the willingness of the United States to take military action against an Iranian target and by a significant upgrade in the strategic ties with Israel.

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Prof. Zaki Shalom is a senior researcher at Ben Gurion University and at The Institute For National Security Studies

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