The American flag used for ceremonial receptions at the Ben Gurion airport must be worn out already, as a slew of Obama administration officials and US military top brass are visiting Israel almost on a daily basis.
The list of dignitaries stopping by in the last two months alone includes national security adviser Jim Jones, CIA director Leon Panetta, Senator John Kerry and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. Topping them all off is Vice President Joe Biden, who finished his five-day visit last Friday.
The hunch that something big is going on is underscored by the simultaneous high-profile visits in Washington of Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak (in February) and of Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of general staff (right now).
The most common explanation for all this commotion is that the US is using all its clout to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, so as to let the diplomatic course bear its fruits. “One of the reasons so much dialogue is taking place,” said chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry, while he was there, “is to make sure we are all on the same page.”
Or are we? The word lately in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is that something completely different is taking place behind the scenes. A worrying scenario, in Israeli eyes, is that the western negotiators, headed by the US, have succumbed to the idea of a nuclear Iran. And despite putting up a façade of strongly rejecting an Israeli attack, the latter would actually fit quite well with their interests.
“An Israeli attack on Iran would actually have some clear advantages for the western states,” says Dr Emily Landau from the Institute for National Security Studies. As director of the Arms Control and Regional Security programme in the influential think-tank, she says that such a development would take the heat off the West and divert attention from the fact that its efforts to stop Iran have failed.
An attack would most likely cause at least some damage to Iranian facilities and would enable the US the possibility to step in and restore stability in the region, thus shoring up much-needed foreign policy points. Last but not least, all blame for inflaming the region would be directed at Israel. “Officials, whose statements were previously in the vein of, “Oh no, Israel cannot be allowed to attack!” are now beginning to sound as if they mean: “Israel cannot refrain from attacking.”
In his public speech yesterday at Tel Aviv University, vice president Biden has said, to much applause, that “the United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb”. The question, some people here ask, is whether he wants that to be done by proxy.