First, congrats to Newsweek’s Eli Lake on his scoop about the Obama administration’s delivery of 55 bunker busters to Israel in 2009.
The anti-anti-Iran crowd (I call them this because they have no brief for the mullahs, but oppose what they see as the militancy of the Israeli and U.S. postures) are already gazing at its tealeaves, and this National Interest analysis by Paul Pillar, a former counterterrorsim honcho at the CIA, is gaining traction.
It has a major, analysis-killing flaw, though: One of its pillars defies the historical record. My bold:
The even bigger worry about the bunker busters concerns what they would be used for. The one possible use that looms above any others one could conceive of is an attack on Iran and specifically its nuclear facilities. Providing the bunker busters was a mistake insofar as it increases Israel’s ability to initiate a war with Iran in this way. Even more serious (because Israel probably could develop the bunker-busting technology on its own, albeit at greater expense), is that providing the bombs could be interpreted as a green light to go to war. Even more serious than that (because Israel, notwithstanding all that aid, does not wait for green lights from the United States anyway), is that the use of U.S.-made bombs to initiate war with Iran would accentuate the already-existing association of the United States with any Israeli action and intensify the resulting damage to U.S. political, economic, and security interests. Providing the bombs was a bad decision by the Obama administration.
Israel is not the rogue Pillar depicts:
We know Ehud Olmert sought a green light for such an attack from George W. Bush in May 2008 and did not get it.
Israel got the bunker-busters in 2009.
It is near on 2012, and Israel has not used them.
I can assure you, this is not because Israelis have been assuaged by the analyses of Paul Pillar and others that containing Iran through military action would be counterproductive.
Israel does, indeed, wait for green lights.
There is substance to Pillar’s argument — the 2009 delivery and the leak this week send a message to the region. Pillar doesn’t like the message, I’m sure others do, but he’s right that it conveys U.S. backing for a heightened Israeli military posture toward Iran.
The green light business though — needs a reassessment.