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On Iran, Obama’s Leaky Ship Prompts Response

Report on Azerbaijan makes further election-year hay out of debate

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President Obama last week.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Over the past months, we’ve read various news reports about Iran’s clandestine nuclear program and about Israel’s and the United States’ opaque processes for deciding whether to launch a military strike on two levels: articles may supply actual information, but they most assuredly supply various parties’ arguments and perspectives. When Ronen Bergman kicked off the frenzy in the New York Times Magazine, we saw his feature for being, only slightly indirectly, the Israeli government’s opening bid—that Iran was gung-ho on building a nuclear bomb and military action was necessary. In several other articles, particularly in the Times foreign section, we have seen the U.S. military and intelligence communities advance their own perspective: that Iran’s nuclear and political situations militate against an attack (and that Israeli intelligence agrees). U.S. political leaders have transparently, explicitly argued and claimed specific things—to wit: Obama’s 45-minute interview on Iran. Still, given the onrush of reports influenced by U.S. military and intelligence emphasizing the downsides of an attack (particularly the leaked war-game that had U.S. soldiers being killed after an Israeli strike)—oh, and given that it’s an election year—there was bound to come a time when supporters of taking action would accuse the leakers of unduly influencing public opinion and, even more, the administration of inappropriately shaping military and intelligence thinking on Iran, much as the Bush administration did in the run-up to the Iraq War.

Well, it’s happened. The final catalyst was not that war game, but, first, last week’s “flexibility” gaffe, and then the Foreign Policy article from last Wednesday that revealed that Israel might use Azerbaijani soil to mount an attack on Iran, and how that makes such an attack easier and more plausible. (Azerbaijan’s defense minister denied this.)

Yesterday, Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin slammed the “leakfest,” and argued that it showed that, in fact, all Obama really wants is to push the Iran issue until after the November election. Hawkish Bush official John Bolton accused the administration of influencing intelligence (which is a really serious charge, which he probably shouldn’t make without more evidence, but whatever): “ there is top-down pressure to make the assessments come out a certain way,” he said. Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, not an organization known for hawkishness, cautioned, in an email blast, “To so severely damage and constrain Israel’s military options as this leak has done ill-serves the interests of all that seek to constrain Iran’s nuclear military ambitions. … if such reports are true, these leaks violate the spirit of mutual concern about the Iranian nuclear threat and commitment to co-operation.” Whether or not such reports are true, there is enough reasonable inference that it is already a talking point.

As Saperstein’s statement hints, what made the Azerbaijan story cross a line is it didn’t allegedly offer anti-attack arguments but, instead, actively impeded the possibility of an attack by revealing (maybe) a crucial part of Israel’s plans.

Quickly, the administration struck back, sending a “top White House official” to deny that it had any responsibility for the leak. Notably, this article was emailed to me by more than one Democratic source. It may be true; it is undoubtedly an important talking point.

The Azerbaijan article itself has come under criticism. In the Times of Israel, Ehud Yaari examines Azeri cooperation and finds the notion wanting in plausibility; he also attacks the author, Mark Perry, as a “veteran anti-Israel warrior.” Perry last made a big splash a couple months ago with a report that Mossad agents had pretended to be from the CIA in order to recruit an Iranian terrorist group. Perry is a former adviser to Yasser Arafat. Our own Lee Smith two years ago criticized Perry for advocating engagement with terrorist groups.

Does this prove that Perry is wrong? Of course not. What it is is one more thing to factor into our analysis as we try to grope toward the truth of the situation. Which leads us to the bad news and the good news. The bad news is that—as James Risen, who has given voice to so many anti-attack U.S. voices, reports this weekend, in an article also called out by Tobin—“The intelligence debacle on Iraq has deeply influenced the way [CIA agents] do their work, with new safeguards intended to force analysts to be more skeptical in evaluating evidence and more cautious in drawing conclusions.” He adds, “Former intelligence officials say that this shows appropriate vigilance in dealing with often murky information, while some detractors argue that the agency is not just careful but also overly skittish on Iran, reluctant to be blamed for any findings that might lead the United States to bloodshed.”

If, as some suggest, what should be neutral and empirical intelligence work is getting colored one way or the other, then that’s very bad.

The good news is that the changes and “safeguards” described are ostensibly designed to make the CIA’s conclusions not more hawkish or more dovish, but more accurate, and, John Bolton’s apparently baseless claim aside, there isn’t evidence that political leaders are exerting undue pressure. (Aha! Or so, anyway, do Risen’s pro-administration sources assert!)

The real good news is that for almost everybody, this is just sound and fury. American and Israeli leaders at the highest levels really do know what each other think, and what each others’ intelligence agencies think; and, not coincidentally, they, and not us, are the ones who actually make the decisions. This is why, as Dennis Ross and David Makovsky argued yesterday, the most important thing may well simply be keeping Israel fully in the loop, and not making Prime Minister Netanyahu or Defense Minister Barak feel that things are being done without their knowledge and consultation. If this is done, then, given the Americans’ superior military power, which creates a longer window for dealing with Iran, a strike becomes less likely.

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Ghosts of Iraq Haunting CIA in Tackling Iran [NYT]
Administration Leakfest Means Obama’s Tough Stance Is Just Talk [Commentary Contentions]
U.S. Denies Leaking Info on Israeli Access to Azeri Airbases [Ynet]
Perry-Tales in ‘Foreign Policy’ [Times of Israel]
The U.S. Can Meet Israel Halfway on Iran [WP]
Related: U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran [NYT]
Talking to Terrorists [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: How Azerbaijan Can Help Israel Attack Iran
Deciphering the Iran Chatter
U.S., Israel Mistrust on Iran Paves Way to Attack
Will Obama’s ‘Flexibility’ Gaffe Affect Israel?

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HannaH says:

President Obama ministration is doing everything it can to stop Israel using military force. Israel will not and can not let Iran go nuclear
Obama does not understand our care to understand Israel’s justified fears of a nuclear Iran

Robert says:

Let us not forget that mark perry hates Israel. He was for five years the co-director of Conflicts Forum. A Beirut based think tank that plugs the Arab Islamist line in western capitals. Perry’s son is al jazzers station chief in Jerusalem. Perry’s partner in crime at Conflicts forum is Alastair crooke who’s girlfriend is an apologist for Assad as he murders and we write. She recently wrote a huge rant on how Al jazzera, the guardian, the USA, France, the uk and Israel are all ganging up on Assad with the help of Saudi and Doha. She also like’s to comment on putin’s rt tv , with the Russians having delivered around 60t of weapons to Assad last month.

In a 2010 cspan interview perry implies that bin laden made a mistake by bombing NYC on 9/11 and he knew where those planes should have slammed into high rises, he surely means Tel Aviv. Perry is the man who has been plugging away with his unnamed sources on Mossad trained hit squads in Iran and now the airfield story. He guy even had his five minutes on NPR.

Enough said.

Robert says:

Mark Perry’s co-director of five years girl friend in a classic rant on how Assad is been done wrong
The author Aisling Byrne also publishes in the US socialist rag counterpunch and works in a Palestinian “refugee” camp in Beirut.

You simply can not make this up.

June says:

Rabbi Saperstein is correct that it crosses a line, but it is more than a talking point

Denying responsibility for the leak, doesn’t in fact deny the veracity of the content of the leaked message. It sort of confirms the information in the leak.

Knowing what each other’s leaders think apartntly doesn’t stop, the US in this case, from trying to influence an outcome.

goodmorningamerica says:

The only one that could of leaked that kind of information would of had to come from the TOP. Not all are with that privledged information. My take on it. Obama doesn’t want a war with either Iran or Syria..that means having to bother with Russia. His ADM his heavily funded by the CPUSA..yes the Communists Party. He needs that funding for his campaign and will go to all drastic means to keep a war from happening even if that means placing Israel or the US security at risk in doing so. That is politics. Let me explain. If we were to go to war or rattle the cages of Russia and end up in a battle of wits or even war itself..the Democratic Party will once again lose many of their Officials tied to the CPUSA.  It has happened in US History and I wouldn’t even doubt some of those leaks came from those individuals themselves. The last thing they want is another cleaning out of the US Houses of those tied to Communist groups..due to spying, espionage so on.  In my opinion, they shouldn’t be there in office to begin with.


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On Iran, Obama’s Leaky Ship Prompts Response

Report on Azerbaijan makes further election-year hay out of debate

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