Beware the Ides of March
by Jeffrey Steinberg on 02 Mar 2012 1 Comment

A convergence of events in the early days of March underscores the immediate danger of an Israeli strike against Iran, which could trigger a larger war extending beyond the Persian Gulf region, and drawing in the Eurasian superpowers, Russia and China. First, on March 4-7, AIPAC will be holding its annual convention in Washington, D.C., highlighted by the keynote address by Bibi Netanyahu on March 6.

Traditionally, the AIPAC event takes place in late April or early May. The date of this year’s event was moved up to accommodate to Israel’s timetable for an attack on Iran in the early Spring. Netanyahu will meet with President Obama at the White House on March 5, in the midst of the AIPAC festivities and will press for US support for an early Israeli attack on Iran. Netanyahu and AIPAC are already preparing to launch an all-out campaign against Obama if the President does not capitulate to the Israeli blackmail pressure.

Second, on March 5, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to publicly release the report on the two recent inspection missions to Iran. The second of those missions was completed last month, and inspectors have already issued a statement criticizing Iran’s refusal to allow them to inspect the missile research and production facility at Parchin. The Iranian refusal to comply with the inspectors’ request was principally driven by the internal factional battle raging between the Ahmadinejad faction and the Khamenei-Larijani faction in the run-up to the March parliamentary elections.

Iran has sent the formal reply to Lady Ashton’s November 2011 letter regarding the resumption of the P5+1 talks, and signaled a readiness to resume the talks immediately. The Iranians argued that all issues, including the pre-2003 work at Parchin, will be on the table at the P5+1 talks, and therefore it was not appropriate for the IAEA inspectors to gain access to the site at this time.

Among the P5+1 countries, there is a concern that the Iranians will attempt to “sanitize” the site before any inspectors can gain access. Israel is pushing hard for the inspections, in the belief that the site provides a “smoking gun” proving that Iran was and may still be pursuing a nuclear bomb.

Third, March 4 is the Russian Presidential elections. Despite the barrage of criticism of Putin and the Kremlin, it is widely expected that Putin will win the election on the first ballot. Ironically, all of the war hype has driven up oil prices to the point that Russia is enjoying an estimated $15 per barrel windfall profit. Putin has directed these increased revenues at bringing all wages and pensions current and making other investments that show immediate benefits to the population. This has boosted his popularity, particularly in the past two weeks.

Two days after the Russian elections, March 6, is Super Tuesday, which will also significantly indicate the state of play among the Republican Party presidential contenders, all of whom, with the exception of Ron Paul, are gung-ho publicly for a combined US-Israeli attack on Iran.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told David Ignatius of the Washington Post that he is losing sleep over the fear that Israel will prematurely attack Iran sometime in April, May or June. Senior US military officials have reported that the window on an Israeli attack closes by mid-June due to weather changes that make an attack far more difficult. The prevailing view in the Pentagon is that Israel has been delivered a series of tough warnings against any unilateral attack, but that there is no reason to believe that the Israelis are actually listening.

There are conflicting reports about whether or not Netanyahu and Barak have sufficient support in the inner cabinet to launch an attack, but the chances remain that Israel will attack before the mid-June window shuts. In particular, General Dempsey’s January visit to Israel was to deliver perhaps
the strongest rebuke to Israel by any American official since President Eisenhower ordered Israel, France and Great Britain to withdraw from the Suez Canal in 1956. Nevertheless, the Netanyahu-Barak crowd are banking on AIPAC and their ability to bully Obama into supporting Israel, when push comes to shove.

The author is Senior Editor, Executive Intelligence Review

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