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September 16, 2012 1:57 pm

Panetta: Israel Uses Red Lines ‘to Put People in a Corner’

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Panetta and Netanyahu exchange warm greetings. Photo: Screenshot.

Against the backdrop of mounting tensions between Israel and the U.S. over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calls to set “clear red lines,” telling Foreign Policy magazine that red lines were “the kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.’

Earlier this month, Netanyahu urged the American administration to set clear red lines beyond which the U.S. would commit to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear progress. Netanyahu called the Iranian leadership “a cruel regime that is barreling ahead with its nuclear program because it doesn’t see any clear red lines from the international community.”

“The fact is that presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country—leaders of these countries don’t have a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions,” Panetta told Foreign Policy. “What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation. That’s the real world.”

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  • Matt

    Not enforcing red lines is why Hizbullah has 70,000 rockets including Scud/M-600 missiles. Not having red lines allowed Iran to build up its strategic deterrent/confidence in Lebanon and in the gulf.

    In my humble opinion the reason the US is dragging it’s feet in relation on Syria and in a way tactile supporting Assad remaining in power and Leon Panetta’s wish for the Syrian Arab Army to largely remain intact. Is they fear that once Assad falls and his security forces are deconstructed it opens up the flank on the Syrian/Lebanon border to the IDF.

    Hizbullah and Iran are not fighting to save Assad they are fighting to save that flank. This flank on the Syrian/Lebanon border allows the IDF mechanized columns to bypass south of the Litani to gain access to the Be’eka Valley and northern Lebanon where the longer range rockets Hizbullah has to use against Israel are located and attack Hizbullah forces from behind north of the Litani. While other mechanized units enter Lebanon south of the Litani.

    The US in my humble opinion believes if IDF can use that flank and limit the damage to the home front by the Hizbullah missiles, then Israel is more likely to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. A similar reason Dempsey’s comment in relation to not wanting to be complicit in a strike on Iran, via denying early warning via X band radar and BMD via Aegis. To increase the cost on Israel if they seek to remove the nuclear threat, on the home front.

    That has been the Obama Administrations strategy to increase the cost on Israel to force the Israeli State to abandon their military option.

    That is why there has been constant leaks about an Israel strike how it will occur, via the Administration. An example was the making public of the Israel use of merchant ships that had been used in the Persian Gulf, along the Iranian coast and docked in Iranian ports. What was not made public was that the Israeli’s would use these merchant vessels to covertly via commandos, use limpet mines on the Iranian Navy and limit their ability to close the Straits of Hormuz. It was possible for Israel to put most of the Iranian Navy at the bottom of the gulf. While modules of the attack plan for Iran included the Straits of Hormuz and the sinking of the Iranian Navy via merchant ships ( the US leaked, Israel merchant ships) using commando’s and limpet mines, putting the navy at the bottom of the gulf. Was in the US interest, to protect the 5th Fleet and energy security. It was also to increase the damage and fiscal cost on the Islamic Republic.

    The US knew of that plan and made the merchant ships public to increase the cost, by placing themselves in the middle and the Straits of Hormuz at risk of closer. The other leak was of the use of an air path and use of Saudi airspace into the southern sector of Iran a few years ago.

    There are no nuclear facilities in that sector the IAF was using it to strike Iranian ports and vessels to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. After that leak the Saudi had to issue a retraction that their air space would not be used. That place the oil fields at risk of Iranian counter strikes.To protect the Saudi oil fields from an Iranian attack counter attack, the Israel had an elaborate plan to use F-15,16 bodies from the bone yard and paint them in Israel colors and dump them in the Nefud desert.

    There is also the issue of Wikileaks and the outing of all the Arab oil produces privately supporting a strike either by the US or Israel. Which I personally found hard to believe that the DOD left a unstable intelligence analysis with access to classified information in Iraq. And the fact the data could be transferred to Wikileaks without the NSA being aware, when they even monitor phone calls and other electronic communication of service personnel from Iraq.

    All of these leaks has increased the ramifications of an Israel strike from a contained conflict to a possible regional war. All of these leaks has placed the Israel Government under enormous pressure in regards to attacking against the Iranian nuclear program. Which is what the Obama Administration had intended too do. That is why there is increased hostility between the US and Israel, much it being played out in public via the media.

    The US even went as far as leaking via the media to the Iranians that an Israel strike would take place on a new moon when illumination is minimal.

    A key reason that OP Orchard resulted in no response was because Hizbullah had been deconstructed during the 2006 war in 2007 they simply did not have the capability to respond. This shows the importance Iran place on Hizbullah in relation to the defense of their nuclear program and the strategic confidence/deterrent it provides the Iranian push to build a nuclear weapon.

    Now the US and Iranian red line building a bomb, another red line will be crossed before then in which Iran believed they have the strategic confidence/deterrent to move ahead to the red line both the US and Iran share in relation to building a nuclear weapon. Without being attacked, by either the US or more importantly Israel.

    It is the period between (the strategic deterrent/confidence) that allows Iran to go decide to pass the red line that both US and Iran share building a nuclear weapon, that is the key concern.

    That I think the US fail to understand or do not care or are hoping would prevent them from fulfilling their promise to Israel to strike Iran and prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. The point in which Israel would have to say to the US that the cost on the home front is too high for the US to strike the Iranian nuclear program.

    So that makes a US promise on the red line to act in the future, useless in stopping Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. This brings about the issue of windows of opportunity for Israel to act and the issue of the international community, led by the US for Israel to wait. Wait until the cost is too high.

    You also have the issue of the strategic deterrent and confidence the Iranians are building up in the gulf to target US forces. And whether the US would be willing to accept the cost in relation to a military operations against Iran to prevent a nuclear weapon. Even US reports show that Iran is far more capable now at inflicting heavier losses on the US than in the past.

    Placing a heavy burden and cost on the State of Israel is a way out for the US and a saving face exercise. In that the US seen not to have back down in a conflict with Iran and not allowed Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon and did not break their promise to use force to Israel. It was solely an Israeli decision.

    The other issue is once they had obtained a nuclear weapon and gained the strategic deterrence that it provides them, will they feel free to unleash the level of deterrence on Israel that allowed them to obtain it, in relation to Hizbullah in the first place. If the cost of a Hizbullah attack is enough to deter a strike on Iran due to the level of damage on Israel that will be inflicted. And the period of calm is broken by the other side the cost is going to be very high on Israel. And Israel will not have a choice.

    It is clear the nuclear program is their key concern an they have not used Hizbullah to aid Assad against Israel due to the need of Hizbullah deterrence to a strike on the nuclear program. They need Hizbullah to deter a strike. When they have a bomb they will not.

    The potential of a preemptive strike via Hizbullah rises. In which case Israel could be facing 150,000 to 200,000 rockets, a force structure including not just Hizbullah militia but also Iranian soldiers inside Lebanon.

    In relation to the Iranian nuclear program and the threat it poses to Israel and comments about Israel ability to stop Iran from conducting another Holocaust and the time lines that are mentioned in delaying the nuclear program. This is a key argument used by those that want to prevent an Israel strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities. Including most recently by Dempsey.

    Without the strategic confidence/deterrent that Hizbullah provides, Iran will not move forward and build a bomb. It takes Hizbullah around 6 years to develop a significant level of strategic confidence/deterrent that Iran find comfort in from an Israeli or US attack. This was seen after OP Orchard in 2007 on the Syrian reactor.

    That means that the deconstruction of Hizbullah regardless of a direct strike on the nuclear program would delay the final push to build a nuclear device by 6 years. While a direct strike on the program by around 4 years.

    Now combining the fiscal costs to both rebuild Hizbullah (also the winning of hearts and minds of the Lebanese people to rebuild civilian infrastructure) and funding the rebuilding of the nuclear program, that is a delay of 10 years before Iran would be at the current level of development in relation to a nuclear weapon.

    Sanctions as far as I was concerned was very much a day after a strike proposal, the state of the Iranian economy at present and it ability to fund these requirements under the sanctions regime, adds further time. If pre-sanctions it took 6 years to rebuild Hizbullah it will take double that time 12 years under the sanctions regime. If it takes 4 years to rebuild the nuclear program it will take 8 years under sanctions.

    So combining the costs and time frames you are looking at a delay of 20 years. This is aside from the use of covert actions, which for 7 years from 2005 to 2012 prevented a nuclear weapon, at the onset of the restart of the program after a strike. The Iranian nuclear bomb can be delayed indefinitely.

    All of these costs, rebuilding the nuclear program, damage to other assets, rebuild of the Lebanese terror infrastructure (and civilian) while dealing with the domestic economic situation inside the Islamic Republic, makes the possibility of regime change highly likely. The survival of the regime itself vs its nuclear and resistance goals.

    It is at that point Iran will either see the futility of their policies and seek a deal, or the regime will fall. It is also at that point that the US and other world powers involved in negotiations with Iran. Must decide if they seek a deal that would preserve the current regime at that point in time or refuse a deal and allow regime change to occur.

    Regardless of time lines, the different clocks of the US and Israel of a strike, who performs the strike, certain issues remain clear, Hizbullah will attack Israel regardless in response, the nuclear program will be delayed. And the time frame of that delay is significant and an Iranian nuclear bomb is not inevitable. As people are being led to believe.

  • Theresa

    What utter nonsense Panetta is spouting! There have always been and will always be boundaries of acceptable behaviour, whether with our children, within our family, neighbours, community, laws.. everything which defines how we expect to be treated as individuals to how our society will run, is built upon boundaries and the determined consequences of breeching them. To suggest otherwise and actually believe boundaries are designed to corner is ludicrous as the boundary does exactly the opposite.
    I can only conclude Panetta has to say this as his boss is directing him to keep to an agenda which as time is passing and allows this agenda to become clear.
    As close as we are to an election, and because the current administration made it perfectly clear BEFORE BO was voted into office that his approach to foreign policy was to take the acquiescent approach, one has to ask, is this because his early childhood influence was so anti Jewish-Christian-American? Considering his first 15 years were predominently influenced by living inside Jakarta which is 87% Muslim? How could any rational person not expect him to be aligned with the Muslim world whether or not he is a follower? his behavior when in the presence of Muslims is indicative of a person who is by actions saying.. ‘its ok, I am with you, dont shoot, give me time, ill make them change to our way of thinking..’ hum.. seems to me he doesnt know who is writing his pay check..
    Add to the above he came from a country which has slowly eradicated Jews from their midst as Indonesia does not recognize Judiasm as a religion and by law all citizens must carry identity cards indicating their religion as being either Muslim or Christian or another, just not Jewish.. mind you prior to 1945 there were over 2000 Jews in Indonesia, however as of 1997 there are….. 20! see Wikipedia… Religion in Indonesia..
    So there just isnt any reasonable way to expect that BO who came from such a heavily biased anti American/Israeli upbringing could be Pro Israeli…
    Besides.. why should the US have to draw lines when they dont have the bombs pointing here? And if the Israeli’s draw the line and everything all goes to hell… well, BO can always say… Its not my fault, I didnt do it.. and this is a friend and ally?? I think not.