All Headline, No Story

This London Times headline is arresting, to say the least: “President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran.” The article, however, mostly reneges on the headline’s promise. The story, based on a leak by a “senior Pentagon official,” says only that:

President George W Bush has told the Israeli government that he may be prepared to approve a future military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations with Tehran break down.

Further, it isn’t clear that an Israeli “plan” for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities actually exists:

The official added that Israel had not so far presented Bush with a convincing military proposal. … Obvious targets would include Iran’s Isfahan plant, where uranium ore is converted into gas, the Natanz complex where this gas is used to enrich uranium in centrifuges and the plutonium-producing Arak heavy water plant. But Iran is known to have scattered other elements of its nuclear programme in underground facilities around the country. Neither US nor Israeli intelligence is certain that it knows where everything is.

The “senior Pentagon official” also confirms what I take to be obvious, that the Bush administration has no intention of striking Iran militarily:

“It’s really all down to the Israelis,” the Pentagon official added. “This administration will not attack Iran. This has already been decided.”

Presumably the purpose of this kind of leak is to send a message to Iranian leaders, but this particular message seems to be nuanced at best: “We won’t attack you, but the Israelis might.” I think the mullahs already knew that.

Maybe this is intended to add to the pressure on Ahmadinejad:

Complicating the calculations in both Washington and Tel Aviv is the prospect of an incoming Democratic president who has already made it clear that he prefers negotiation to the use of force.

Senator Barack Obama’s previous opposition to the war in Iraq, and his apparent doubts about the urgency of the Iranian threat, have intensified pressure on the Israeli hawks to act before November’s US presidential election. “If I were an Israeli I wouldn’t wait,” the Pentagon official added.

That represents, I guess, an effort to get something positive out of the possibility of an Obama presidency.

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