Did Obama Threaten to Shoot Down Israeli Jets? [Updated]

That is the explosive claim made by a Kuwaiti newspaper, ostensibly based on “well-placed sources,” presumably Israeli. Take it for what it may be worth; this account is from Israeli National News:

The Bethlehem-based news agency Ma’an has cited a Kuwaiti newspaper report Saturday, that US President Barack Obama thwarted an Israeli military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2014 by threatening to shoot down Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Following Obama’s threat, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was reportedly forced to abort the planned Iran attack.

According to Al-Jarida, the Netanyahu government took the decision to strike Iran some time in 2014 soon after Israel had discovered the United States and Iran had been involved in secret talks over Iran’s nuclear program and were about to sign an agreement in that regard behind Israel’s back.

The report claimed that an unnamed Israeli minister who has good ties with the US administration revealed the attack plan to Secretary of State John Kerry, and that Obama then threatened to shoot down the Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Al-Jarida quoted “well-placed” sources as saying that Netanyahu, along with Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon, and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, had decided to carry out airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program after consultations with top security commanders.

This report no doubt will be denied by both American and Israeli spokesmen, if it hasn’t been already. And it is entirely possible that someone is just stirring the pot in anticipation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday. Still, it is noteworthy that the report, true or not, is plausible. That would not have been the case prior to the Obama administration.

UPDATE: This story out of Israel is being taken by some as a refutation of the account in the Kuwaiti newspaper. Benny Gantz, former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force, said in an interview that no order to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities was ever given, because it was opposed by Israel’s military:

“It never reached, ‘OK, take off and fly,’” said Gantz in the interview, which is set to air Monday night in Israel. But he added: “I want the to believe they listened and took into consideration what I have to say.”

Gantz, who retired in February after 38 years of service, also revealed a dispute between the political leadership, which was moving toward a military strike, and the IDF, opposed to such a move.

But the two stories are not really contradictory. It is entirely possible that the Obama administration, knowing that a strike against Iran was being seriously considered by Israel’s leaders, could have threatened to oppose it militarily. That doesn’t mean that it happened, only that the Kuwaiti report may be true in substance, even if a final decision to strike Iran had not been made in Israel. But of course, there may be other reasons why the story emerged from Kuwait at this moment:

It is very possible the [Kuwaiti] report was written to make Netanyahu appear as a war monger (and Obama a guarantor of peace with Iran) as the Israeli Prime Minister was set to make his address.

I come back to the point I made earlier today: we may never know whether the report out of Kuwait is true, but what is noteworthy is that it is plausible. If it were not plausible, then it wouldn’t serve to “make…Obama [appear] a guarantor of peace with Iran.”

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