The Obama administration has repeatedly vowed that there is "no daylight" between the U.S. and Israel when it comes to Iran, but a pair of new reports show how false the claim actually is. In reality, both countries are fixated on what would happen if Israel attacked Iran's nuclear facilities but they predict vastly different outcomes. The most striking of which centers on the likelihood of all-out war breaking out in the aftermath of a surgical airstrikes, but it goes far beyond that.
All-Out War Reporting from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Jeffrey Goldberg writes that Israeli leaders have a rosy view of how Iran would respond to attacks on its nuclear facilities. So rosy, in fact, that Iran would actually pretend the attack never even happened. "This argument holds that the Iranians might choose to cover up an attack, in the manner of the Syrian government when its nuclear facility was destroyed by the Israeli air force in 2007," Goldberg writes in his Bloomberg View column. "An Israeli strike wouldn’t focus on densely populated cities, so the Iranian government might be able to control, to some degree, the flow of information about it."
Whatever merits this thinking might hold (Goldberg says he's not "endorsing this view"), it stands in total contrast to a Monday New York Times report citing the belief of U.S. officials that an Israeli attack would trigger an all-out war drawing in the U.S. and potentially leaving "hundreds of Americans dead." That report is based on the findings of a classified war simulation held this month and it's not just a few minor military officials who are taking it to the bank. "The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia," report The Times' Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker. "When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there."
In the simulation of an Israeli attack, the U.S. found itself being drawn into war after a belligerent Iran fired missiles at a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing some 200 Americans and resulting in U.S. airstrikes on Iran's nuclear facilities. It's not something that Israeli leaders told Goldberg would happen but it's also not the only thing the two allies don't agree on.
Setting back Iran's nuclear program Goldberg reports that Israeli leaders are quite bullish on the prospects of an Israeli strike doing major harm to Iran's nuclear program—in their view—setting it back "at least five years." But according to the U.S. simulation, that's way off. "The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year." Even if the U.S. were to carry out the attack, which is another thing altogether, the simulation predicted that it would only push back the program by two years.
How much time Israel has to act Another fundamental disagreement between the two allies is how much time Israel would have to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon if it decided to build one. Both countries generally agree about the advancements Iran has made on its uranium enrichment but Israeli officials say "the window" is closing while American officials say there's still time to negotiate and find a diplomatic solution.
Warning the U.S. You'd think if there's no daylight between the two allies, Israel would give the U.S. a heads up when it's about to go on the attack. Not so, reported the Associated Press in February. "Israeli officials say they won't warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions."
All this is to say that if the U.S. and Israel disagree on all of these crucial bits of intelligence, it's impossible to argue that there's no day light between the two on an impending strike. If you have wildly different view about what would happen if you bombed Iran, it doesn't follow that you'll be finding a harmonious solution to the problem.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.