Indyk: U.S. More Likely Than Israel to Bomb Iran

Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel (and now the vice president of the Brookings Institution), dropped this line to Goldblog about The Atlantic's cover story on Iran and Israel. Martin is always worth reading:

My interpretation of the facts, for what it's worth, is a little different:

President Obama came into office determined not to use force against Iran -- partly because he faced two other wars in the Middle East, but mostly because he was determined to engage Iran and saber-rattling would have been inconsistent with that approach.

By the end of his first year, however, he reached the conclusion that engagement had failed and that it was time to put force back on the table.  In January he began to do so.  That's when Gates traveled to the Gulf and delivered a message from the President to the leaders there: "The President is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

This shift in rhetoric was backed by the deployment of missile defense systems to the Gulf and a bolstering of the U.S. force presence there.  The rhetorical shift was made public by NSC Adviser Jim Jones in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in the spring.

It was also backed by a Pentagon study of the requirements for a U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear facilities (foreshadowed in David Sanger's New York Times' article about Secretary of Defense Gates' memo to President Obama). The conclusion of that study was that, in the words of one senior White House official, "The Iranians are not ten feet tall -- we can do this."

 And it was backed by what Denis McDonough (the chief of staff of the National Security Council) said to you - that Iran's nuclear program poses a grave threat to Obama's vision of a new multipolar world order based in part on the twin pillars of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The Israelis started to pick up on this shift, approving of the fact that "the Pentagon had done its homework" and noting the change in Obama's rhetoric. Their focus now shifted to putting salt on Obama's tail.  Hence Defense Minister Barak's multiple visits to Washington in the last four months.

The Israelis today are more relaxed than your article allows. This is in part because of the shift in Obama's posture but also because the sanctions are beginning to bite and the Iranians are having real problems with their centrifuges.  One of the same generals you quote explained to me at the end of June how far the Iranians were from achieving their objective of a robust breakout capacity.

My interpretation doesn't change your bottom line that if all these efforts fail and Obama doesn't take action then the Israelis likely will.  But it does lower the odds of Israeli action in the next year substantially below your "better than 50 percent" estimate.  Indeed, I would argue that, if current trends continue, it's actually more likely that the United States will bomb Iran than Israel.