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Is Washington Casting Israel as the 'Bad Cop' to Pressure Iran?

Written by Yaakov Lappin

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Senior officials from the Obama administration have begun descending on Israel once again to ensure that Jerusalem holds off on an attack on Iran. That, at least, is the message the White House is seeking to generate.  

"The national security advisor [Tom Donilon] and the American intelligence head [James Clapper] are coming for an urgent visit. They will ask [Israel] not to attack Iran right now," a front-age caption said in this Sunday's Yedioth Ahronothnewspaper.

Donilon arrived on Sunday, and began a series of meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Clapper is due to arrive later this week.

Indeed, the two visits, together with recent comments by other senior figures warning Israel not to strike Iran, suggest that a media campaign is underway to prevent any surprise Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

America's close ally, Britain, issued its own warning to Israel against an attack in recent days as well.

But just who is really the target of all this pressure? The problem with the official picture - that of an anxious Obama Administration asking Israel to stand down - is that it's public.

Why are such high-level, hugely important messages being relayed from Washington to Jerusalem via the public sphere, rather than being passed on through secret channels, as one would expect from allies communicating over an issue as fateful as how to stop the Islamic Republic's military nuclear drive?

The answer appears to be that the real designated recipient of the warnings is Iran.

The U.S. government and European leaders have just accepted Iran's proposals to reopen nuclear negotiations. Their role as the 'good cop,' the side willing to listen and resolve the confrontation peacefully, is devoid of value without a 'bad cop' looming in the background.

By publicly presenting Israel as a Rottweiler on a leash being held back by President Obama, the White House hopes to increase the very low chance that another round of negotiations with Tehran might actually lead somewhere.

So far, every past round of negotiations has proven to be another stall tactic by the Iranians, buying them time - and legitimacy - as the centrifuges continue to spin in Iran.

Not only are the centrifuges spinning, they are also being moved to an underground nuclear site near Kom, called Fordow, built deep into a mountain to protect it from airstrikes and missiles.

Officials in the Pentagon and State Department don't really believe that the latest round of sanctions on Iran will work, according to a recent Guardian report. Nor do they believe that the European oil embargo will stop the centrifuges.

If the sanctions are an inadequate 'bad cop' to goad the Iranians into taking negotiations seriously, perhaps the threat of Israeli action will do the trick - this, at least, appears to be the thinking behind the public pressure.

The image of an Israeli Rottweiler straining at the leash is not exactly fair, though. Israel's neighbors are imploding, and radical Islamist forces are sweeping to power around it. Israel is determined to ensure that a fanatical Shi'ite republic sworn to its destruction does not become armed with atomic bombs.

Iran has armed two jihadi terrorist enclaves on Israel's borders with tens of thousands of rockets. Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, are both quietly in the midst of massive armament programs, and are procuring ever-increasing numbers of rockets and sophisticated weaponry such as guided missiles, from Iran.

If Iran went nuclear, it would also set off a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race.

That means unstable Sunni countries could be armed with doomsday weapons, which could then fall into the hands of fanatics, posing a threat to global security as a whole.

The resulting international security environment would become intolerably dangerous. Nuclear proliferation could make the leap to non-state actors.

Hence, the attempt to portray Israel as an aggressive player that needs restraining is misleading, and cynical. An equally convincing 'bad cop' alternative to negotiations could have been created by an international community, one that is united and able to pose a credible military option if all other means to stop the Iranians fail.

But that cannot exist if Western officials continue to present the possibility of military strikes as being unhinged Israeli machinations, instead of trying to build up a global commitment to halt Iran through any means necessary.

Yaakov Lappin, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a journalist for the Jerusalem Post, where he covers police and national security affairs. For more information on the JINSA Visiting Fellows program, click here.

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