US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledges that while Israel and the US share a commitment to ensuring Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, there "may well be some differences" on the question of when it might decide to go for a bomb.
There is "no daylight at all" between the US and Israel’s stances on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon, he said. But there could be a divergence in evaluating the timing of the threat from Tehran.
Hagel’s latest visit to Israel has exposed a widely-known secret that the Obama administration has reasons not to get drawn into a new conflict.
But the high status of the major US ally comes with the necessity to sugarcoat the bitter pill.
Hagel has arrived in Tel Aviv with two pieces of news: good and bad.
The good news is he brought a multi-billion-dollar arms package that will enable Israeli military with Osprey V-22 tilt-rotor transport aircrafts, air tankers and anti-radar missiles to eliminate enemy air defenses.
The supply of the newest American weapons to Israel is designed to show Tehran that a solution by force of the Iranian nuclear problem remains on the table.
"I don't think there's any question that's another very clear signal to Iran,” Hagel told reporters on Sunday.
Because Israel has no common border with Iran, it would need to refuel its bombers and fighter jets to get to the Iranian airspace. Iran also has deeply embedded air defenses, so taking it out would imply anti-radar air-to-surface missiles.
The bad news is that despite Hagel saying the US and Israel regard the nuclear threat from Iran "exactly the same", there is a difference between Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s perception of the timing and necessity to attack.
“When you back down into the specifics of the timing of when and if Iran decides to pursue a nuclear weapon, there may well be some differences,” Hagel said.
On his first visit to Israel as Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagel delivered a message from the Obama administration that it is up to Israel to decide when to make a pre-emptively attack on Persians.
“Israel will make the decision that Israel must make to protect itself, to defend itself,” Hagel told reporters ahead of his Middle East voyage.
Which might as well mean that in case Israeli military action against Iran went wrong, direct US military assistance is not guaranteed.
“Iran is a threat — a real threat,” summed up Hagel, but pointed out that international economic sanctions have already become a tremendous pain for Tehran and that in turn would possibly influence the results of the Iran's presidential election in June. Therefore the implication of military force remains the last resort option.
It looks like Washington is paying its way out of a possible new slaughterhouse to evolve in the Middle East once PM Benjamin Netanyahu convinces Israeli generals to attack Iran at their own peril and risk.
The Israeli PM has been pressing the American authorities to launch an offensive on Iran for quite some time now – with no practical results. Possibly the last time Israel could rely on the US in attacking Iran for real was in 2008, but the war launched by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in South Ossetia, close to the Iranian border, spoilt the game – if there was any.
Still, Hagel assured Tel Aviv that Israel's right of self-defense is not questioned.
“In dealing with Iran, every option must be on the table,” Hagel stressed in the interview given on an overnight flight to the Israeli capital.
Chuck Hagel, 66, started his week-long Middle East tour with visiting Israel for a reason. Not only because Israel is America’s principle ally in the region, but also because at the defense secretary’s confirmation hearing in February, the Republicans accused Hagel of showing insufficient support for the Jewish state.