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Why Israel is even less likely to strike Iran now

Obama appears to be hemming in Israel at every turn. Case in point: A report in which unnamed US officials allege that Israel has obtained access to bases in Azerbaijan, on Iran's border.

By Staff writer / April 2, 2012



All the recent data points in the "will they, won't they" speculation about an Israeli strike on Iran point to this: The already slim odds have gotten slimmer.

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Sure, a long piece in Foreign Policy this month, sourced entirely to unnamed US officials, makes the case that Israel has extensive influence in Azerbaijan, which could make a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran easier.

But that story appears to be but one salvo in a broader Obama administration strategy to signal through the press that it doesn't want Israel to strike Iran's nuclear program, even as it seeks to assure Israel that it is committed to its defense.

At every turn, the US has hemmed Israel in (probably the reason so many "anonymous" officials fed the Azerbaijan story to FP). They have made it clear that they will truly be on their own if they attack unilaterally (read: You won't force us into a war of your own choosing).

John Bolton, the hawkish former US ambassador to the UN, characterized the story as an intentional Obama effort to undermine Israel. "Clearly, this is an administration-orchestrated leak.... it's just unprecedented to reveal this kind of information about one of your own allies,” he told Fox.

Mr. Bolton is wrong about the "unprecedented" part; the US has frequently acted to hem in close allies, like Britain or France, when it deemed their military activities a threat to its interests, as the Eisenhower administration did against the joint Israeli-French-British invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis in 1956.

But he's certainly right that the Obama administration is worried about the damage to US interests that could be done by a solo Israeli attack on Iran.

In that context, it's hard not to see the Foreign Policy piece as anything other than an Obama administration attempt to stave off an Israeli attack through highlighting growing Israeli ties with the country. (Israel has certainly been seeking warm relations with Azerbaijan; in February, Israel said it had signed a $1.6 billion deal to provide drones and missile defense systems to the country.)

No carte blanche for Israel in Azerbaijan

The piece didn't say that Israel has been given bases of its own in Azerbaijan, or that it has been given carte blanche to use Azeri bases when it sees fit. The piece's central claim is that "four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran's northern border. To do what, exactly, is not clear."

The FP story led to immediate denials from Azeri officials. An Azeri defense spokesmen told a press conference on Friday that Israel will not be allowed to use the country's territory to attack Iran and said that unspecified press reports were designed to increase tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan.

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