By Oren Dorell, USAToday.comIsrael is unlikely to provide much if any advance notice to the United States if it attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, Middle East experts say.
Advance warning is important because a surprise could hurt the United States’ ability to respond and safeguard its many assets in the Persian Gulf.
The assumption is that U.S. warning of an Israeli attack would come “significantly less than an hour” before it began, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “How much of that would come from Israeli notification and how much would come from sensors we have in the region, I don’t know.”
In the past, Israel has given the Americans “very general notice,” said Yoram Peri, director of the Israel studies program at the University of Maryland. “They would never talk in advance.” For example, Israel unilaterally attacked nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 and didn’t give the United States advance warning.
That puts the United States at a disadvantage. Getting a warning would allow the United States to reposition military and other assets to defend against a counterattack by Iran or its surrogates in the Gulf and around the world, says Michele Dunne, an analyst with the Atlantic Council.
A unilateral attack without warning could also hurt relations between Israel and the United States.
Israel and the United States agree Iran should not be allowed to build a nuclear weapon. But Israel appears to be running out of patience quicker than the United States.
The divergence of views was evident in Jerusalem earlier this month, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the “time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
Panetta said non-military pressure on Iran should be exhausted first, such as sanctions designed to squeeze Iran’s economy. “We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Danny Danon, deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament, said an Israeli strike against multiple targets spread across Iran would likely last several days and would not be quick strikes, such as the attacks on Syria and Iraq. He said he hopes the United States joins in, but says Israel will go it alone if necessary.
“We cannot afford to make the mistake and take the chance of allowing Iran to become nuclear. It could damage the United States, but for Israel it could be deadly,” Danon said.
Martin Indyk, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Clinton and now director of the foreign policy program of the Brookings Institution, doesn’t think Israel will strike before the U.S. presidential election in November because it would be disruptive at a time when Israel would need U.S. help.
Whether Israel needs U.S. diplomatic support, help dealing with Iranian counterattacks or to replenish U.S.-supplied weapons expended in the attack, “he surely knows he’s going to need the United States,” Indyk said.
The United States might provide assistance initially, but in the long run it could hurt diplomatic relations if the United States gets dragged into another long war in the Middle East, Alterman said.
“It creates the potential to change the way the American public starts to think about the alignment between the United States and Israel,” Alterman said.