Obama adviser urges Israel not to strike at Iran

Ben Rhodes: Military action has no guarantee of eliminating nuclear infrastructure, and could incentivize Iranians to break out to bomb

Ben Rhodes (photo credit: White House video screenshot)
Ben Rhodes (photo credit: White House video screenshot)

The US on Tuesday urged Israel not to strike at Iran so long as the international community’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis over Tehran’s rogue nuclear program continue.

Speaking two days after world powers signed an interim deal with Iran in Geneva, and in the wake of blistering criticism of the deal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama’s close aide and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes encouraged Israel to give the negotiations a chance, and warned that military action could be counterproductive.

Asked in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 news whether the US was asking Israel to refrain from launching military action to thwart Iran’s march to the bomb, Rhodes said first that “Israel’s a sovereign nation and will make its own decisions about its self-defense.”

He went on, though, to set out the US argument to Israel for refraining from military action: “Our case to Israel will be: Let’s give the negotiations a chance to succeed. A military strike has no guarantee of eliminating the nuclear infrastructure or what they [the Iranians] already know how to do, and could incentivize them to break out” to the bomb.

Rhodes said the US was keeping its own military option on the table, “but we want to see if we can get this done diplomatically.” It was clearly preferable, he said, to thwart Iran without a resort to force, “at the negotiating table.”

Still, he added again, “the prime minister of Israel has to make his own decisions.”

Rhodes acknowledged that the relationship between the US and Israeli leaderships over the handling of the Iran crisis was in one of its more strained periods, but said there had been “ups and downs” in the past and he was confident that the two sides would “weather” the storm.

He also said the administration did not consider that “the time was right” for Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran. Among other factors, such a move could divide the P5+1 countries, Rhodes claimed. Still, he noted, “Israel can express its view, of course, as a sovereign nation.”

Rhodes said he thought it unlikely that Iran would be stripped of all elements of its nuclear activity in the way that Libya had been. In separate comments to Channel 2 news, he also said that, in a permanent accord, provided Iran met all of the international community’s concerns over its program, it might be allowed to retain “a limited enrichment capacity.”

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