The Obama administration is discussing several ways to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions in the hope that Washington can forestall a unilateral Israeli attack, the New York Times said on Monday. Measures already planned include naval exercises and new antimissile systems in the Persian Gulf, and a more forceful regime of economic sanctions to cut Iranian oil revenues.
According to the newspaper, America will join with more than 25 other countries in "the largest-ever" minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf, in what military officials say is a demonstration of unity and a defensive measure to prevent Iran from blocking oil exports through the Straits of Hormuz.
Washington is also considering new declarations by President Obama, the newspaper added, concerning what might lead to American military action. In addition, the administration is reconsidering covert cyber-attacks against Iran's nuclear centrifuges, which were started by the Bush administration and accelerated by Obama.
Military officials revealed to the NY Times that work is ongoing on a new radar system in Qatar that will combine with radar systems already in place in Israel and Turkey to form a broad arc of antimissile coverage.
Despite this, Israel is concerned that an explicit commitment to stop Iran's nuclear project militarily has not yet been made by Washington. Obama's warnings to Iran are still subject to internal debate, closely tied to election-year politics, the newspaper quoted officials as saying.
Expressing his feelings about measures taken towards Iran by the international community, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that the international community is not setting Iran "a clear red line", and Iran does not see international determination to stop its nuclear project. "Until Iran sees a clear red line and such determination, it will not stop the progress of its nuclear project," said Netanyahu. "Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons."
Observers say that the steps being taken by President Obama do not aim to stop Iran's nuclear programme, but seek to offer Israeli officials a credible alternative to a military strike. That, the NY Times claims, would almost certainly trigger an Iranian reaction that could start a new conflict in the already unstable Middle East.
While Obama's national security team has been very "closed-mouthed", the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, stated his belief that the international coalition of countries applying sanctions against Iran "could be undone" if the country is attacked "prematurely" by Israel. He added that the US does not want to be "complicit if they (the Israelis) choose to do it."