“It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically and through the use of pressure than to use military force,” Shapiro explained last Tuesday, according to The New York Times. “But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. And not just available, but it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.”
Until this time, most American officials, including President Obama and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, have mentioned that diplomatic and economic pressures would be the first recourses towards handling Iran, while the military option would be left on the table. But no discussion of any actual military activity was ever brought up.
After Shapiro’s remarks were made public, several pundits began analyzing the ambassador’s words and the context in which they were made. Most agreed that the U.S. was attempting to reassure Israel and caution Iran that it was not bluffing about maintaining the military option, as talks between the West and Iran continued to intensify ahead of the meeting that was scheduled in Baghdad for Wednesday, May 23.
“Any expression that all options are on the table can only strengthen the negotiations,” said Dore Gold, a former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, according to the Times. “There’s an irony in the situation, because a hawkish position on Iran probably makes a peaceful diplomatic outcome more likely, and that could be what he was trying to do.”
Amos Yadlin of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv said the words of the ambassador were carefully articulated to display a “credible” military option.
“If you’re saying that the military option is on the table and at the same time you transmit that a military option will be a doomsday and will be a World War III and the Middle East will be in flames, then nobody will take you seriously,” Yadlin noted, the Times also reported. “A serious military, even if it’s not on the plan for next week or next month, but strategically thinking that this is an option, they have to prepare a contingency plan, that makes sense.”
But some believed Shapiro’s remarks were not intended to be disseminated among a public audience. Though a top official from the Netanyahu administration, who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity, commended the ambassador’s statements, he clarified that they failed to achieve their desired goal of having provoked the Iranians to ratchet up negotiations with the West.
“Quite clearly he didn’t mean this to be public,” the official reportedly explained. “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they have to hear it publicly and clearly.”
Meir Javendanfar of IDC-Herzliya suggested that Ambassador Shapiro was being even more politically astute in his words than other analysts had suggested. Not only was he trying to dissuade Tehran from dodging Western diplomatic efforts, but Shapiro was also trying to bolster the president’s record with Iran, Javendanfar explained.
“Republicans in the U.S. who have tried to hurt Obama’s credibility on Iran by saying that the president has been too soft on Iran and that Iran’s leadership don’t take his warnings regarding the existence of a possibly military option seriously” were another target of the ambassador’s address at the bar association, the Times cited Javendanfar as having said.
But Shmuel Bar of the same Israeli institution seemed to echo the frustration with the U.S. latent in the comment given by the anonymous security official of the prime minster’s office, saying America was not sending a strong enough message to Iran.
“What actually the U.S. administration is doing is blowing hot and cold,” said Bar, the Times similarly reported. “Actions do speak louder than words. The actions say the U.S. has a very strong aversion to any kind of military action.”
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine was similarly skeptical the Ambassador Shapiro was faithfully delivering the U.S. position about its military readiness.
“Like much of what the administration has said and done in recent months, Ambassador Shapiro’s comments seem to be geared more toward convincing Israel to refrain from its own strike on Iran — for which the IAF has proclaimed its readiness — than a genuine demonstration of an American will to act to forestall the threat,” Tobin wrote in an op-ed. But the senior online editor of the neo-Conservative publication said the answers to all questions surrounding Shapiro’s statements would be answered in no time.
” … Rather than judge the administration on its words, it is far wiser to judge them on what happens in the coming negotiations,” Tobin continued in “Was Ambassador’s Iran Threat Credible?” “If, as the Iranians expect, the EU, Russia and China, with President Obama, as always, leading from behind, make ‘progress’ in the coming weeks toward a deal that will leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, we will know the ambassador’s statement was merely an empty threat.”