Shoval: Israel seeking US benchmarks on Iran action

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My colleague Barbara Slavin reports:

Former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval said Tuesday that Israel does not consider itself a Middle Eastern country but “a Mediterranean” one more attuned to Greece, Italy and potentially Turkey again.

Shoval, who is close to Israel’s governing Likud party, suggested before a small group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that Israelis are resigned to remaining the odd man out in the region especially as Islamic governments come into power in neighboring states.

“The trend is clear and not very hopeful for Israel and the world as a whole,” he said.

He also suggested that the US won’t make a nuclear deal with Iran that Israel doesn’t approve of, saying that such “a deal may break apart…if Israel is not satisfied with it.”

According to Shoval, the level of “coordination [between the US and Israel on Iran] has gone to a much higher degree in the last few weeks,” but Israel still would like President Barack Obama to be more explicit about the “red lines” that Iran must not cross or face military strikes.

Israel is seeking “a credible threat with benchmarks, not dates,” he said. However, Shoval did not clarify what those benchmarks should be.

While the United States and Israel “may not be [in] exact agreement on what constitutes a ‘red line’ … the military option being advocated by the Israelis is considerably more limited and lower risk than some of those that have been publicly debated,” David Rothkopf wrote at Foreign Policy Tuesday, describing the Israelis apparently advocating for a joint US-Israeli surgical strike on Iran enrichment facilities.

But two former senior Obama administration officials were dismissive that such a scenario would have much traction with Washington. US defense sources have indicated that, should the US decide to move to military action against Iran, it is unlikely to conduct joint action with the Israelis, or to recommend a limited campaign of surgical strikes, that is unlikely to but delay the program while still incurring high risk of retaliation and Iran’s kicking out nuclear inspectors.

Shoval’s remarks Tuesday came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced new Israeli elections, early next year.

--With Laura Rozen