By Adam Levine
President Obama's speech on Sunday didn't go any further do explain where the red line is when it comes to Iran seeking nuclear weapon capability, but the speech did lay down the U.S. position clearly for the generally hawkish and conservative audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on Sunday.
The president said the U.S. and Israel are on the same page in assessing that "Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon," but the two countries do not necessarily agree on how close is too close.
"The question is, where the decision is made as to when the as to when the Iranians are actually acquiring it. The Israelis see them approaching the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability. And the Israeli point of view, they can't wait until they actually go to get a bomb whereas Obama with 5,000 nuclear weapons Continental United States, superpower, is in a more comfortable position, and then say, if we see the Iranians going for a bomb, that's when we'll act," former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday.
Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman said there is "a strong likelihood" that Israel will strike Iran in 2012. Bergman, the senior political and military analyst for Israel's most widely read newspaper, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN's Fareed Zakarai GPS that his assessment was based on discussions with "many of the Israeli leaders and chiefs of the intelligence and the military."
"I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran during 2012, because Iran is getting too close to what was coined by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak as the zone of immunity," Bergman said on the show. "This is this specific point on the timeline, after which Iran nuclear sites are going to become immune to an Israeli strike."
"Iran is something like nine months away from entering this so-called zone of immunity," Bergman said.
Bergman said that covert actions that have delayed Iranian nuclear projects have "exceeded or exhausted their ability, and Iran is accelerating toward its ability to produce the first nuclear weapon device."
Iran has stepped up its enrichment program, according to the most recent report from inspectors who visited Iran in February. But the increase was in volume of enriched uranium, there was no suggestion Iran had moved to further enrich to a level that would be useable in a nuclear weapon.
As far as the U.S. intelligence community is concerned, or at least willing to publicly say, Iran has yet to make the decision to go ahead and develop a nuclear weapon, though it has the capability to create one should it chose so.
As Obama looks to try to exhaust diplomatic possibilities before military ones, he did provide the AIPAC crowd with a clearer stance on his position on Iran. Below are some of the highlights:
Clarity on containment: "Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
Military option: "I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency."
"And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."
Israel acting on its own: "They should not doubt Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs."
The place for diplomacy: "I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed."
"Iran's leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end. And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice. But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically."