Clinton Remarks Worry Israel

Clinton says U.S. would respond to Iran nukes with defense umbrella for its allies; Israel unhappy with hint U.S. is resigned to Iranian A-bomb.

Gil Ronen,

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
Israel news photo: (file)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that if Iran continued with its nuclear program despite President Barack Obama's overtures, her country would respond by increasing its military aid to friendly nations in the region.
Israel, which prefers an offensive approach to the Iranian danger rather than a defensive one, was unhappy with the remarks.

In 2007, the U.S. agreed to provide weapons worth at least $16 billion to its allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Clinton said this could be taken a step further and the U.S. could choose to further "upgrade the defense of our partners in the region".

"If the US extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon," said Mrs. Clinton in Thailand, ahead of an Asian security conference to be held in the Thai resort of Phuket.

Israel unhappy
Mrs. Clinton said that her country "still hold[s] the door open" to talks with Tehran, but added the "nuclear clock is ticking". She also reiterated a statement she made several weeks ago, regarding "crippling action" that could also be taken against Iran.

"I heard without enthusiasm the American declarations according to which the U.S. will defend their allies in the event that Iran uses nuclear weapons, as if they were already resigned to such a possibility," Israeli Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor said.

"This is a mistake," he added. "We cannot act now by assuming that Iran will be able to arm itself with a nuclear weapon, but [rather] to prevent such a possibility."

Clinton clarifies
Clinton later clarified her remarks and explained that they did not signal a change in U.S. policy. "I am simply pointing out that Iran needs to understand that its pursuit of nuclear weapons will not advance its security," she said. "It faces the prospect, if it pursues nuclear weapons, of sparking an arms race in the region.”

NPR quoted Flynt Leverett, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., as saying that Clinton's idea of providing a defense umbrella over the Gulf is not a new one. She discussed it during the Democratic Party’s primaries has mentioned it again since then, the expert claimed.

Leverett explained that "The Israelis' preferred way to stop [the Iranian nuclear program] would be to launch a military strike. For them, this is troubling because it raises questions about whether the U.S. would ever be willing to launch a strike or to let them do it.”

Robert Malley, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, also told NPR that Secretary Clinton's comments do not mean that the U.S. has accepted a nuclear-armed Iran as inevitable.