Barack Obama
Barack ObamaWhite House

While publicly announcing that it "will not be complicit" in an Israeli strike and telling Iran it will not join such an attack, the U.S. may declare certain "red lines" that would trigger a U.S. attack if crossed by Iran, according to TheNew York Times.

The Obama Administration is trying to put pressure on Iran through tightening economic sanctions, placing of missile defense systems in Qatar, and weighing the launching of more cyber-attacks like Stuxnet, the newspaper reports. In addition, the administration is considering "new declarations by President Obama about what might bring about American military action, as well as covert activities that have been previously considered and rejected."

Obama's advisers appear to be reacting mostly to Israeli pressure on the subject, if one is to judge by the report. The talk of "declarations" may be a direct reaction to Netanyahu's demand Sunday for the drawing up of clear "red lines" that would constitute a casus belli if Iran should cross them. 

"The question of how explicit Mr. Obama’s warnings to Iran should be is still a subject of internal debate, closely tied to election-year politics," the Times explains. "Some of Mr. Obama’s advisers have argued that Israel needs a stronger public assurance that he is willing to take military action, well before Iran actually acquired a weapon. But other senior officials have argued that Israel is trying to corner Mr. Obama into a military commitment that he does not yet need to make.

"All of these options are designed to buy time — to offer Israeli officials a credible alternative to a military strike that would almost certainly trigger an Iranian reaction and, the White House and Pentagon fear, could unleash a new conflict in the Middle East."

The reason Obama wants to buy time is, almost certainly, the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Obama does not want Israel to strike before the election because he believes this could harm his chances at winning. A war in the Middle East could cause a global economic crisis and Obama could come under severe criticism for mishandling the Iranian situation and allowing things to deteriorate as they did.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, said last week that the U.S. would not assist Israel if it attacked Iran on its own. However, if Obama does not step into the fray to help Israel, the U.S. public, which is largely pro-Israel, may punish him at the polling booth. Obama may believe that once he is re-elected, most of the pressure on him to take action against Iran will disappear.

Israel, for its part, is concerned that if Obama is reelected, he will be freer to take tough steps to actively prevent Israel from attacking Iran, while not taking effective action against Iran's nuclear weapons himself, thus exposing Israel to an immediate threat of a nuclear Holocaust.