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Insiders: Even With Obama Win, Israel Won't Dial Back Rhetoric on Striking Iran

Hagel top choice as next Defense secretary, then Carter, Danzig, Flournoy.


President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office at the White House on March 5, 2012.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Even though President Obama has secured a second term, 70 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders do not believe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will dial back his rhetoric on the possibility of a military strike to derail Iran's nuclear program.

Netanyahu was widely thought to have supported a Mitt Romney rise to the White House, and Obama's reelection has cast a spotlight on his own relationship with the prime minister, which has grown frostier in recent months as the White House urged the Jewish state to hold off on preemptive military action and allow sanctions and diplomacy more time.


"The threat of a military strike is one of Israel's greatest sources of leverage on the Iran issue--over not only the United States, but also Europe and China as well," one Insider said. "Netanyahu is not going to stop exercising that leverage."

Netanyahu views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel, another Insider said. "He wants all Israelis and allies (the U.S.) to share this view and its ultimate solution: military action."

One Insider said Netanyahu's tough rhetoric on Iran has become a matter of credibility. "He can't dial it back," the Insider said, noting that Netanyahu is facing elections in late January. "But his public rhetoric is less of a concern than whether he will oppose, or seek to undermine, additional negotiations with Iran--especially direct U.S.-Iranian talks."


Thirty percent of Insiders do believe Netanyahu will take a more conciliatory approach--at least for now. If the Iranians take action that Netanyahu perceives as a direct threat to Israel, one Insider said, he may feel forced to act against Iran, with or without tacit U.S. approval.

Another Insider said Netanyahu may dial down pressure on Obama, but he will increasingly turn to his allies in Congress. "Obama should use the next four years doing what he should have done in his first four years: putting enormous pressure on Israel to resolve the Palestinian crisis," the Insider said.

National Security Insiders were divided over who would be best suited to take over the post of Defense secretary if Leon Panetta retires as planned next year. The biggest faction of Insiders, by a slight margin, would prefer former moderate Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, whom Obama befriended when they traveled overseas together as senators. "Chuck Hagel is often the only adult in the room," one Insider said. "He would be a superb choice, though he might not want to give up his comfortable post-Senate existence to take on the grief of managing the Pentagon in a time of austerity."

Hagel is a Vietnam War veteran who showed "great intelligence and courage by standing up against his party and opposing the war in Iraq," one Insider said, "which means he will have the credibility and fortitude to stand up against the generals." The Insider also said the former senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has always been cautious about the prospect of war with Iran--and Hagel and his wife also have a close personal relationship with the Obamas. His nomination would also continue the tradition of putting members of the opposite party in that position, the Insider added.


About 20 percent of Insiders would like to see Ashton Carter, current deputy Defense secretary, fill the position. "Carter is a pro who can handle the coming budgetary challenges at the department. He has earned his stripes and is the best fit for the big job," one Insider said.

Michele Flournoy, who was Defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 until February of this year, gained 18.5 percent of Insiders' support. So did former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who has been a key national-security adviser in the Obama campaign.

"Although I'm all for bipartisanship, Democratic presidents have a habit of punting on the secretary of Defense position, nominating Republicans. The last Republican president to name a Democrat to this position, albeit the secretary of War, was Abe Lincoln," one Insider who supported Flournoy said. "President Obama should nominate a Democrat, and it's time we had the first female secretary of Defense, especially someone as qualified as Flournoy."

Danzig has been an Obama loyalist from the get-go, another Insider said. "He is brilliant, has held numerous positions at DOD, and is well-liked. Perfect for a difficult job."

Some Insiders also offered up other suggestions. Among them: Senate Armed Services Commitee member Jack Reed, D-R.I.; former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn; John Hamre, former second-ranking Defense Department civilian under President Clinton; and retiring Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn. Media outlets have also reported recently that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., is being considered for the position.

1. With President Obama now secured for a second term, will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dial back his rhetoric on the possibility of a military strike on Iran?

(57 votes)

  • No 70%
  • Yes 30%


"Netanyahu is driven by Israeli politics, not by U.S. politics. He has nothing to gain by dialing back. We are in for dangerous times as a result."

"Netanyahu and Obama both have said that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Judging by press reports, they have also overseen some sensitive, joint actions against Iran, such as the offensive use of [the malware] Stuxnet and Flame. Netanyahu will probably try to force Obama's hand by seeking U.S. technical and military support for a strike."

"Netanyahu will be even more nervous about the president's sincerity, especially given press reports in Israel about Valerie Jarrett negotiating secretly with Iran behind Israel's back."

"The purposes the rhetoric has served for Netanyahu, including detracting attention from the festering conflict with the Palestinians, will persist."

"If Bibi's own re-election needs call for dialing back, he'll do it--but it won't last."

"He will seek to create fear."

"No, to the contrary, he will ratchet it up since he seems to calculate that only harsh rhetoric will get the U.S. to act."

"In the short term, maybe, but absent a deal on the Iranian nuclear program, Netanyahu is serious about striking."

"He'll dial it back so that the Iranians will begin to lower their guard not because the threat has gone away. Thus, if he decides on a unilateral strike, it won't be into alert Iranian defenses."


"Netanyahu’s strategy was to push Obama to the wall during the election in the hopes of getting his support for a strike on Iran, but Obama resisted the pressure. Alternatively, Netanyahu was doing everything he could to get his former business partner [Romney] elected president. That didn’t happen. Instead, he’s now facing an Obama who’s not running for reelection, an Obama who no longer has to suffer his abuse, and an Obama who can ignore Netanyahu’s warmongering. So while he dials down the pressure on Obama, he’ll increase it on Congress, long in Israel’s pocket. And Obama should use the next four years doing what he should have done in his first four years: putting enormous pressure on Israel to resolve the Palestinian crisis."

"If he wants support he will need to do it through a personal relationship. My guess is he goes silent and whatever happens will have an element of surprise."

"Bibi is a pragmagtist at heart and knows his limits. He also understands that Israeli interests are not American interests, despite his rhetoric."

2.Who should succeed Leon Panetta to become the next Defense secretary?

(57 votes)

  • Chuck Hagel 28%
  • Ashton Carter 20%
  • Richard Danzig 18.5%
  • Michele Flournoy 18.5%
  • Other 15%

Chuck Hagel

"Need someone with both military, political experience and [who has] run a private business. Only Hagel has all three."

"The others have never served."

"Defense expertise is important, but we surely need someone at the top like Panetta, who has a deep understanding of domestic politics and lots of credibility on the Hill."

"Stature, experience, political sense, and common sense."

"Any of these fine individuals could become secretary of Defense, but Chuck Hagel is a good way to add bipartisanship to the Cabinet."

Ashton Carter

"Carter has deep defense policy and technology experience, has gained recent experience in acquisition, and is level-headed and nonideological. Flournoy is equally clear-thinking about policy, but she lacks technology and acquisition experience. Hagel is respected but lacks the analytical wherewithal to be secretary. Danzig is brilliant but has long been narrowly focused on biodefense matters."

"His strengths go far beyond mastery of the budget, but that will be job one for the new secretary."

"Carter has great experience with the acquisition world and would be a good choice to succeed Panetta if the administration is serious about acquisition and requirements reform. I expect Ms. Flournoy to be the choice, but I think Mr. Carter would be best positioned to lead the DOD forward."

"Ash Carter would be terrific, in the mold of his mentor Bill Perry."

Richard Danzig

"Danzig is incredibly bright and thoughtful."

"Richard enjoys respect from the military, is a balance-of-power centrist, and knows Asia well. NOT choosing him will say reams about the second term."

Michele Flournoy

"Michele is a fantastic leader and would be a terrific secretary of Defense."

"Carter not getting good reviews from insiders in Pentagon (military and civilians). Hamre also in play."

"Michele has all the right credentials and has served multiple tours in DOD. She is the right person for the job--man or woman."


"Panetta's replacement needs to be and likely will be a name that America recognizes. While candidates on your list are highly intelligent and competent, they are not household names. The White House may look more for others."

"Jack Reed."

"Former Sen. Sam Nunn."

"All the people listed are part of the problem: the war-inclined, cosseted Beltway defense-policy elite. I vote for hope and change: How about MIT's Cindy Williams?"

"John Hamre."

"Joe Lieberman."

National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.

Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Mackenzie Eaglen, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.

This article appears in the November 15, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.

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