Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012

Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012

In asymmetric alliances, a superior state provides security to a weaker ally, who in exchange surrenders its autonomy to its stronger protector. But what happens when the weaker state’s vital interests clash with its stronger ally’s preferences? In 2011…

Book Review Roundtable: America’s Hot and Cold Relationship with Its Counterterrorism Partners

Book Review Roundtable: America’s Hot and Cold Relationship with Its Counterterrorism Partners

Stephen Tankel's new book, With Us and Against Us, looks at the troubled relationship between America and its counterterrorism partners in the Middle East and North Africa.

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban

Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan.…

Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement?

Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement?

With ISIL having lost the bulk of its territory in Iraq and Syria, we asked a group of experts what comes next for the jihadist movement.

The International Order and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

The International Order and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

The international order is not just an abstract concept, but rather is of concrete value to U.S. national security, as exemplified by America's policy toward Iran.

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                    [post_content] => In 2011 and 2012, Israel repeatedly indicated that it was fast approaching the point when it might take unilateral military action against Iran’s advancing nuclear program, before Iranian capabilities became resilient to an Israeli attack. In a shift from its previous policy, which characterized Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a global challenge, Israel now strongly indicated that it might be forced to take it upon itself to stop Iran’s nuclear advances — and that an attack could be imminent. Led and articulated almost exclusively by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — himself a former prime minister — this new posture created deep concern in Washington, where it was thought that an Israeli attack could ignite a regional war and jeopardize key U.S. interests. Indeed, Israel had created a war scare, which was designed to enhance its bargaining power with the United States. Israel then tried to leverage its enhanced position to get its senior ally to urgently make an explicit, credible, and binding commitment to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — by military force if necessary — beyond what President Barack Obama had already stated.[1] Israel effectively attempted to influence, and even force, the United States to realign according to Israeli interests and strategic constraints, thus producing one of the tensest periods in the history of the two countries’ relationship. Drawing on open-source material and original interviews with former senior Israeli and U.S. officials, this article seeks to explain the ultimate outcome of that strategic interaction.

The overarching theme of international relations and foreign affairs pertains to actors’ efforts to shape their strategic environment and control outcomes. Alliances are one of the major tools states employ in this regard,[2] whether to accumulate power, deter adversaries,[3] pursue their quest for security in the international system,[4] or restrain others.[5] Although all alliances function “in the shadow of war,”[6] scholars distinguish between two major categories — defensive peacetime alliances and offensive wartime alliances. Whereas peacetime alliances are designed to aggregate military power to deter and prevent aggression, wartime alliances are formed to fight a common adversary. Of course, the same alliance can engage in defensive and offensive missions.[7]

The 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerstone famously asserted that the United Kingdom had neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies but eternal and perpetual interests.[8] Indeed, at the core of alliance politics is the fact that no two states, including close allies, share eternal, perfectly overlapping interests.[9] Yet, alliances require some measure of commitment to use force. This means that alliance formation and management are shaped by a bargaining process animated by the willingness and ability of the actors involved to offer or extract credible commitments. Whether in the context of threats or promises, to be perceived as credible, commitments require self-enforcing obligations that visibly undercut an actor’s flexibility in a way that convinces another actor (friend or foe) that the one making the commitment is, without question, tied to a certain course of action. To appear credible, commitments require measures that decision-makers will often hesitate or refuse to take. These can include explicit public statements and inherently costly military moves, such as alerting forces, canceling leave for military personnel, and moving units closer to a potential theater of operations.[10] Classic, symmetric alliances between states of roughly equal capability are used as tools for aggregating capabilities against a threat, meaning that both partners receive security from their alliance.[11] To appear meaningful, allies engaged in symmetric alliances are required to undercut their own freedom of action through self-enforcing obligations and realignment according to their partner’s interests.[12] This renders alliances a source of concern for their members, who often fear that their allies’ preferences and interests might ultimately come at the expense of their own. A state entering into an alliance could become the victim of entrapment by an ally deliberately seeking to embroil it in war. Conversely, having trusted the ally and counted on its support, a state could be abandoned in a time of need.[13] Alliance commitments could also inadvertently embolden an otherwise risk-averse ally and result in what Glenn Snyder describes as an alliance security dilemma: This occurs when states provide an ally with too sweeping a reassurance in order to deter a third actor, only to become entrapped in war.[14] This inherent tension between allies’ interests and preferences constitutes the essence of alliance politics.

These perceived problems are further exacerbated in asymmetric settings. If symmetric alliances provide their members with security, asymmetric alliances provide the weaker ally with security and the stronger partner with autonomy.[15] While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. Entrapment — or “chain-ganging” — looms large in such relationships, with both sides afraid of falling prey, albeit for different reasons. Having traded its autonomy, the weak ally fears that its partner’s military superiority provides overwhelming leverage and jeopardizes its independence.[16] By contrast, the senior ally worries that its counterpart might exploit its superior capabilities, initiate a crisis, and manipulate it into coming to its aid. This concern, however, appears greatly exaggerated given the variety of ways strong allies are capable of mobilizing their resources and exploiting their leverage to shield themselves from entrapment or rein in a weaker ally. Jeremy Pressman has found that when strong allies mobilize their superior resources to restrain a weaker ally, they prevail.[17] Also, powerful allies use their stronger bargaining power to introduce escape clauses into their alliance agreements and arm-twist their partners into compliance.[18] In this vein, Michael Beckley has found that, while the fear of entrapment may be prevalent in international relations literature, in reality, it is rare. Drawing on an extensive empirical analysis of the vast U.S. alliance network, Beckley has shown that the United States successfully dictates the terms of its security commitments.[19] This finding is congruent with Tongfi Kim’s argument that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power.[20] The historical record indicates that Israel, which greatly depends on the United States, fits into this pattern.[21] After all, as Henry Kissinger remarked, “For Israel to go to war at the known displeasure of the U.S. would be a monumental decision.”[22]

[quote id="7"]

This, of course, does not mean that weak allies lack ways of influencing their senior allies. As Robert Keohane has pointed out, superior capabilities do not guarantee full or automatic small-ally compliance with the interests and desires of senior allies. Weak allies are sometimes capable of exploiting mutual dependence to generate bargaining power. If the weaker ally is sufficiently important to its partner, it could deny benefits to its senior ally and even “threaten collapse if not aided sufficiently.”[23] Writing about the U.S. alliance system during the Cold War, Keohane argued that U.S. perception of its weak allies’ importance gave them “a degree of influential access to American decision-making and decision-makers far out of proportion to their size.”[24] Keohane identified three avenues through which America’s weaker allies shaped U.S. policy: formal state-to-state negotiations, bargaining with separable elements of the U.S. government, and using private interest groups to influence domestic public opinion.[25] Notably, Keohane focused on relatively limited small-power influence, and some scholars argue that entrapment has caused major wars, namely World War I, in which the European powers chain-ganged one another into disaster.[26]

Israel’s relationship with the United States has attracted special scholarly attention given the power disparity between the two countries and Israel’s perceived capacity to punch above its weight. Expanding on Keohane’s work, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt attribute the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to its influence over Congress.[27]

That the empirical record does not reveal unambiguous cases of entrapment is of little relevance or consolation for states fearing future entrapment. Leaders are afraid of becoming the exception to this rule. Moreover, the prevailing fear of being chain-ganged to a reckless ally can be deliberately manipulated by a weaker ally in a purposeful effort to bolster its bargaining position and improve the terms of the alliance. This effort could even have coercive attributes. Ultimately, this means tying the other ally into a stronger commitment and limiting its freedom of action. The literature on alliance politics so far has overlooked the manner in which a country might seek to deliberately exploit an ally’s fear of entrapment as an instrument of bargaining. This article tells the story of just that.

The episode analyzed in this article offers an exceptional opportunity to advance an understanding of coercive bargaining in an asymmetric alliance. After all, Israel and the United States are considered extremely close, and both were opposed to Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. When it came to confronting the Iranian challenge, however, not only did their interests, constraints, and preferences not overlap, but the issue was also one in which the stakes were extremely high for both sides — potentially even existential for Israel. This led both parties — perhaps Israel more than the United States — to bring their influence to bear on the other.

In this article, I offer a rigorous examination of the strategic interaction and the intense bargaining that took place between Israel and the United States in 2011 and 2012. Ultimately, neither country attacked Iran, but this result was not preordained. Nor was Tehran’s and Washington’s preparedness to engage in direct diplomacy inevitable, though this led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nonetheless, this outcome cannot be fully understood without first understanding the strategic interaction that preceded diplomacy. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this topic is of acute relevance.

Israeli and U.S. Perspectives on the Iranian Nuclear Question

Different states, including close allies, do not view threats in the same way. Interests and preferences in international politics diverge because all countries operate under disparate strategic circumstances, confront different threats, possess specific military capabilities to cope with those threats, and face unique constraints. Allies are no different. Rarely will allies feel equally threatened by the same challenge. These structural tensions were on full display over the Iran nuclear issue. Although Israel and the United States generally shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining military nuclear capability, the prospect of a nuclear Iran posed a graver threat to Israel than to the militarily preponderant and geographically distant United States. The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Importantly, they differed on what constituted the nuclear threshold. For Israel, the threshold represented the stage at which Iran — having hardened and dispersed its nuclear program to render it resilient to an Israeli strike — could, if it so chose, “break out” and produce a bomb in a short period of time. For Obama, however, the threshold represented not Iran’s potential to break out, but the act itself.[28] The United States had been imposing sanctions on Iran unilaterally since 1979 and through the U.N. Security Council since 2006. However significant and painful for Iran, these sanctions were nonetheless relatively limited in scope, focusing primarily on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.[29] Israel, however, called for the urgent imposition of far-reaching sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector. In early 2010, for example, Netanyahu demanded that “crippling sanctions” be imposed “right now.”[30] [quote id="1"] Although Obama had entered the White House determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including, he said, with military force if necessary, he was determined to achieve this outcome through diplomacy and direct engagement.[31] As part of this approach, the U.S. financial pressure campaign on Iran, begun in 2006, was put on hold in 2009 and not fully resumed until mid-2010.[32] Weeks into his presidency, having already secretly reached out to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the election campaign, Obama sent two additional letters to Khamenei. While Iran’s leader responded to Obama’s first letter, he never replied to the second letter, in which the president had proposed direct talks between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.[33] Meanwhile, quiet efforts were being exerted by Oman to establish a secret line of communication between the United States and Iran. While Oman’s efforts with the State Department reached an impasse, Sen. John Kerry used Oman to convey messages to Tehran in 2011 and the first half of 2012.[34] Israel, which had picked up on these secret contacts and found them troubling, leaked them to the Israeli press in April 2012.[35] As Barak would later tell this author, “We knew quite a bit about the informal, indirect contacts between the Americans and the Iranians. ... I was very concerned that the American tone was not sufficiently clear so as to bring the Iranians to a decision.”[36] It was not until March 2013, however, that a direct and permanent diplomatic back-channel in Oman was established between Iran and the United States.[37] All this time, Iran continued to develop its uranium enrichment capabilities. In late September 2009, Obama publicly disclosed that Tehran had been constructing a secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant near Fordow, a village northeast of the city of Qom.[38] This “constituted the final straw for the administration, which now had no choice but to go into pressure mode again,” according to former senior Treasury official Juan Zarate. In the fall of 2009, Obama sought to restart the financial pressure campaign on Iran but decided to first seek a new U.N. resolution mandating tougher sanctions — a process that lasted several months.[39] In June 2010, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which constituted the strictest round of sanctions up to that point. The resolution noted “the potential connection between Iran’s revenues derived from its energy sector and the funding of Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”[40] This language would eventually pave the way for a full EU embargo on Iranian oil.[41] It was against the backdrop of increasingly aggressive international pressure on Iran that the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. Placing significant new restrictions on Iran’s energy sector, the legislation stipulated that banks conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran could not do business in the United States.[42] Still, at this stage in 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department was pursuing a “gradualist constriction campaign” designed to avoid “blunt steps that would upset the balance of the international financial system” or cause U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, who depended heavily on Iranian oil imports, to resist cooperation with tougher sanctions.[43] As I discuss later in this article, additional pressure would be needed to influence the White House to unleash measures long referred to by the Treasury as the “final bullet” and “the nuclear weapon” in its arsenal: an oil embargo and sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.[44] At least part of this pressure and its outcome can be attributed to Israeli influence. Divergence of Interests Within the U.S.-Israel Alliance In November 2011, Israeli Defense Minister Barak began stressing that, in less than a year, “probably three-quarters,” Iran’s nuclear program would enter a “zone of immunity,” effectively rendering it resilient to an Israeli attack.[45] Unlike Israel, the United States possessed advanced munitions capable of penetrating Iran’s fortified installations, as well as the bomber jets to deliver them. Therefore, the United States would remain capable of executing a decisive military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities long after they had become invulnerable to an Israeli assault. Or, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Barak, whereas Israel could give the Iranians only “a black eye,” the United States had the military capability to “deliver the knockout punch” and “take out Fordow.”[46] The two allies were thus operating on different timetables. In March 2012, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu warned,
Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.[47]
Days later, he explained, “The biggest difference is between the American clock ... and the Israeli clock,” adding that, “America is big and far away; we aren’t as big and are more nearby. We have different capabilities — nothing to belittle — but nonetheless different.”[48] Washington’s opposition to a military strike was driven by indisputable strategic constraints. The United States was engaged militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. With two military commitments already underway, Obama — now entering an election year — was averse to risking a third war involving an oil-rich country in a particularly sensitive part of the world, with potentially ominous implications for global energy markets. As the United States was well aware, these constraints were not lost on Israel. In August 2012, the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, ran a front-page report by its two most senior columnists in which they argued that, if it were up to Netanyahu and Barak, a military strike would take place “before the November elections in the United States.”[49] Obama was therefore particularly vulnerable to Israeli manipulation and exploitation. According to former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, “The perception in Washington was that the Israeli leadership — especially Netanyahu — saw their leverage as greatest in the run-up to the 2012 elections.”[50] The United States was clearly concerned that its junior ally might simply present it with a fait accompli, a worry exacerbated by Israel’s determination to keep the United States at arm’s length. In March 2012, after a U.S. official had already warned, “We don’t have perfect visibility” into Israel’s arsenal or calculations,[51] the Washington Post cited U.S. officials as noting that “no formal agreement has been reached with Israel over how a strike would be conducted — or when Obama would be informed about it.” Other officials added that the “assumption inside the White House and the Pentagon is that Israel would not give the United States warning, allowing the administration to deny prior knowledge but also limiting its ability to defend U.S. military assets in the region.”[52] [quote id="2"] From a U.S. perspective, if Israel was indeed planning unilateral action in a deliberate attempt to entrap the United States in the ensuing conflict, the question of whether Israel possessed the military capability to achieve a substantial delay in Iran’s nuclear program was of less importance. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has noted that if Israel attacked the “disbursed and hardened” Iranian nuclear program, “there would be many of us in government thinking that the purpose of the raid wasn’t to destroy the Iranian nuclear system, but the purpose of the raid was to put us at war with Iran.”[53] Indications of U.S. fear of entrapment appeared in real time. In February 2012, a front-page New York Times article cited defense analysts in Washington as questioning “whether Israel even has the military capacity” to attack Iran. The report said, “One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America’s far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks.”[54] The following month, Panetta told U.S. troops that “if Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want.”[55] Was Israel indeed contemplating such an attack only to embroil its senior ally in a war? It seems that way. According to Barak, in the summer of 2012 he was approached by a Netanyahu confidant who sounded him out on launching a strike on Iran two weeks before the U.S. elections. Barak recalls the person explaining that, politically, Obama would feel “compelled to support Israel’s action, or at the very least to refrain from criticizing it. In other words, we would be setting a political trap for the president of the United States.”[56] From a U.S. standpoint, Israel was militarily capable of dodging its surveillance capabilities and presenting it with an established fact. Panetta, who had served as CIA director before being appointed secretary of defense, noted in this regard that, although the United States “had sources that could provide some pretty good intelligence on whether or not that kind of attack was being prepared for,” a country “as sophisticated as Israel” could have found ways to “effectively cover up that kind of possibility, because they know that we have those kinds of sources.”[57] Daniel B. Shapiro, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, added, “We were pretty certain that if they didn't give us warning we would not have advance warning. They were fully capable of surprising the U.S. and give us not more than an hour or two’s notice."[58] While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. Jerusalem was especially concerned that, as Tehran’s nuclear program became increasingly dispersed and resilient, Israel would become dependent upon others — namely the United States — for the elimination of a potentially existential threat. Yet, this was precisely what Israel’s senior ally was asking. As Panetta would later write, “Israel had to trust that we would act if the time came, that we would not flinch at the moment of truth even if the graver threat was not to the United States but to Israel. That’s a lot of trust to place in an ally, even a close and historic ally.”[59] From Israel’s perspective, even if Obama was sincere about not removing any option from the table, he was still, in a sense, bluffing. As Barak reported telling Obama in 2012,
There are no future contracts in statesmanship. There’s no way that you, or any leader, can commit yourself to what will happen in a year or two. When the moment of decision arrives, nothing will be able to free you from your responsibility to look at the situation as it is then, with American interests in mind.
Barak further told Obama that when “it comes to issues critical for the security and future of Israel, and in a way for the security of the Jewish people … we can’t afford to delegate responsibility even to our best friend and ally.” Alluding to the United States, Barak went on to stress: “Our problem, Mr. President, is that we can’t be sure our friend will show up.”[60] From Israel’s vantage point, if Israel were ever to lose its credible military option against Iran, it “would no longer be an actor” in the Iranian context.[61] In other words, having lost its military options, leverage, and bargaining power, Israel’s interests would become less of a factor, including in U.S. policy considerations. As Barak later put it, while stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was a “vital interest” for Israel, it was only “an important interest” for the United States.[62] Given the stakes for each country, this made for an impossible situation for both sides. With limited direct leverage over Iran, Israel sought to harness the militarily superior United States in the service of forcing Tehran to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and risking devastating economic sanctions and possibly even a military attack. Israel thus sought to limit Obama’s flexibility and wrest an explicit, credible U.S. commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — in other words, a commitment Iran would take seriously. Of course, given the prerequisites for credibility in international relations, Obama was essentially being asked by the United States’ junior ally to restrict his maneuverability and control. This perception was precisely why the Obama administration resisted Israel’s efforts. Israel’s leaders proceeded to present the United States with two explicit demands. First, Israel wanted Washington to lead an international effort to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran. As noted, Israel demanded broad sanctions that would go beyond those that had already been implemented. Jerusalem wanted sanctions that would cripple Iran’s energy and financial sectors. To prod its ally into action, Israel’s defense minister declared in November 2011, “We are probably facing the last opportunity for internationally coordinated deadly sanctions that will force Iran to stop.” Specifically, Barak called for “sanctions on the financial transactions, on the ability to carry out international financial deals, including the Central Bank, sanctions that stop — physically if needed — the import and export of oil and refinements.”[63] That Israel was expecting the United States to lead this effort was reflected in the words of a “senior Israeli official” cited the next day as having said, “The name of the game now is the ability of U.S. President Obama to gather the leaderships of important countries such as Germany, France, Canada, and Australia in a coalition, and rein in Russia and China to impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran.”[64] That same demand was repeated in a coercive, yet informal, fashion, which implicitly threatened to entrap the United States in a conflict with Iran: Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said Israel was communicating an “important signal” to Washington, Moscow, and Beijing: “Either you impose truly painful sanctions to block Iran’s race to a bomb, with minimum cost to all of us, or we will be forced to act and then we will all pay the price.”[65] Coming from a well-connected analyst, these words almost certainly reflected a briefing by a senior official. Second, Israel expected the United States to establish a credible military threat against Iran or, in the words of Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, to take measures that would make “the Iranian regime understand that if it does not stop its military nuclear program someone will attack it.”[66] Referring to the U.S. position toward Iran, an Israeli official asked, “There are a lot of general statements they [the United States] think we want to hear… How are the Iranians to understand that if they don’t stop then they will eventually get hit?”[67] On another occasion, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times, in reference to the Obama administration, that “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they [the Iranians] have to hear it publicly and clearly.”[68] From Israel’s standpoint, a credible U.S. military threat that Iran would take seriously required a credible Israeli military threat that the United States would take seriously.

A History of the Iran Debate Before October 2011

Israeli concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of nuclear-weapons capability dates to the 1990s. Although in subsequent years, especially during President George W. Bush’s second term, U.S. concern would emerge regarding the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, no stage was as intense and urgent as that of late 2011. Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. Nor had the United States engaged in such forceful dissuasion efforts toward Israel as it would in the period discussed in this article. Although Iran’s perceived quest for military nuclear capability had long been a topic of debate and concern, Israel deliberately presented it as a global challenge rather than a challenge for Israel alone. Israeli policy maintained that the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be led by the entire international community.[69] At the same time, however, Israel was also investing in a military option against Iran. In mid-2008, media reports began to emerge about atypically large-scale, Israeli aerial exercises. These were widely interpreted as rehearsals for a preventive strike on Iran. But if these drills were designed to create the impression that Israel might be preparing to target Iran, such intentions were undercut by statements that Israel was still giving precedence to diplomacy and economic sanctions and that it would not surprise its U.S. ally with a unilateral military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In May 2008, Bush reportedly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request for a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.[70] That same month, Israel presented the United States with several arms requests, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates saw as presaging a military attack on Iran. “I recommended saying no to all the Israelis’ requests,” Gates later recalled. “Giving them any of the items on their new list would signal U.S. support for them to attack Iran unilaterally.”[71] Gates also worried that U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s arms requests would have provided it with a dangerous degree of autonomy to act independently against Iran and thus grant it leverage over the United States. “I said we would be handing over the initiative regarding U.S. vital national interests to a foreign power,” he noted.[72] Gates believes it was “probably not coincidental” that on June 2, 2008, the Israeli Air Force conducted a major exercise that included more than a hundred fighter jets, helicopters, and refueling tankers.[73] On June 20, the New York Times reported the unusual Israeli aerial mission and cited U.S. officials as describing the exercise, in which the planes had flown from Israel to Greece and back, as a multi-pronged Israeli signal. “They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” a Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”[74] Whether the exercise was intended as an Israeli signal to its principal ally, it was perceived as such in Washington. As Gates later wrote,
The Israelis held a military exercise they knew would be monitored by many nations. … The distance the fighters flew was 862 nautical miles. The distance from the Israeli airfield to the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was 860 nautical miles. Israel wanted to signal that it was prepared for a strike and could carry it out.[75]
At the same time, however, U.S. officials ruled out an imminent Israeli attack on Iran.[76] Moreover, Israel signaled it would adhere to diplomacy,[77] confirming that military action was not in the offing.[78] Still, Israel’s efforts to establish a military option persisted. In 2009, a French weekly revealed that the Israeli Air Force carried out another large-scale military rehearsal — this time, over the Strait of Gibraltar, some 1,800 miles from Israel.[79] However, an Israeli intelligence official commenting on the matter just two weeks before the French report said that it was unlikely Israel would attack Iran without receiving at least tacit U.S. approval.[80] Moreover, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remarked that Israel would not attack Iran militarily even if sanctions failed. Saying that the most effective means to stop Iran were “severe sanctions, very severe sanctions,” he added, “We are not talking about a military attack.” Towing Israel’s official line, Lieberman stressed, “Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world's problems. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, assume responsibility for resolving the Iranian question.”[81] [quote id="3"] That Israel was honing its military option undoubtedly generated concern in Washington. But still, this was a general worry about the possibility that Israel would ultimately feel compelled to act unilaterally. At times, this broad concern led the United States into taking greater risks than it may have otherwise in order to reassure and restrain the Israelis. One such example is Operation Olympic Games (“Stuxnet”), in which the United States and Israel joined forces in a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. Although not the only reason, anxiety about the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran reportedly played an important role in persuading the United States to engage in the attack.[82] On March 31, 2009, Netanyahu returned to the office of prime minister, a post he had left a decade earlier. Unlike his predecessors, who portrayed Iran as a global challenge, Netanyahu described Iran as analogous to Nazi Germany.[83] As prime minister, Netanyahu would gradually “take ownership” of the Iranian issue. In 2009 and 2010, however, Israel remained committed to working together with the United States to deal with the perceived Iranian threat.[84] In July 2010, Obama was asked whether Israel might unilaterally attack Iran. He responded that Netanyahu was “committed” to a coordinated approach.[85] A year later, when Shapiro began his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel, he too found that the two countries’ national security establishments shared a “coordinated approach” toward Iran.[86] This would change within three months.

Israel’s Pressure Campaign: Generating a War Scare

The possibility of an Israeli military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities had long been a topic of speculation and concern.[87] This is not surprising given Israel’s history of preventing other countries in the Middle East from developing nuclear capability, as well as the sort of military exercises described above. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force conducted a surprise attack in which it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant at Osirak. In 2007, Israel carried out a similar attack, this time destroying a nuclear facility secretly being built in Syria.[88] The Iranian case is factually different — Israel never attacked. But it is also qualitatively different: Rather than attacking, Israel deliberately created the impression of an impending unilateral attack and then harnessed this perception in a deliberate effort to limit Obama’s flexibility, influence U.S. policy, and alter Iran’s strategic calculus. It was not until late 2011, however, that general concern about an Israeli attack on Iran turned into genuine alarm. As one television report in Israel put it, “After years of just threats, it seems that the ground has started to shake.”[89] U.S. intelligence agencies detected stepped-up activity by the Israeli military that appeared to presage a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.[90] On Oct. 3, 2011, Panetta arrived in Israel for what was described as an “urgent discussion” on Iran.[91] That the main impetus for his trip was U.S. alarm about a potential Israeli strike was reflected in Panetta’s public statement in Israel that “the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis.”[92] The United States and Israel, he added, must confront all challenges “together.”[93] In his private meetings, Panetta demanded — and was refused — early warning in the event that Israel decided to attack.[94] The U.S. sense of urgency manifested in numerous other ways. In early November, a U.S. military official said that Washington had enhanced its “watchfulness” of both Israel and Iran.[95] The United States then bolstered its contingency military planning in the Middle East and augmented its intelligence-gathering on Israel. Obama, Panetta, and other top officials conveyed a string of private messages to Israel, warning of the “dire consequences of a strike.”[96] In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies began to closely monitor Israel’s military bases and eavesdrop on its secret communications for indications of a forthcoming strike. The United States detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for a strike.[97] Other U.S. surveillance activities included spying on the prime minister’s office and hacking into Israeli drone and fighter-jet surveillance feeds in search of indications of preparations for a strike.[98] In December 2011, Shapiro drafted a cable in which he later recalled stressing that the United States “could not in any way rule out the possibility” of an uncoordinated Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.[99] That month, Panetta publicly warned that if Israel attacked Iran,
The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases. ... the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.[100]
In January 2012, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon informed Panetta that Obama’s twin foreign policy goals for that year were to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and “to avoid a war in the Middle East,”[101] the latter being the scenario the administration feared would result from an Israeli strike.[102] As senior New York Times correspondent David Sanger wrote, the “outbreak of a public debate in Israel over whether to strike soon clearly shook the Obama administration.”[103] In February 2012, Panetta spoke of a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike before June.[104] It was against this backdrop that the Associated Press wrote, “For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear program, world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent.”[105] This sense of urgency was confirmed in later interviews with multiple senior Obama administration officials, including Panetta,[106] Deputy Secretary of State William Burns,[107] National Security Council member and senior Obama adviser Gary Samore,[108] and Shapiro.[109] The following section analyzes the various tactics Israel employed to create the perception of an impending military strike, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and limit Obama’s room to maneuver. 

How Israel Generated and Harnessed the War Scare

This section explores the primary methods by which Israel exacerbated the Obama administration’s concerns and led its senior ally to infer that a unilateral military assault on Iran could be imminent. Military Moves Designed to Be Picked Up by U.S. Intelligence Israel’s efforts to manipulate Washington into thinking a strike could be imminent included sensitive military activities designed to be intercepted by the United States, as well as actions bearing an intelligence signature too noticeable to conceal. For example, according to one Israeli report citing multiple sources, Israel carried out a significant covert measure in early October 2011 that pertained to the “diplomatic-security” realm, and was widely perceived by the sources as a sign that preparations for an attack had “shifted up a gear.”[110] The report did not detail the exact nature of the covert measure, but, since then, it has been revealed that, in 2011, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were ordered to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days.[111] It was also in late 2011 that U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly had detected Israeli aircraft entering and exiting Iran’s airspace, supposedly probing the country’s air defenses. This appeared to be a dry run for a commando raid on a nuclear site and was sufficiently alarming to merit the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the region.[112] On another occasion, multiple U.S. intelligence sources said the United States had learned that Israel, through a series of quiet understandings, had been granted access to airbases across Iran’s northern border in Azerbaijan.[113] Barak himself would later acknowledge instances in which Israel was “on the verge” of an attack and units “had entered a state of preparedness,”[114] but a senior military analyst later revealed that some of these instances “were designed to motivate the U.S. administration and the Europeans to increase the pressure on Iran and bring the Americans to a stage in which they would wield a military option and would be ready to use it.”[115] Tamir Pardo, then-director of the Mossad, similarly raised the possibility that, when he was instructed in 2011 by the prime minister to enter a state of preparedness and stand ready for an attack on Iran within 15 days, Netanyahu was “signaling” to the United States “to do something.”[116] Given that the United States, as Panetta later noted, had “fail-safe methods of determining whether or not in fact planes and pilots and crews were all being prepared for action,”[117] Washington was likely receiving real-time indications of such activities. Barak later admitted that Israel was acting on the premise that Washington was capable of monitoring its activities and that the United States inferred from Israel’s intelligence efforts that “we were getting ready.”[118] Explaining the perception of an imminent strike, Barak said, “The atmosphere was a reflection of our actual real preparations. The Americans were following us, watching what we were doing and what the Air Force was rehearsing.”[119] Strict Secrecy to Achieve Message Discipline  A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences — namely Israel’s defense establishment, the cabinet, and the United States — at arm’s length. From Barak’s vantage point, keeping Israel’s establishment in the dark was crucial for the success of the campaign. Israel’s security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike, and, as Barak would later reveal, he and Netanyahu knew that some of them were talking to their U.S. counterparts “on a daily basis.”[120] By holding their cards extremely close, Netanyahu and Barak prevented leaks, maximized their message control, enhanced their credibility and bargaining leverage, and kept their various audiences guessing. Barak and Netanyahu made all cabinet members sign an additional protocol of secrecy prohibiting them not only from making statements on Iran but also from giving strictly-off-record briefings.[121] As National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror put it, “Nothing leaked because … the ministers knew nothing.” Although Amidror claims to have been one of a handful of Israelis who were truly in the know, his statement that “I personally believe they were serious, I truly believed they were not bluffing” implies that the national security adviser, too, was in the dark about Netanyahu and Barak’s actual intentions.[122] And he was not the only senior Israeli official to find himself in that position. Asked in January 2012 whether Netanyahu and Barak were truly serious about an attack, a “very high-ranking intelligence source,” likely the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, replied, “I don’t know, there are only two people who know the answer to this question, and they are Netanyahu and Barak.”[123] Two months later, a senior Israeli official said of the two men, “Together, they control this issue.”[124] [quote id="4"] When asked about the possibility that a unilateral attack was never truly intended to take place, then-Mossad Director Pardo retrospectively admitted, “The same doubts that you raise now — I had them all along.” Pardo hypothesized that “a deception at this level requires that no more than one or two people be in the loop,” meaning that, if the Israeli campaign was intentionally deceptive, the deception was conducted either by “the prime minister alone, or the prime minister and Barak. And all the rest, including yours truly, were among those who were being duped.”[125] Even if Pardo had his doubts and, referring to the possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack, “did not believe that this could happen,” he still admits that when the prime minister “tells me to commence the countdown, you realize that he is not playing games with you. These things [entering a state of preparedness] have enormous implications. It’s not something he is allowed to do only as a drill.”[126] Cabinet member Dan Meridor, who served as Israel’s intelligence minister at the time, and theoretically should have been in the know, admitted that he had “spent nights and days” with the intelligence chiefs “asking ourselves what was going to happen. … I could not just assume that it was all a show.”[127] Amos Gilead, then-Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense, similarly admits that “we will never be able to know” if Netanyahu and Barak “really meant it,” although “according to every parameter they acted as if they did.”[128] Beyond the message clarity gained by such tactics, this information asymmetry made it significantly more difficult for the United States to affect Israel’s decision-making. Israeli Refusal to Provide Advance Warning Diplomacy was the basic means by which Israel first indicated to the United States the shift in its approach toward the Iranian issue and its refusal to coordinate its moves with its senior ally. In November 2011, a top U.S. military official said that Israeli reassurances to Washington that it would receive early warning if Israel decided to strike Iran no longer seemed “ironclad.”[129] This implies that Israel had previously provided such an assurance to the United States.[130] Later that month, when Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if Israel would alert the United States ahead of an attack on Iran, he replied, “I don’t know.”[131] In January 2012, the United States received yet another powerful signal when Barak informed Panetta of Israel’s decision to call off a joint military exercise scheduled for May. A biography of Barak claims that this exercise was delayed ahead of a “decisive session” regarding Iran.[132] In his memoir, Panetta recalls pressing Barak “to reconsider the cancellation,” to which the Israeli defense minister replied that, although Israel had not yet made a decision about whether to strike Iran, “I can’t in good conscience hide the fact from our best ally that we are discussing it.”[133] Barak later recalled, “Panetta realized that Israel was serious, and asked for a two-week early warning. I told him, no. Not two weeks, and not even 24 hours. However, I did tell Panetta that we would give them a sufficiently long early warning so as to not jeopardize any American soldier in the Middle East.”[134] Whereas the cancellation was likely designed to alarm Washington, an entirely different signal was conveyed to the Israeli public. Domestically, the cancellation was falsely portrayed as a joint decision resulting from U.S. budgetary constraints and a mutual desire to avoid sending a bellicose signal to Iran.[135] Two days later, Barak told IDF Radio that an Israeli decision to attack Iran was “very far off.”[136] In other words, Barak tailored different signals to different target audiences. If Israel had intended to set off alarm bells in Washington and manipulate its anticipation of violence, it succeeded. Within days, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff landed in Israel for high-level discussions,[137] and Panetta told the Washington Post that there was a “strong likelihood” of an Israeli attack on Iran before spring 2012.[138] Media Campaign Israel’s public media campaign dates to Oct. 12, 2011, a day when the entire Israeli media agenda was dominated by the dramatic announcement of a prisoner-exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas. One particular analysis stands out: In a column with the headline “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot veteran military analyst Alex Fishman argued that the main impetus behind the prisoner swap was Netanyahu’s desire to “clear the desk” and “set the stage for something different, bigger, and more important.” When one looks for signs of worry in Netanyahu and Barak, Fishman continued, “it somehow always has to do with Iran. … What is happening exactly with respect to the Iranian issue? It is unclear. But it is clear that this is going to be the next hot story.”[139] Fishman’s column was the bellwether of an official effort to spark an intense public debate about Iran.[140] An especially interesting case in point is the apparent use of the daily Yisrael Hayom, known for its intimate ties to Netanyahu, as a signaling device. In March 2012, the paper published as its banner headline a lengthy opinion column by its editor-in-chief, Amos Regev, who strongly advocated for an Israeli attack. The article concluded, “With the Americans or without them, it will be hard. It will be bold. It is doable.” A photo of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz accompanied the article.[141] Alarmed by the column, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn posted a reaction piece later that morning in which he argued that Netanyahu’s signals “are indeed preparations for war and not a bluff,” adding that Regev “is writing what Netanyahu cannot say in speeches.”[142] International media outlets also played a role in Israel’s pressure campaign. In January 2012, the New York Times Sunday supplement dedicated its cover story to the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran. The article, by well-connected Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, concluded, “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”[143] The following day, Bergman’s conclusion prompted a debate in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Asked about the article, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper commented that this “is a matter that we are very, very concerned about.”[144] Clapper, who later characterized the Israeli campaign as an “attempt to pressure the United States,” suspected the article was in some way an Israeli initiative:
When you’ve got rhetoric like that, you have to wonder how did that article get planted. The Israelis know us, they play us like a fiddle. They know how our Congress works — they play to that. They know how our media works — they influence that. So, sure, every time you have rhetoric like that, you have to be concerned. I didn’t think it was appropriate to blow it off.[145]
Public Statements Israel’s public statements regarding a possible strike on Iran, made almost exclusively by Netanyahu and Barak, featured a single recurring theme: Israel was entitled, capable, and prepared to look after its vital interests. For instance, on Nov. 1, 2011, Barak remarked that “events in the Middle East over the past year” show that “there can emerge situations in which Israel will have to protect its own interests” by itself and not rely on “other powers.”[146] Although he would later claim to have been referring to the events of the Arab Spring, Barak’s statement was widely perceived as a signal that Israel might strike Iran unilaterally.[147] The following month, speaking at the annual memorial ceremony for Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu alluded to the ongoing debate over Iran. Ben-Gurion, he said, had "a very hard time gaining support" within pre-state Israel for the declaration of independence in 1948. “Huge pressure,” he said,
was exerted on Ben-Gurion, from within and from without, not to make this move. … Everyone told him: this is not the time, not now. Among those pressuring him were important statesmen and friends. … All of us are here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right time. … I want to believe that we will always act with responsibility, courage, and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security.[148]
These remarks coincided with a statement by Barak stressing that “Israel cannot exempt itself from making decisions as a sovereign [country]. If the [Iranian] program can be stopped with diplomacy, that’s great, but all options are on the table. ... Israel is responsible for its own security, future, and existence.”[149] Clearly, Israel’s goal was to signal to the United States that it had the sovereign right to safeguard its vital interests. Lobbying U.S. Congress To impact U.S. decision-making on Iran, Israel harnessed multiple Washington-based, pro-Israel organizations.[150] But Israel also worked directly with members of Congress to influence the Obama administration. Visiting Israel in November 2011, a group of U.S. lawmakers updated their interlocutors about a new initiative — legislation urging the White House to support Israel’s “right” to employ “any means necessary” to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.[151] In February 2012, Netanyahu discussed the Iranian issue with a group of U.S. senators, headed by Sen. John McCain.[152] It was reported that Netanyahu had asked senior senators and members of Congress to exert pressure on Obama regarding the Iranian issue.[153] In early 2013, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the United States to support and “stand with Israel” if Jerusalem is “compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”[154] Congress’s role in promoting tough sanctions — and essentially forcing them upon a more reluctant White House — is discussed in more detail later in the article. Israel used the above-discussed tactics to create the perception of a potentially imminent military attack on Iran, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and push the Obama administration to adopt a tougher approach toward Iran than it would have pursued otherwise. How did this play out, and how effective was Israel’s pressure campaign? Was Israel able to get its way, despite clear U.S. superiority, or did the senior ally essentially prevail? These questions are the focus of the remainder of the article. The next section analyzes the manner in which the United States, in reaction to Israel’s pressure campaign, leveraged elements of its overwhelming influence to restrain its junior ally.

U.S. Counter-Pressure: Dissuasion, Dissociation, and Reassurance

Far from being a passive receiver and perceiver of Israeli signals and pressure tactics, the United States engaged in measures of its own to dissuade its junior ally from attacking Iran. This had become a top U.S. foreign policy priority, one that Panetta would describe as his primary task as secretary of defense.[155] Going even further, Samore claimed that “Much of U.S. strategy at that time was built around ‘how do we stop the Israelis from attacking.’ In some ways, that became the more immediate objective than stopping Iran.”[156] Some of this played out in public view as the crisis unfolded, such as when a senior administration official said, “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”[157] To resist Israeli pressure and ensure compliance, the United States utilized a variety of dissuasion instruments. What follows is a discussion of the most salient ones. Publicly Questioning the Prudence of an Israeli Attack U.S. opposition to an Israeli attack was expressed by senior officials from the outset of the Israeli campaign. With time, this sentiment grew increasingly blunt. In February 2012, the New York Times ran a front-page article citing U.S. experts as casting doubt on Israel’s military capacity to successfully attack Iran.[158] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey publicly described an Israeli attack as both “destabilizing” and “not prudent,” saying Israel would fail to achieve its “long-term objectives.”[159] Seeking to undermine the credibility of Israel’s military option, Dempsey later said that an Israeli attack would "delay but probably not destroy” the Iranian program.[160] In August 2012, an Israeli daily newspaper cited a U.S. warning to Israel to the effect that Saudi Arabia would forcefully resist any Israeli attempt to use its airspace to attack Iran.[161] Signaling Potential Dissociation from Israel In reference to a unilateral Israeli strike, Dempsey alluded to the possibility of U.S. military dissociation from Israel, saying at a press conference: “I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it."[162] Days later, Yediot Aharonot reported that the United States had informed Iran that it would not back an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities — as long as Iran steered clear of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.[163] Stalling for Time For several months, Washington kept a steady flow of senior American officials traveling to Israel in part of what U.S. officials depicted as a deliberate strategy to forestall such an attack. According to Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador, “We used all the dissuasion tactics and tools of dissuasion we could think of,” including high-level visits. “You buy yourself three weeks at a time. The week or two before the visit, the week or two after the visit. That tempo was all relevant to us. There were other factors, but it was definitely part of our strategy."[164] Samore noted in this regard that the administration was “certainly watching Israel very closely. That’s part of the reason why people went every two weeks. Because they figured that Israel couldn’t launch an attack when the vice president was on his way, or Tom Donilon was on his way, or Gen. Dempsey was on his way.” Samore described this as “a very conscious, deliberate strategy to stop the Israelis from attacking.”[165] Amplification of Domestic Opposition in Israel to a Strike The United States also worked to influence Israeli public opinion by exposing the fact that Israel’s own security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike. In July 2012, the banner headline of Yediot Aharonot cited “sources in the United States” as saying that Israel’s military and security chiefs were unanimous in their opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.[166] The Obama administration also leveraged its influence with Israel’s president and elder statesman, Shimon Peres. In June 2012, Obama honored Peres at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[167] The next month, Peres began to express scathing opposition to a unilateral attack and to underline his trust in Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear bomb.[168] In mid-August, Peres said that “after having talks with” Obama he was “convinced” that Israel could trust the U.S. president on the issue of Iran. “Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. … It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”[169]

Israel’s War Scare Ends: Assessing its Strategic Impact

These measures were designed to restrain Israel while also maintaining flexibility for Obama. To the degree that an Israeli attack was genuinely being planned, U.S. pressure ultimately prevailed without the United States having to resort to far-reaching threats or taking action. Although it is difficult to identify a specific time when Israel’s military option came off the table, one can point to September 2012 as a turning point in terms of Israel’s credibility with the United States, which practically collapsed in the wake of a reassuring message that Barak privately conveyed to Obama. According to several accounts, Barak met with Obama’s confidant Rahm Emmanuel and told him, without having updated Netanyahu, that he no longer favored a strike.[170] Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Netanyahu delivered a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in which he publicly drew a red line to Iran but also pushed the critical stage of Iran’s nuclear program to “next spring” and possibly even “next summer.”[171] It was with these last words, widely interpreted as a “nod to Obama,” that Netanyahu removed the possibility of an imminent Israeli military strike on Iran.[172] By “next summer” the United States and Iran were already deeply engaged in diplomatic talks and, for all intents and purposes, the military option was off the table. Acceleration of Crippling Economic Sanctions on Iran On the core issue of preventing an Israeli strike, especially in the critical run-up to the U.S. elections, the United States clearly got its way. The United States neither greenlighted an Israeli strike nor unleashed an attack of its own. Nor did Obama severely limit his latitude by making a binding commitment to use military force against Iran. If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. In some respects, however, Washington’s counter-campaign appears not to have been entirely successful. To forestall an Israeli attack, Obama was compelled to pursue measures he otherwise probably would not have — and at a faster pace than he otherwise would have chosen. This means Israel succeeded in influencing U.S. policy. [quote id="5"] Most notably, perhaps, the United States led an unprecedented international effort to cast Iran into economic isolation — an Israeli demand that the Obama administration initially was reluctant to pursue and had tried to keep in reserve.[173] Wary of measures that could destabilize global markets, the executive branch, in the words of senior Treasury official Zarate, sought to strike a balance between increasing economic pressure and “not spooking the oil markets and spiking prices,”[174] a sentiment expressed in real time.[175] To force the Obama administration to escalate sanctions on Iran, Israel engaged in heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill. Sanctions against Iran’s oil sector and Central Bank were passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2011. So strong was its support of Israel that the entire Senate unanimously voted in favor of sanctions.[176] Against this backdrop, Obama imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and an embargo on Iran’s oil exports.[177] David Sanger of the New York Times noted that, although “few in Washington are persuaded” that the sanctions would force Iran’s supreme leader to fold, “most go along with the assumption because the more forceful alternatives are too unpleasant to contemplate.”[178] The European Union soon imposed its own economic sanctions on Iran, including an oil embargo.[179] These sanctions would result in a 60 percent drop in Iranian crude oil exports from their pre-2011 rate.[180] And, in March 2012, in an unprecedented move enabled by the U.S. and EU sanctions, Iranian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT international financial system.[181] Netanyahu would later attribute Iran’s economic isolation to Israel’s “projection of genuine resolve.”[182] It is hard to definitively say whether Israel can claim the credit for this outcome. However, the initial impetus for the toughest of U.S. sanctions came from a Congress strongly aligned with Israel. Consider the words of Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the driving forces behind the legislation. In December 2011, he said, “The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you’re going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon?”[183] Was rigorous implementation of the economic sanctions hastened as a result of Israel’s pressure and the perceived threat of a unilateral Israeli attack? Lending credence to this argument, Dennis Ross, who served as a senior director at the National Security Council and as special assistant to Obama, has written,
Israel was very much a factor in this approach. To forestall Israeli military action against what Israel perceived as an existential threat, the president understood we needed to show we could apply meaningful pressure on the Iranians that would alter their nuclear program.[184]
For his part, Deputy Secretary of State Burns said that, although Obama would have eventually imposed sanctions regardless of Israel’s actions, Israel’s campaign “accelerated” the process. “Maybe [otherwise] it would have taken another year or so.” According to Burns, Obama “moved at a faster pace because of the concern of a potential Israeli military strike and the very real political pressure that existed in Washington in part because of the depth of the Israeli Government's concern.”[185] Making a similar argument, Shapiro said the United States “was motivated to go the extra mile in part to show the Israelis that they didn't need to do something on their own, that we were serious. … It’s fair to say that Israel probably did push us to go farther, faster on sanctions.”[186] Pointing to another important effect that Israel’s threat had on U.S. policy, senior Obama administration officials said the United States, while genuinely pressured by Israel’s signals, harnessed the perception of a credible Israeli strike in the service of persuading other actors to implement the debilitating sanctions on Iran. This included China, which had long opposed such measures.[187] Burns added,
We used it [the threat of an Israeli attack] with the Russians, we used it with the Chinese, with the Europeans, we used it with the Indians and those we were trying to persuade to curb oil purchases from Iran. It was a useful tool … to maximize the economic pressure on the Iranians and to get other countries — mostly quite grudgingly — to go along with this, because it wasn't in their economic interest in the short term in any way.[188]
According to Shapiro, the perceived Israeli threat
was also in some way a useful tool for us in our discussion with other countries. ‘Hey, you know, the last thing you want is these crazy Israelis to go and do something, so let’s show them that there’s a better way. Let’s make these sanctions stick.’ I think it definitely affected the Chinese. ... There’s no question the Chinese would sit up in their chairs and listen intently if you would present this possibility of a serious Israeli strike.[189]
In sum, according to Samore, “It sure helped to have the Israeli threat out there.”[190] This could be described as an amplification effect that may result from a relatively weak ally’s ability to establish a credible threat in the eyes of a much more powerful actor and influence its behavior. Obama Toughens Rhetoric, But Stops Short of Red Line for Iran Israel’s campaign succeeded, albeit to a lesser degree than it had hoped, in wresting a public commitment to resort to military force against Iran from the U.S. president. Most notably, in March 2012, Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, stressing that "as president of the United States, I don't bluff.” Obama added, “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”[191] Addressing AIPAC two days later, Obama said, “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, he said, “includes all elements of American power,” including “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”[192] This was the first time the United States publicly drew a distinction between prevention and containment of a nuclear Iran.[193] These two statements, directed more to Israel than to Iran, would remain Obama’s most explicit reference to the military option. Both statements were later described by Panetta as “carefully crafted” gestures to the Israelis, designed to “reinforce their confidence that we would not abandon them.”[194] While Barak was convinced that the United States possessed a credible and realistic military option to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, he remained unconvinced by Obama’s political reassurances. For instance, after Obama said that “as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” the Israeli defense minister privately wondered whether Obama’s statement was itself a bluff.[195] As Barak himself told this author, he remained “highly skeptical” about the U.S. commitment to ever pursue the military option against Iran.[196] Barak later explained, “Though the president intermittently declared that ‘all options’ remained on the table, I knew from senior administration members that it was extremely unlikely to happen.”[197] In September 2012, the clash between Israel’s desire for a clear U.S. commitment and Obama’s determination to secure his latitude entered a new stage, with Netanyahu openly urging the president to publicly draw a “red line” for Iran that, if violated, would be met with “consequences.” The administration rejected the demand on the grounds that “we need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,”[198] which was precisely what Netanyahu wanted Obama to have less of. The exchange took a fiercer turn when Panetta implicitly accused Israel of attempting to coerce the United States. “Red lines,” he asserted, “are used to try to put people in a corner.”[199] To this, Netanyahu responded, “I know that people value flexibility. … but I think that at this late stage of the game, Iran needs to see clarity.”[200] Israel’s efforts were designed to limit Obama’s freedom of action and pin him down to an explicit use-of-force commitment. Given this, Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. According to Burns, “There was certainly concern in Washington that the object of this Israeli effort was not so much to get a green light to launch a unilateral Israeli strike as it was to box Obama into launching a U.S. military strike, with the kind of second-best option being an even more intense effort to build sanctions.”[201] [quote id="8"] Israel’s pressure campaign had yet another important effect on the United States, which is that Washington, in an attempt to reassure Israel, accelerated its efforts to enhance the credibility of its own military option. In January 2012, U.S. officials said the Pentagon was ramping up its efforts to improve the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a weapon specifically designed to penetrate Iranian and North Korean fortifications.[202] In August, an Israeli daily newspaper disclosed in its lead story details of the U.S. military plan for an attack on Iran, as discussed in Panetta’s visit to Israel just days before. The report maintained that the United States would potentially launch its attack “in a year and a half.”[203] Shedding further light on Washington’s reassurance efforts, Panetta later remarked,
We in the United States were developing a weapon that could in fact be able to penetrate and do serious damage to their [Iran’s] capability, and it was in the effort to kind of show him [Barak] what we had developed and its capability that, I think, he recognized that we indeed did have a weapon that could, in fact, do some real damage to their enrichment capability.[204]
Lending credence to Panetta’s account, Barak recalled that, during the first two years in which Israel prepared its military option, the United States “was no more ready” than Israel. The existing U.S. military plan, Barak wrote, was “so obviously prone to lead to a wider conflict, that it would never have received the go-ahead from President Obama, or probably any president.” By 2012, however, “that had changed …an intensive research-and-development effort and enormously improved planning and testing had yielded results. The Americans now had high-precision heavy munitions we couldn’t dream of.”[205] Conclusion In late 2011, Israel deliberately led the United States to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program could be imminent — a scenario that deeply alarmed the Obama administration. The stakes involved one of the core issues animating asymmetric-alliance politics: the possibility that a junior ally — Israel — might present its senior strategic ally — the United States — with a fait accompli and entrap it in a military confrontation. With two military commitments already underway and a presidential election on the horizon, the United States strongly opposed an Israeli attack, which it deemed unnecessary, and had little interest in a confrontation with Iran. More importantly, Iran did not pose the same threat to the militarily superior United States as it did to Israel. It was for these reasons that a fierce intra-alliance bargaining episode occurred. As noted in the outset of this article, asymmetric alliances represent a trade-off: The weaker ally trades its autonomy for security. In essence, Israel attempted to retain its autonomy in a way that the United States deemed extremely detrimental to its own interests. Ultimately, neither Israel nor the United States attacked Iran. This implies that, at the most overarching level, the stronger ally prevailed. How can this outcome be understood? And what are its implications for international and alliance politics? Any attempt to discuss these questions must begin with the fact that, in the year under discussion, Israel purposefully created the perception of a potentially imminent military attack. This granted Israel more leverage than it otherwise would have wielded over the United States. Israel then harnessed this leverage in a calculated effort to force its senior ally to more closely align with Israeli constraints and interests. This meant influencing Washington into adopting measures it otherwise would not have — steps that nudged the United States closer to a confrontation with Iran. These measures included the economic isolation of Iran, a credible presidential commitment to prevent Iran’s nuclearization, and the development of a more effective and “realistic” U.S. military option. Israel employed this strategy as a form of extended coercion — that is, in an attempt to manipulate Iran’s strategic calculus via a powerful third party with considerable leverage over Tehran. Put differently, although the direct target of Israel’s campaign was its primary ally, its ultimate target was Iran, which Israel sought to prevent from further developing its nuclear program. At a minimum, Israel strived to keep Iran’s nuclear capabilities sufficiently vulnerable to its own military option, meaning that Israel would not have to rely on the United States for the removal of a potentially existential threat and that it would retain its autonomy despite its alliance with the United States. It may also be the case that Israel sought to influence the United States into tacit compliance with an Israeli attack or even to persuade it to unleash its own military option against Iran. It is also possible that Israel never genuinely intended to execute a unilateral attack against Iran. Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. Having instilled a sense of urgency in its major ally, Israel implicitly threatened the United States with a fait accompli, doing little to allay obvious U.S. fears of entrapment. And still, at the most overarching level, the fact that Israel’s perceived threat never materialized implies that the senior ally in this relationship got its way and that superior U.S. bargaining power overwhelmed Israeli decision-making. The United States proved capable of avoiding entrapment, of resisting its ally’s demand for an explicit commitment to attack Iran, and of restraining its ally. This outcome is perhaps not surprising given that the United States was, by far, the more powerful actor in the relationship. This structural reality becomes all the more pronounced given that, whereas Israel had reached the pinnacle of its bargaining power and exerted extraordinary pressure on its senior ally, Obama appeared to be in a particularly vulnerable situation. Especially because it was an election year, Obama sought to avoid a brutal clash with a close ally wielding considerable political influence. The balance of interests seemed to favor Israel, whose prime minister had consistently depicted Iran as an existential threat. Furthermore, the United States did not come close to exploiting the full range of dissuasion tactics at its disposal. Although Israel implicitly threatened its senior ally with entrapment, Washington neither reciprocated with a threat of abandonment nor threatened Israel with a “reassessment” of relations — steps that the administration may have dismissed as politically prohibitive. Ultimately, the United States prevailed in this atypically intense episode. The broader implications for coercive bargaining in an asymmetric relationship are that, even at the height of its bargaining power, a weaker ally will find it extremely difficult to entrap a superior ally or otherwise cause it to move in a direction it deems incompatible with its national security interests. This basic reality does not preclude the weaker ally from wielding surprising leverage or from exploiting its ally’s fear of entrapment for coercive purposes — something Israel appears to have done in this case. Indeed, to reassure Israel and forestall an attack, the Obama administration took measures it otherwise probably would not have, namely meeting Israel’s demand for unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran and tougher rhetoric from the U.S. president. In the final analysis, however, the United States proved capable of restraining its particularly influential ally. This conclusion squares with the findings of scholars such as Jeremy Pressman, Michael Beckley, and Tongfi Kim, cited in the outset of this article. One can, perhaps, draw even wider conclusions about patterns of power and influence in international politics. Scholars have suggested the current era is characterized by accelerated “power diffusion,” which ultimately favors the weak.[206] The outcome of this case study suggests that, even when the weak punch above their weight, the basic balance of power persists. In other words, the weak may be getting stronger, but the strong still get their way. [quote id="6"] This case study also lends itself to a more nuanced appreciation of the second-order effects that occur when an actor introduces a credible threat to use military force. For instance, while genuinely worried by Israel’s perceived threat, the United States, according to several Obama administration officials, harnessed Israel’s threat to persuade major actors like China to join the sanctions effort as an alternative to what appeared to be a credible scenario — a unilateral Israeli strike. This speaks to the way weak actors might be capable of amplifying their influence by impacting third parties — in this case the United States — and motivating them to use their leverage with other actors. By establishing the perception of a credible threat, Israel, in a sense, provided the United States not only with motivation but also with leverage it previously lacked, which the United States then used vis-à-vis other countries, like China. Attempting to achieve desirable outcomes in foreign affairs can, of course, have unintended consequences. While Israel’s pressure campaign produced several achievements — namely the economic isolation of Iran — it also helped to create the conditions for direct talks between its strategic ally and its archenemy. If Israel had hoped to influence Washington toward a more belligerent posture regarding Tehran, the opposite occurred, as the diplomatic channel culminated in a nuclear deal that Netanyahu denounced as a “historic mistake.”[207] Former Mossad director Meir Dagan claimed to be speaking from personal knowledge when he asserted that by “signaling to the entire world” that Israel was preparing to attack Iran, Netanyahu motivated the United States to “search for an alternative in the form of an agreement.”[208] Echoing Dagan’s assertion is this point from Burns, who, along with Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top policy adviser (and later national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden), initiated the secret talks between the United States and Iran in the wake of Israel’s pressure campaign:
The increased decibel level of the potential Israeli preparations for a strike accelerated the interest of the administration in pushing this diplomatic track simply because it certainly seemed as if we were getting closer and closer to the point of a real military conflict and that added a sense of urgency to this.[209]
And as Panetta noted,
There is no question that there’s nothing like a military attack to get your attention. So, I'm sure that it heightened activity both in terms of what we were trying to do militarily as well as what the administration was looking at diplomatically. … There was this effort to push on these other buttons to see if there might be a diplomatic solution to that threat.[210]
This article sheds important light on a key topic for the theory and practice of international relations, namely the question of credibility. In their statements, Barak and Netanyahu stopped short of explicit threats to attack Iran. When he was asked, at the height of Israel’s campaign, whether Jerusalem intended to attack Iran, Barak responded, “I think it should remain behind closed doors as part of a vague understanding that there is a big stick in the background.”[211] And, as he tellingly pointed out toward the end of the campaign, “The prime minister and myself have never come out and announced what it is we are interested in.”[212] Nonetheless, their various statements — and Israel’s calibrated signals and military moves — created a context that appeared less like a “vague understanding” and more like an alarmingly credible military threat. This was made possible by two elements, the first of which corresponds with Thomas Schelling’s assertion that, to appear credible, actors must “make it true.” Barak himself would retrospectively attribute the belief that Israel was serious to “the fact that it was all real, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we would have done it.”[213] The second, and less explored, element pertains to secrecy. If Israel’s campaign contained an element of deception, the strict secrecy and message discipline made it impossible to prove. Nowhere was this more evident than in the words of Pardo, the Mossad director, who noted that if Israel’s pressure campaign was a bluff, at most two people knew it. Asked about the painstaking efforts exerted by the United States to unveil Israel’s genuine intentions, Barak confided, “It is not as if there was some secret chamber that if only you could penetrate you would discover everything was a bluff. And if nobody can tell you it is a bluff, you have to assume it is real.”[214] While the potential costs and implications of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran seemed too immense to be credible, Israel’s preparations for such a strike seemed too real and costly to be dismissed as mere deception. The combination of Israel’s genuine military moves and strict message discipline made the incredible look credible, and the unbelievable, believable. As things stand, and in sharp contrast to the period discussed in this article, Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump appear to be tightly coordinated with respect to the Iranian nuclear issue. It is inescapable, however, that the challenge Iran poses to Israel is considerably graver than any threat it may pose to the militarily powerful and geographically distant United States. With the United States no longer part of the Iran nuclear deal, and in the absence of a new agreement, this challenge may present itself sooner than expected. Further down the line, this divergence of interests between Israel and the United States might yet again produce a political clash similar to the one explored in this article. Acknowledgements: For helpful comments and advice, the author wishes to thank Graham Allison, Oren Barak, Shai Feldman, Charles Freilich, Kelly Greenhill, Robert Jervis, Arie Kacowicz, Morgan Kaplan, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Steven Miller, Karen Motley, Michael Poznansky, Galia Press-Barnathan, Henry Rome, Amit Sheniak, Susan Rosenberg, Stephen Walt, Alec Worsnop, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the 2016–2017 International Security Program seminar at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Israel Institute during his appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. Daniel Sobelman is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => restraining-an-ally-israel-the-united-states-and-irans-nuclear-program-2011-2012 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-14 10:13:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-14 14:13:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=663 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In asymmetric alliances, a superior state provides security to a weaker ally, who in exchange surrenders its autonomy to its stronger protector. But what happens when the weaker state’s vital interests clash with its stronger ally’s preferences? In 2011 and 2012, as Iran continued to develop and harden its nuclear program, Israel feared becoming dependent upon the United States to defend it against this potentially existential threat. To escape this scenario, and to enhance its leverage over the United States, Israel led its principal strategic ally to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran could be imminent. Israel then attempted to force the United States to realign more closely with Israel’s strategic interests and constraints. Determined not to get “chain-ganged” into a conflict, the United States increased its pressure on Iran, but also brought restraining influence to bear on Israel, thus producing one of the tensest chapters in U.S.-Israel relations. The following article explains the outcome of this strategic interaction. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences...at arm’s length. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 193 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama vowed to “use all elements of American power to pressure Iran” and to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” including through keeping “the threat of military action on the table.” See “Transcript: Obama's Speech at AIPAC,” NPR, June 4, 2008, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91150432. As president, however, Obama struck a more cautious tone, stating generally, and without explicitly invoking the threat of military action, that no option was off the table. For instance, in late 2011, he said, “I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table.” See “President Obama Holds a Press Conference at the APEC Summit,” White House, Nov. 13, 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/photos-and-video/video/2011/11/13/president-obama-holds-press-conference-apec-summit?page=12. According to former Obama adviser Dennis Ross, only in 2012 did the president state publicly that he was determined to prevent the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Until then, the United States had made do with describing Iran’s potential nuclearization as “unacceptable.” See Dennis Ross, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 369. [2] Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 12. [3] Brett Ashley Leeds, “Do Alliances Deter Aggression? The Influence of Military Alliances on the Initiation of Militarized Interstate Disputes,” American Journal of Political Science 47, no. 3 (July 2003), https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5907.00031; Brett B. Benson, “Unpacking Alliances: Deterrent and Compellent Alliances and Their Relationship with Conflict, 1816–2000,” Journal of Politics 73, no. 4 (October 2011), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381611000867. [4] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 461, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010183. [5] Paul W. Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945: Weapons of the Power and Tools of Management,” in Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, ed. Klaus Knorr (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976); Jeremy Pressman, Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); Victor D. Cha, “Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia,” International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 2010), https://doi.org/10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.158. [6] James D. Morrow, “Alliances: Why Write Them Down?” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 63, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.63; Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945,” 230. [7] Patricia A. Weitsman, Waging War: Alliances, Coalitions, and Institutions of Interstate Violence (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), chap. 2. [8] “Lord Palmerston 1784–1865 British statesman; Prime Minister, 1855–8, 1859–65,” in Oxford Essential Quotations, ed. Susan Ratcliffe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). [9] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. Stephen Walt notes that allies share only “some level of commitment.” Walt, Origins of Alliances, 1. [10] According to Thomas Schelling, “to take advantage of the usually superior credibility of the truth over a false assertion,” actors need to “make it true,” make an irrevocable, binding and “unambiguously visible” commitment. Put differently, for threats to be credible the threatener must remove all easy and cheap options from the table and visibly destroy his own escape routes. Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1981) chap. 2; and Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 99–105. Branislav L. Slantchev, Military Threats: The Costs of Coercion and the Price of Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), chap. 3. [11] James D. Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry: An Alternative to the Capability Aggregation Model of Alliances,” American Journal of Political Science 35, no. 4 (November 1991): 904, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2111499. [12] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry,” 930. [13] Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multipolarity,” International Organization 44, no. 2 (Spring 1990), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300035232. [14] Snyder, “Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics.” [15] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry.” [16] Galia Press-Barnathan, “Managing the Hegemon: NATO Under Unipolarity,” Security Studies 15, no. 2 (2006): 283–84, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636410600829554. Tongfi Kim argues that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power, as “stronger states have stronger bargaining power,” in “Why Alliances Entangle but Seldom Entrap States,” Security Studies 20, no. 3 (2011): 357, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2011.599201. [17] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121. [18] Morrow, Alliances: Why Write Them Down, 79; Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00198. [19] Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances: Reassessing the Security Risks of U.S. Defense Pacts,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 11, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00197. [20] Kim, “Why Alliances Entangle,” 357. [21] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121–22. Perhaps most strikingly, on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson minced no words when warning Israel not to initiate war with Egypt, stressing that “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.” See “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19. [22] “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, 588, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v26. [23] Robert O. Keohane, “The Big Influence of Small Allies,” Foreign Policy, no. 2 (Spring 1971): 162, 164–72, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1147864. [24] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 162. [25] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 165–66. On this, see John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), chaps. 5 and 6. [26] Christensen and Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks”: 137–68; Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. [27] Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby, 152. [28] Asked if he would have taken military action against Iran, Obama said, “I actually would have. If I saw them break out. Now, the argument that can’t be resolved, because it’s entirely situational, was what constitutes them getting [the bomb]. This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu.” See Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” Atlantic, April 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/. [29] Gary Samore, Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables (Cambridge, Mass.: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2015), 3–11. [30] Douglas Hamilton, “Israel Urges ‘Crippling’ Sanctions Now Against Iran,” Reuters, Feb. 9, 2010, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-iran-netanyahu/israel-urges-crippling-sanctions-now-against-iran-idUSTRE6181Z020100209. [31]Obama had indicated this explicitly throughout his campaign. See “Interview With Barack Obama,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/politics/02obama-transcript.html. [32] Juan C. Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 324.  It was not until July 2012, however, that a direct diplomatic back-channel would be established between Iran and the United States, in Oman. See Mark Landler, Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power (New York: Random House, 2016), 252; and Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals that Reshaped the Middle East (New York: Random House, 2016), 242–44. [33] Christiane Amanpour, “Obama Sent Letter to Iran Leader Before Election, Sources Say,” CNN, June 24, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/24/iran.obama.letter/index.html. [34] Landler, Alter Egos, chap. 10. [35] In April 2012, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot cited a senior Israeli source as saying that Israel had found out that semi-official U.S. figures had been in contact with the Iranian government in a bid to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. The official said, “The Iranians are convinced that given the secret channel and the United States’ request that Israel does not attack Iran, Israel will not dare do it, at least for the time being. The Iranians believe they’ve achieved at least a postponement of the attack, if not more than that.” Ronen Bergman, “An All-Clear Siren for Tehran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 8, 2012. [36] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [37] Landler, Alter Egos, 253–54. [38] Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shea, “U.S., Allies Say Iran Has Secret Nuclear Facility,” Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/25/AR2009092500289.html. [39] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 328. [40] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted June 6, 2010, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1929%282010%29. [41] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 6. [42] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 336–37. [43] Zarate, Treasury’s War. [44] Washington had regarded sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and oil sector as the “final bullet” in the U.S. arsenal. See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16. In the Treasury Department, such sanctions were referred to as the “nuclear option” and were thus held in reserve. See Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [45] “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” CNN, Nov. 20, 2011. Declaring that 2012 was “a very important year,” Barak argued, “After 2012 it will become difficult to achieve a meaningful delay in the Iranian nuclear project by any means.” Channel 2 TV, Feb. 23, 2012. [46] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace (New York: Penguin, 2015), 404. [47] “Netanyahu’s Speech at AIPAC (Full Text),” Times of Israel, March 6, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahus-speech-at-aipac-full-text/. [48] Channel 2, March 12, 2012. Two months later, Barak noted with respect to the Israel-U.S. debate about Iran’s nuclear program, “There are obviously differences between us — in the approach, in the speed at which our clocks are ticking. It is no secret that our clock is ticking faster.” See Institute for National Security Studies Annual Conference, Tel Aviv, May 30, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oZ1X6WspMM. [49] Dan Williams, “Israel Wants to Attack Iran Before U.S. Vote: Israeli Report,” Reuters, Aug. 10, 2012, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/israel-wants-to-attack-iran-before-us-vote-israeli-report/article4473446/. [50] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [51] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets,” New York Times, Feb. 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/world/middleeast/iran-raid-seen-as-complex-task-for-israeli-military.html. [52] Scott Wilson, “In Meeting, Obama to Warn Netanyahu Against Military Strikes on Iran,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-meeting-obama-to-warn-netanyahu-against-military-strikes-on-iran/2012/03/02/gIQA5Wf0mR_story.html. [53] “Zero Days,” directed by Alex Gibney (New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2016). [54] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [55] “Secretary Panetta All Hands Call USS Peleliu,” Department of Defense, March 30, 2012, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=5004. [56] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 435–36. In a separate interview, Barak noted, “In 2012 Netanyahu was playing around with all sorts of ideas. I was opposed to them. I reemphasized my position: we will not endanger the life of even one American soldier.” See Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. [57] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [58] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [59] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [60] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life, 433–34. [61] Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/magazine/1.1797127. [62] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [63] “Hakol Diburim,” Voice of Israel, Nov. 1, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkCwM1fG0so&feature=youtu.be. [64] Shlomo Tsezna, “Israel: The World Must Stop Tehran,” Yisrael Hayom, Nov. 10, 2011, http://digital-edition.israelhayom.co.il/Olive/APA/Israel/SharedView.Article.aspx?href=ITD%2F2011%2F11%2F10&id=Ar00700&sk=000DD7E1&viewMode=text. [65] Ron Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011, https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4143344,00.html. [66] “Ha-Nivharim with David Ben-Bassat,” Hot TV, Aug. 31, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPzaY-lduE4&feature=youtu.be. [67]Barak Ravid, “The Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1652900. [68] Jodi Rudoren, “U.S. Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran,” New York Times, May 17, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/world/middleeast/united-states-ambassador-dan-shapiro-to-israel-speaks-of-military-option-for-iran.html. [69] As Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert stressed in a 2006 interview that Israel should not stand “on the forefront of this war.” Iran, he added, was a “major threat” to “Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel.” See Romesh Ratnesar, "Israel Should Not Be on the Forefront of a War Against Iran," Time, April 9, 2006. [70] Jonathan Steele, “Israel Asked US for Green Light to Bomb Nuclear Sites in Iran,” Guardian, Sept. 25, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/sep/25/iran.israelandthepalestinians1. [71] Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 190–91. [72] Gates, Duty. [73] Gates, Duty, 192; “Israeli Air Exercise Probably Message to Iran, U.S. Official Says,” CNN, June 20, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/06/20/israel.exercise/index.html. [74] Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran,” New York Times, June 20, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/20/washington/20iran.html. [75] Gates, Duty, 192. [76] Gordon and Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran.” [77] Commenting on the report, an Israeli official urged Tehran to “read the writing on the wall … this was a dress rehearsal. … If diplomacy does not yield results, Israel will take military steps to halt Tehran's production of bomb-grade uranium.” Sheera Frenkel, “Israeli Jets in Long-Range ‘Test Mission’ for Airstrike on Iran,” Times (London), June 21, 2008. [78] Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, stated, "We are not planning any attack against Iran." See “Top US Military Officer Heads to Israel With Iran on the Agenda,” Agence France-Presse, June 25, 2008. When Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, previously the minister of defense and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, warned that if Iran continued its plans to produce a nuclear weapon, “we will attack it,” he was promptly reprimanded by Barak, who characterized his statements as “harmful.” Mofaz, Barak said, “knows there is a decision that when it comes to the Iranian issue Israel does not stand at the forefront.” Barak Ravid, Yossi Verter, and Mazal Mualem, “Defense Minister Barak: Mofaz Statements on Attack on Iran Irresponsible,” Haaretz, June 8, 2008. [79] “L’Express: IAF Held Iran Strike Drill Above Strait of Gibraltar,” Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2009; “IDF Staged Drills Over Gibraltar, in Preparation for Iran Strike,” Haaretz, May 3, 2009. [80] Sheera Frenkel, “Israel Stands Ready to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites,” Times (London), April 18, 2009. [81] Ofer Aderet, “Lieberman: Israel Will Not Attack Iran — Even if Sanctions Fail,” Haaretz, April 26, 2009. [82] David E. Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” New York Times, June 1, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/middleeast/obama-ordered-wave-of-cyberattacks-against-iran.html; and David E. Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2012), 188–225. [83] Peter Hirschberg, “Netanyahu: It’s 1938 and Iran Is Germany; Ahmadinejad Is Preparing Another Holocaust,” Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2006; and Shmuel Rosner, “Playing the Holocaust Card,” New York Times, April 25, 2012, https://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/netanyahu-cant-go-wrong-claiming-that-iran-is-planning-another-holocaust/. [84] For instance, in late July 2009, standing alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak once again reaffirmed that “at this stage, the priority should be given, still, to diplomacy and probably sanctions.” See “Defense Minister Barak meets with US Secretary of Defense Gates,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 27, 2009. Asked about a potential Israeli attack on Iran, Gates replied that, in his meetings in Israel, “I had every sense that the Israeli government is prepared to let our strategy play out in terms of trying to use a combination of diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions and other peaceful means to try to get the Iranian government to change its mind in terms of its nuclear ambitions.” See Jim Garamone, “Gates Praises U.S., Jordan Strategic Partnership,” Department of Defense, July 27, 2009, http://archive.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=55267; “Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Barak,” Ministry of Defense, April 27, 2010. In the joint press conference between Gates and Barak in March 2011, the topic of Iran was overshadowed by the events of the Arab Spring. See “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel,” Department of Defense, March 24, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4797. [85] “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 8, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/interview-president-yonit-levi-israeli-tv. [86] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [87]Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Point of No Return,” Atlantic (September 2010), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/09/the-point-of-no-return/308186/; Emily Alpert, “Will Israel Attack Iran? It's Been Asked Before,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 2012, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/02/will-israel-attack-iran-its-been-asked-before.html. [88] As Panetta noted, “Everybody understood that when you look at the history here, Israel was a nation that if it thought that its existence was threatened in any way it would take action with or without the United States.” The former defense secretary cited Israel’s attacks on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 and the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 as indicative of Israeli determination to remove potential existential threats. Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [89] “Meet the Press,” Channel 2, Dec. 3, 2011. [90] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 197–98. [91] Amos Harel and Reuters, “U.S. Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel to Discuss Iran Nuclear Program,” Haaretz, Oct. 3, 2011. [92] “Israel 'Increasingly Isolated' in Middle East: US,” Agence France-Presse, Oct. 3, 2011, https://gs.geo.tv/latest/31185-israel-increasingly-isolated-in-middle-east-us. [93] Yaakov Katz, “International Community Needs to Cooperate on Iran,” Jerusalem Post, Oct. 4, 2011. [94] Ron Ben-Yishai, “IDF Is Already Prepared to Attack in Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011; Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu and Barak Refused to Commit to Not Attacking Iran Without Coordinating with the United States,” Haaretz, Nov. 6, 2011; and author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [95] Barbara Starr, “U.S. Concerned Israel Could Strike Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Nov. 4, 2011, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/04/u-s-concerned-israel-could-strike-iran/. [96] Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon, “U.S. Warns Israel on Strike,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204409004577159202556087074. [97] Adam Entous, “Spy vs. Spy: Inside the Fraying U.S.-Israel Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/spy-vs-spy-inside-the-fraying-u-s-israel-ties-1445562074. [98] Adam Entous and Danny Yadron, “U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-spy-net-on-israel-snares-congress-1451425210; Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke, “Spies in the Skies,” Intercept, Jan. 28, 2016. [99] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. In an indication of the credibility he attributed to this scenario, Shapiro noted that he disseminated the cable to an especially broad audience so as to “protect myself” in case Israel indeed attacked Iran. [100] “Remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Saban Center,” Department of Defense, Dec. 2, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4937. [101] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [102] Thom Shanker, Helene Cooper, and Ethan Bronner, “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes,” New York Times, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/middleeast/us-sees-iran-attacks-as-likely-if-israel-strikes.html; and Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran,” New York Times, March 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/world/middleeast/united-states-war-game-sees-dire-results-of-an-israeli-attack-on-iran.html. [103]David E. Sanger, “Confronting Iran in a Year of Elections,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/sunday-review/confronting-iran-in-a-year-of-elections.html. [104]David Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-israel-preparing-to-attack-iran/2012/02/02/gIQANjfTkQ_story.html. Another U.S. official said later that month, “We believe that Israel has not yet decided whether to attack or not, but it is clear to us that the matter is being weighed seriously.” See Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya, “National Security Adviser Visiting Israel,” Haaretz, Feb. 18, 2012. [105] Dan Perry and Josef Federman “Just a Bluff? Fears Grow of Israeli Attack on Iran,” Associated Press, Feb. 5, 2012, http://www.staradvertiser.com/2012/02/05/breaking-news/just-a-bluff-fears-grow-of-israeli-attack-on-iran/. [106] Panetta said, “My conclusion, and I think the conclusion of the National Security Council and the president, was that Israel was giving serious consideration to this possibility.” Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [107] Burns added, “There was a genuine concern that the Israeli government might launch such a strike.” Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [108] Author interviews with Gary Samore, Obama’s coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, and arms control, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016 and March 9, 2017. According to Samore, with the exception of Vice President Joseph Biden, “who thought it was all a big bluff,” the most senior members of the administration, including Obama and Panetta, felt “pressured” by Israel’s signals. [109] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. According to Shapiro, “We did take it seriously; Obama took it seriously.” [110] Yossi Verter, “Iran, Who Knows,” Haaretz, Nov. 4, 2011. [111] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [112] Entous, “Spy vs. Spy.” [113] Mark Perry, “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground,” Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/28/israels-secret-staging-ground/. [114] Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life] (Tel Aviv: Kinneret Zmora-Bitan, 2015), 330. [115] Ron Ben-Yishai, “Israel Has Understood: Only the U.S. Will Stop Iran,” Ynet, Aug. 3, 2012. [116] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. According to the program, the Mossad and the IDF were ordered in 2011 to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days. Referring to this step, Pardo said when a leader orders such a move, “It can serve one of two purposes. The first is that he really means it. The other possibility is that he is signaling so that somebody out there will know about it — maybe even that someone in the United States will find out about it in one way or another — and that someone will be motivated to do something.” [117] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [118] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [119] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [120] Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. Shedding more light on this point, Shapiro noted that the United States knew that Israel’s security chiefs opposed a military attack: “Without being disloyal to their political leadership they found ways of conveying to us that they were not advocating for it and to some degree were resisting it. This was knowable.” Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. [121] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [122] Author telephone interview with Yaakov Amidror, June 9, 2016. [123] Rachel Nolan, “Behind the Cover Story: Ronen Bergman on Whether Israel Will Attack Iran,” New York Times, Jan. 30, 2012, https://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/behind-the-cover-story-ronen-bergman-on-israeli-plans-to-strike-iran/. See also Ethan Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders Make the Iran Issue Their Own,” New York Times, March 27, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/world/middleeast/netanyahu-and-barak-bond-over-israels-iran-crisis.html. [124] Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders.” [125] Author interview with Tamir Pardo, Cambridge, Mass., May 2, 2016. That the Mossad chief himself was kept at arm’s length can be inferred from his assertion that whether or not a unilateral attack was genuinely in the cards was an “irrelevant” question for him as Mossad director: “For an operational organization, it makes absolutely no difference if it is a deception or not. I have to play along to the fullest extent, because I do not know.” [126] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [127] Author telephone interview with Dan Meridor, June 7, 2016. [128] Author interview with Gen. (Ret.) Amos Gilead, Herzliya, July 29, 2018. [129] Starr, “U.S. Concerned.” [130] For instance, asked in July 2010 whether he was concerned Israel might decide to unilaterally attack Iran, Obama replied that relations were “sufficiently strong” that neither would “try to surprise each other.” He went on to say, “We try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern. And that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to.” See “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV.” [131] Phil Stewart, “U.S. Uncertain Israel Would Advise Before Iran Strike,” Reuters, Nov. 30, 2011, https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCATRE7AT2TT20111130?sp=true. [132] Kfir and Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life], 319­–20. [133] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 406. [134] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [135] Attila Somfalvi and Yoav Zitun, “Israel-U.S. Aerial Defense Exercise Postponed,” Ynet, Jan. 15, 2012; Shlomo Tsezna and Lilach Shoval, “The Exercise Was Postponed So As ‘Not to Warm Up the Region,’” Yisrael Hayom, Jan. 16, 2012. [136] “Ma Bo’er With Razi Barkai,” IDF Radio, Jan. 18, 2012. [137]Isabel Kershner, “U.S. General Urges Closer Ties With Israel,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/world/middleeast/joint-chiefs-chairman-martin-dempsey-visits-israel.html. [138] Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” [139] Alex Fishman, “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Oct. 12, 2011. [140] Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ben-Yishai would later note that the Israeli government itself had initiated this debate. See Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran.” Moreover, a Haaretz military affairs analyst later alluded to Barak as the source behind these messages. See Amos Harel, “Barak Reveals in the United States Considerations for Possible Israeli Strike on Iran,” Haaretz, Jan. 27, 2012. [141] Amos Regev, “Difficult, Courageous, Doable,” Yisrael Hayom, March 15, 2012. [142] Aluf Benn, “Netanyahu Issues Order 8 to Himself and the Public,” Haaretz, March 15, 2012. [143]Ronen Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/magazine/will-israel-attack-iran.html. [144] “Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States,” Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, 112th Congress, Second Session, Jan. 31, 2012. [145] Author telephone interview with James Clapper, May 12, 2017. Clapper recalls interpreting Israel’s signals as “a combination of genuine concern and an attempt to pressure the United States. ... I thought this had more to do with information warfare, if you will, information influence.” [146] Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011. [147] Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu Consolidating Majority in the Cabinet for Military Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities,” Haaretz, Nov. 2, 2011; Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011; “In Israel, Speculation Over Strike on Iran Grows,” Agence France-Presse, Nov. 2, 2011. [148] “Prime Minister’s Speech at the David Ben-Gurion Memorial Ceremony,” [YouTube], Dec. 4, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGyHmhkMqqg. [149] Shlomo Tsezna, “Netanyahu Drops Heavy Hints in Speech,” Yisrael Hayom, Dec. 5, 2011. [150] For example, see Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib, “How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill,” Nation, July 15, 2014. [151] Mati Tuchfeld and Boaz Bismuth, “Congressional Initiative: United States Will Support Israeli Attack on Iran,” Israel Hayom, Nov. 16, 2011. [152] Raphael Ahren, “John McCain says US and Israel Drifting Apart on Iran Issue,” Times of Israel, Feb. 21, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/john-mccain-says-us-and-israel-drifting-apart-on-iran-issue/. [153] Barak Ravid, “Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1652900. [154] “S. Res. 65 — A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation,” 113th Congress, May 22, 2013. [155] David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” New York Times, May 5, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-aspiring-novelist-who-became-obamas-foreign-policy-guru.html. [156] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [157] Wilson, “In Meeting.” [158] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [159] “US' Dempsey says Premature to Attack Iran Now,” Reuters, Feb. 19, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa/us-dempsey-says-premature-to-attack-iran-now-idUSTRE81I0K420120219. [160] Richard Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack on Iran 'Would Not Stop Nuclear Programme,’” Guardian, Aug. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/30/israeli-attack-iran-not-stop-nuclear. [161] Shimon Shiffer, “The Message Israel Received via the United States — Saudi Arabia Says: We Will Intercept Israeli Aircrafts on Way to Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 9, 2012. [162] Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack.” [163] Shimon Shiffer, “'Iran Must Steer Clear of US Interests in Gulf,'” Ynetnews, Sept. 3, 2012. [164] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [165] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [166] Shimon Shiffer, “Not to Attack in Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, July 31, 2012. [167] “Remarks by President Obama and President Peres of Israel at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 13, 2012, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/06/13/remarks-president-obama-and-president-peres-israel-presentation-medal-fr. [168]Ronen Bergman, “Shimon Peres on Obama, Iran and the Path to Peace,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/shimon-peres-on-obama-iran-and-the-path-to-peace.html. [169]Jeffrey Heller, “Israel’s Peres Against Any Solo Iran Attack, Trusts Obama,” Reuters, Aug. 16, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-iran/israels-peres-against-any-solo-iran-attack-trusts-obama-idUSBRE87F0M620120816. [170] Attila Somfalvi, “The Crisis With the U.S.: Barak Holds Secret Meeting With Rahm Emmanuel,” Ynet, Sept. 20, 2012; and Attila Somfalvi, “Netanyahu Summons Barak to Reprimand: Demands Clarifications,” Ynet, Oct. 6, 2012. [171] “PM Netanyahu’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York,” Prime Minister’s Office, Sept. 27, 2012, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA_Graphics/MFA Gallery/2012/9/TRANSCRIPT_UN270912.pdf. [172] Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger, “Nod to Obama by Netanyahu on Iran Bomb,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/28/world/middleeast/netanyahu-warns-that-iran-bombmaking-ability-is-nearer.html. [173] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16; Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [174] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314­–16. [175] In October 2011, U.S. officials expressed fear that “any crackdown on Iranian oil exports could drive up oil prices when the United States and European economies are weak.” As one senior official noted, “You don’t want to tip the U.S. into a downturn just to punish the Iranians.” See David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, “To Isolate Iran, U.S. Presses Inspectors on Nuclear Data,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/world/middleeast/white-house-says-data-shows-iran-push-on-nuclear-arms.html. The following month, the New York Times reported, “No one in the administration is willing to risk a step that could send prices soaring and, in the worst case, cause a confrontation at sea over a blockade.” David E. Sanger, “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” New York Times, Nov. 5, 2011. In January 2012, Sanger noted, “Obama has stopped short of advocating a global total embargo, which could lead to confrontations at sea.” Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [176] Jennifer Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0; Obama Objects (Really),” Washington Post Right Turn Blog, Dec. 2, 2011, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/senate-passes-iran-sanctions-100-0-obama-objects-really/2011/12/02/gIQA7yELKO_blog.html. [177] Interestingly, a pattern recurred in which, in the words of former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, “The White House pushed back on sanctions bills, and then, once they passed, took credit for them.” See Michael B. Oren, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (New York: Random House, 2015), 274. See also Josh Rogin, “White House Opposed New Iran Sanctions,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 30, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/30/white-house-opposed-new-iran-sanctions/. [178] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [179] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [180] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 15. [181] “Payments System SWIFT to Cut Off Iranian Banks,” Reuters, March 15, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-iran-sanctions/payments-system-swift-to-cut-off-iranian-banks-idUSBRE82E0VR20120315. [182] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, Nov. 5, 2012. [183] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 200; Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0,” Washington Post, Dec. 2, 2011. [184] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 366–67. Zarate made the same point, noting that in early 2012, “The talk of preemptive war by Israel — which began to impact the public debate within Israeli society and in Washington, DC — made clear that more aggressive steps were necessary to avert war. … The Israeli strategy was clear — it would use saber rattling to impel greater international economic and financial pressure. The world was moving into maximalist financial pressure mode on Iran to avoid war. Financial constriction needed to move to economic strangulation.” See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 338. [185] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [186] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [187] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [188] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [189] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [190] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [191] Jeffrey Goldberg, “Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff,’” Atlantic, March 2, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/obama-to-iran-and-israel-as-president-of-the-united-states-i-dont-bluff/253875/. [192] “Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 4, 2012, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/04/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference-0. [193] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 369. [194] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 405–7. [195] Goldberg, “Obama Doctrine.” [196] Author interview with Ehud Barak, Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 8, 2016. See also Barak, My Country, My Life, 432–33. [197] Barak, My Country, My Life, 429. [198] Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Setting Limits on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/world/middleeast/obama-rebuffs-netanyahu-on-nuclear-red-line-for-iran.html. [199] Lois Farrow Parshley, “A Whole New Era,” Foreign Policy, Sept. 17, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/17/a-whole-new-era/. [200]“Netanyahu Urges U.S. to Set ‘Red Line’ for Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Sept. 16, 2012, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/16/netanyahu-urges-u-s-to-set-red-line-for-iran/. [201] Telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. This may have been the case. In August 2012, Haaretz published an extensive interview with a “senior decision-maker” whom it indirectly identified as Barak. Linking the probability of a U.S. attack to a perceived, credible Israeli military option, the senior decision-maker — that is, Barak — added, “If Israel gives up and it becomes clear that it can no longer act, the likelihood of an American operation will decrease.” See Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012. [202] Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 28, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203363504577187420287098692. [203] Shimon Shiffer, “The Plan of Attack,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 3, 2012. [204] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [205] Barak, My Country, My Life, 433. [206] See Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008); Joseph S. Nye Jr., The Future of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011); Moises Naím, The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (New York: Basic Books, 2013). [207] Isabel Kershner, “Iran Deal Denounced by Netanyahu as ‘Historic Mistake,’” New York Times, July 14, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-deal-israel.html. [208] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, May 6, 2016. [209] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [210] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [211] “Amanpour,” With Christiane Amanpour, CNN, April 19, 2012. [212] “Hakol Diburim,” With Ayala Hasson, Voice of Israel, Aug. 9, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4RAuOR8IhU. [213] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [214] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 651 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2018-07-31 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-31 09:00:03 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: A Timely Assessment of U.S. Counterterrorism Partnerships

By Derek Chollet With many Americans — led by the current occupant of the White House — questioning the value of global partnerships and talking as though the United States would be better off going it alone, there is no better time to assess the role other countries play in achieving U.S. counterterrorism objectives. Anyone who has been involved in crafting U.S. counterterrorism policy inside the government knows the essential importance of these relationships. But they also are soberly aware of how troubling they can be. America’s fight against terror has been the subject of a mountain of books over the nearly two decades since 9/11. Most have been inside-accounts of policymaking from Washington’s bureaucratic trenches or dramatic tales of counterterrorism missions. Yet few have made a systematic assessment, benefitting from the latest scholarship, of the ways counterterrorism cooperation actually works, showing how and why success is often so elusive. That’s what makes Stephen Tankel’s latest book, With Us and Against Us, so timely. It combines his solid grounding in the academic literature on alliances and international cooperation with his first-hand experience in sausage-making policy at the Pentagon to give readers a comprehensive and thought-provoking tour through some of the toughest — and certainly most frustrating — counterterrorism relationships in recent U.S. history. The fight against terrorism is usually discussed simplistically as one in which there are only friends and enemies, best summarized by the “with us or against us” statement of President George W. Bush just a week after the September 11 attacks. Yet the reality is far more complex, and the countries that take up the most time for policymakers are those that fall in between the categories of ally or foe — especially Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Mali, and Pakistan. In many ways, when it comes to tackling terrorist threats, these countries are both firefighters and arsonists. And while cooperation with them is crucial, it has been exceedingly difficult, whether because of state weakness, conflicting interests, or outright duplicity. Tankel takes a deep-dive into the toughest cases, detailing the recent history of Washington’s approach toward these “frenemies” and providing a useful analytical framework for understanding when and why success is possible or not. It is an unflinching account of how difficult these partners can be. He also reveals the difficulties that the United States itself brings to the table, whether it is unrealistic expectations that cooperation will be easier or leverage more effective, over-reliance on military tools, sending mixed messages, or misunderstanding threat perceptions. Any aspiring policymaker will benefit from this book, as well as by following the debate and discussion it provokes, illustrated by the three insightful contributions to this roundtable. In a comprehensive overview of Tankel’s book, Stanford’s Martha Crenshaw supports his core arguments, highlighting the value of his conceptualization of the challenge and his clear and informative case studies. At the same time, she also proposes several interesting avenues of research that are worth further exploration. For example, Crenshaw highlights the fact that, despite trillions of dollars spent on a variety of counterterrorism activities during the past 15 years, the United States still has difficulty accounting for where the money goes and what precisely the impact has been. She also makes the intriguing suggestion that there is something to learn from U.S. efforts to cooperate with other countries in other security areas, such as with Mexico in counter-narcotics efforts and law enforcement. Finally, Crenshaw echoes a point Tankel stresses: The United States will never be able to get more out of its partnerships with these difficult states unless it develops a comprehensive, clearly articulated counterterrorism policy with improved integration of policy tools. Tankel’s concluding chapter offers some pragmatic suggestions, but the subject is so knotted it warrants a book of its own. Jacob Shapiro, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, seems to agree with many of Tankel’s and Crenshaw’s assessments and policy recommendations, but focuses mainly on the theoretical foundations of Tankel’s work, offering an alternative academic literature, which he argues provides a more compelling way to understand the problem. (Crenshaw makes a similar point, but spends far less time on the subject.) Instead of seeing these counterterrorism partnerships as interstate security relationships relying on the logic of alliances, Shapiro contends that they are better described as interdependent relationships with only partially-aligned interests, and, therefore, are better understood through the frameworks of agency theory and organizational economics. To make his case, Shapiro highlights the work of other scholars working in these traditions, going into detail about theoretical arguments that will be unfamiliar to many non-academic readers, including this one. His explanation of competing conceptual arguments is informative and adds some nuance to Tankel’s analysis. But despite the differences in theoretical approach, the bottom-line remains essentially the same: If interests diverge and threats to punish partner states — such as curtailing engagement or withholding assistance — don’t generate meaningful costs, then cooperation will be limited. Policymakers fully understand this point, as Christine Abizaid’s thoughtful and revealing response to Tankel makes clear. Abizaid spent several years during the Obama administration shaping the Pentagon’s approach toward Pakistan. Her account reinforces Tankel’s narrative about the difficulties in dealing with that deeply troubled but essential counterterrorism partner. She reviews the tangled recent history of Washington’s attempts to influence Islamabad’s behavior to make it a more “strategic partner,” from pouring in civilian and security assistance to threatening to withhold it. These efforts achieved narrow results where interests overlapped — such as the disruption of al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban — but not the kind of strategic shift anyone hoped for. Creating and using leverage has proven to be much easier in theory than it is in practice. So where does this leave things? Taken together, Tankel’s book and the responses to it in this roundtable explain the limits of American power, even when it comes to addressing an issue that is at the core of U.S. national security. All these authors suggest ways the United States could be more effective in getting what it wants — such as by better understanding America’s partners, adjusting expectations, sending a consistent message about goals and redlines, and having greater balance among U.S. military, diplomatic, and development tools. These are hard to achieve even in the best of times. With the current administration, progress in any of these areas seems unlikely. Although none of these authors offer a silver bullet — or assert that any are available — policymakers and citizens alike will benefit from thinking about the post-9/11 counterterrorism challenge, soon entering its third decade, with a clearer analytical framework and a dispassionate understanding of recent history. And in this respect, Tankel’s With Us or Against Us, and the essays it inspired in this roundtable, are a terrific place to start. Derek Chollet is Executive Vice President of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. A former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, his latest book is The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World.  

2. The Imperfect Truth Behind Counterterrorism Partnerships: Reality Bites

By Christine Abizaid Seventeen years after al-Qaeda’s devastating attack on the U.S. homeland, the U.S. fight against terrorism goes on amidst questions of how best to wage that fight, in what geographic boundaries to engage, against what permutation of the enemy, and toward what ultimate end the United States is fighting. In April, Congress attempted to energize the national debate on these questions when Senators Bob Corker and Tim Kaine reached across the aisle to collaborate on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) aimed at better situating the Executive’s power to wage war against terrorists within a clarified constitutional framework.[1] While the discussion continues about whether their particular bill improves the current authorities structure, one aspect of the debate must not be overlooked: The United States cannot fight terrorism alone. This is where Stephen Tankel’s new book, With Us and Against Us,[2] makes an important contribution. Tankel provides counterterrorism professionals, U.S. policymakers, and the academy a serious and thoughtful examination of one the most complex aspects of the United States’ counterterrorism strategy: working by, with, and through partners to protect the United States. By focusing on Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Mali, Algeria, and Pakistan, Tankel chooses to tackle the most challenging of these partnerships, and in so doing, provides insight into the necessary tradeoffs and many limitations the United States must navigate in trying to meet its counterterrorism objectives. Counterterrorism (CT) partnerships are not often given their due credit for the role they play in enabling the United States’ CT successes. However, as Tankel demonstrates, partnerships — yes, even the difficult ones — are the essential ingredient to any successful effort to protect U.S. citizens, U.S. interests, and the U.S. homeland. Maintaining them requires a steady hand. The current administration would do well to recognize just how many of America’s CT achievements in the past 17 years have relied on other countries, as well as how the United States’ ability to form these partnerships has been underpinned by its leadership and credibility in the world. That credibility allowed America to build the kind of counterterrorism coalition that has, so far, protected it from another attack on the scale of 9/11. Preserving it is no small task. It requires hard work and wisdom from civil servants and political leaders, alike, who must articulate to both the American public and partners abroad what the U.S. strategy is and how it will advance everyone’s goals against terrorist violence. The Trump administration has yet to coherently communicate its CT vision or explain why America’s overseas engagements, military and non-military alike, are worth the risks they entail. The longer the U.S. CT strategy remains unnecessarily shrouded in mystery, the higher the costs will be to the execution of CT operations and to the U.S. coalition against terrorism. Credibility and strategic communication, therefore, must go hand-in-hand. Burden-Sharing in the Fight Against Terrorists As a former practitioner, I am grateful for Tankel’s recognition of the United States’ partner-dependency as a key aspect of its CT approach. Indeed, over the years, the United States has built “patterns of cooperation with partner nations [as] a way to increase burden sharing and make U.S. counterterrorism efforts more sustainable.”[3] Although many books have been published about CT in the post-9/11 era, few have dealt as directly with the complex situation in which the United States, working alongside its partners, has sought to prosecute its CT objectives. Direct action operations — including the deployment of U.S. military boots-on-the-ground and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly referred to as drone strikes) — have been the subject of much recent study in so far as they pertain to the efficacy of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.[4] Interest in the topic grew as the Obama administration expanded its predecessor’s use of these tactics, including in areas outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the nature of the metastasizing terrorist threat demanded American action.[5] However, even U.S. direct action is not accomplished in a vacuum. It is the end result of a complex set of access agreements, overflight approvals, strategic asset positioning, and bilateral negotiations, all of which must be pursued in concert with partners before the United States is able to act against threats internationally and outside of declared war zones. Moreover, direct action is just one aspect of the U.S. CT effort that is reliant on America’s relationships with other states. Tankel rightly observes that, “[b]ecause the United States cannot and should not put combat troops on the ground in every country where terrorists operate, it has looked to partner nations to act as the tip of the spear…” The U.S. ability to disrupt specific threats to the homeland has required a complex array of intelligence relationships. It has been able to dismantle some terrorist networks overseas only through robust law enforcement cooperation. And even its ability to try foreign terrorists in U.S. criminal courts has rested on the United States’ skill in working with its partners across the globe. Cooperation with foreign partners has significant bearing on the United States’ ability to pursue its national interests abroad. In the case of CT, that cooperation requires deft maneuvering, often on short timelines and with lives at stake, only adding to the pressures of getting things right. There is no one-size-fits all approach to counterterrorism partnerships. Tankel demonstrates this fact in great detail in his case study examination of different U.S. partnerships. Each partner has its own security paradigm, unique history with the United States, capacity limitations, and individualized approach to dealing with both domestic and regional developments. All of these influence partner perceptions of local CT dynamics and the value of working with the United States to achieve CT goals. In no case is it more apparent how these dynamics can lead to difficult tradeoffs than in the case of Pakistan. Satisficing with Pakistan … Tankel is an expert on Pakistan’s history with terrorism and his chapter on this relationship is well worth the price of admission. He rightly characterizes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as riddled by divergent threat perceptions, a history of mistrust, and different approaches to threat mitigation. Both as a former counterterrorism intelligence officer and former U.S. defense official with policy oversight of U.S. security assistance to Pakistan, I regularly wrestled with the complexity of this relationship. Whether having to do with the United States’ CT imperatives in Afghanistan, concerns over a volatile relationship between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, specific threats to the United States and U.S. forces emerging from a vibrant militant safehaven in Pakistan’s tribal areas, or mourning with Pakistani counterparts over losses their country has experienced at the hands of terrorists, America’s engagement with Pakistan has always been filled with contradictions. Despite the nuances and frustrations of working with a partner that has so many security priorities out-of-step with those of the United States, the relationship with Pakistan has always been critical to the U.S. ability to pursue its vital national security interests in the region. How best to work with Pakistan to achieve the United States’ CT goals has been a hotly debated topic, full of criticism, optimism, skepticism, and even naïveté. And yet, while America’s record of cooperation with Pakistan is not straightforward or clear-cut, that cooperation has been essential to the protection of the United States. On the one hand, Pakistan has been one of the United States’ most prolific partners in the fight against al-Qaeda. For several years after its ouster from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s network in Pakistan presented the most significant threat to the U.S. homeland and the West — a reality America’s British partners experienced firsthand when operatives guided by al-Qaeda’s Pakistan-based leadership attacked the London underground and buses on July 7, 2005. America’s Pakistani partners understood U.S. and Western concerns, and over time, cooperated with the United States to neutralize operatives, disrupt plots, and pressure those parts of al-Qaeda’s network residing in the country. This CT cooperation resulted in some of the most important disruptions to al-Qaeda’s network over the course of its existence (this, despite Pakistan’s non-cooperation during the raid on which U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011). On the other hand, some of the fundamental enablers of al-Qaeda’s network in Pakistan have been viewed by Pakistan’s military as too precious, or too dangerous, to make a move against. As Tankel describes it, “No amount of [financial] assistance or threats to withhold it would lead the Pakistani security establishment to turn on the Taliban, Haqqani network, or other state-allied organizations.”[6] These groups’ Pakistan-based infrastructure has supported, even if indirectly, the efforts of groups like al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP) against the United States and the West, creating a persistent threat in and from the region in a way Pakistan has yet to fully acknowledge through deed or word.[7] Of course, every nation acts in its own self-interest and Pakistan is no different. It just has yet to calculate that its approach to terrorism actually accrues to its own detriment. The United States’ challenge remains how to convince Pakistan that what Tankel rightly describes as Islamabad’s “segmented” approach to terrorists and militants is, in the long run, the primary threat to its own existence, and is not merely a problem for U.S. security interests in the region.[8] It is not clear why this has been such a difficult case for America to make. Over time, the threat from Pakistan’s tribal areas has morphed from one that was largely externally focused to one that increasingly has included Pakistan’s settled regions. At no point has Pakistan’s cultivation of non-state actors actually improved its own security outlook over the long term. And yet, even today, as Islamabad struggles with terrorist threats to civilians in its most populous cities,[9] the Pakistani military refuses to take a consistent position that fundamentally challenges terrorist and militant exploitation of Pakistani soil. Tankel is correct that, over the course of America’s post-9/11 relationship with Pakistan, the space for CT cooperation gradually narrowed.[10] By the end of the Obama administration, patience with Pakistan had run thin, both in the Executive branch and in Congress. Despite regularly engaging on the importance of dealing once-and-for-all with those whom the United States perceived as serious threat actors, Pakistan continued to hedge. Meanwhile, the U.S. security dynamics were changing. Al-Qaeda’s network was on the ropes and America’s presence across the border in Afghanistan was shrinking, meaning there were fewer U.S. security imperatives on which to build with Pakistan. The United States began signaling that, with its reduced regional presence, Pakistan should expect gradual reductions in U.S. security assistance. Pakistan complained, but did not change the kind of behavior that Washington had made clear was problematic. So, in 2015, when Department of Defense policymakers recommended for the first time that the secretary of defense effectively withhold $300 million in security assistance intended for Pakistan,[11] Islamabad was not pleased. Unfortunately, they were also unmoved. While Pakistan counted on U.S. security assistance to fund important military and non-military initiatives that helped the country remain financially solvent, it was clearly not reliant enough on U.S. funding — nor appreciative enough of or confident enough in the relationship with the United States — to meaningfully change its strategic approach to terrorist and militant groups. Pakistan has been playing a dangerous game for years, supporting terrorist and militant proxies that it found useful and cracking down on elements that posed a significant threat to the West and to Pakistan. Some of those proxies evolved to become not instruments of the state, but instead unpredictable allies, liabilities to control, and eventually, in some cases, threats to Pakistan itself. By segmenting their approach to this evolving threat landscape, Pakistani generals have established for themselves an environment that will fuel the country’s own insecurity for years to come. As long as this policy continues, Islamabad will be trading a healthy relationship with the international community with one that too often caters to hostage-takers in the region. So What Do We Do? It is unlikely the United States will be able to talk Pakistan out of viewing certain non-state actors as critical foreign policy tools. Between this, Pakistan’s prioritization of a perceived threat from India, and its unwillingness to strategically cooperate on Afghanistan, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is fated to remain transactional. Progress will center on those narrow issues on which the two countries can agree. And paradoxically, given their joint disruption over the last 17 years of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda or TTP, there are fewer and fewer issues on which they can easily, transactionally cooperate. America’s CT successes have changed the U.S. security paradigm in the region and Pakistan’s calculation of what is in its own self-interest militates against expansive cooperation with the United States. Conversations with Pakistan about regional security will only get less satisfactory from here on out. And yet, the United States must not disengage. America’s ability to manage this relationship and extract cooperation will be critical to achieving its goal of never again allowing this region to become a platform from which terrorists can threaten the U.S. homeland. The Trump administration has upped the ante for Pakistan, threatening to withdraw all security cooperation, including support for Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts in the tribal region.[12] It is hard not to take some satisfaction in signaling to Pakistan that its incremental approach to meeting U.S. counterterrorism and security needs is no longer acceptable. But that doesn’t mean the tactic will work. If Pakistan cared that much about U.S. largesse, it would have changed its behavior when the U.S. government first signaled a reduction in funding levels in 2014. Additionally, the U.S. military still has over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan helping Afghan forces fight a resilient insurgency, over which Pakistan has significant influence.[13] The United States needs to leverage what partnership it does have with Pakistan to get the Taliban to the negotiating table and deter insurgent violence in the region. Pakistan is the key to shrinking the size of the Afghan insurgency, thus enabling Afghan forces to truly own security in their country, and giving the United States the ability to draw down in the region with the confidence that its local security partners can contain the terrorist and militant threat. Disengagement will not help make that argument, nor will it put the United States in a position to steer Pakistan away from strategic miscalculation or mismanagement in the region that could lead to a nuclear exchange. This is where neither Tankel’s work, nor any work in the last 17 years (including this book review) has offered a real solution to how America can move to a truly strategic partnership with Pakistan. As Tankel’s other case studies also show, no CT fight abroad can be narrowly waged. Effective CT campaigns cannot stop at targeting terrorists. They have to address the underlying causes that create the conditions that terrorists exploit. Dealing with those underlying causes is a long and costly affair, especially in a region as multi-layered as South Asia. Fundamentally, to make progress against such an enormous challenge, America must broadly share with its partners the same basic interests. That is just not the case with Pakistan. The United States is now at a stage in its CT campaign where it can and should move away from counterterrorism as the orienting principle for its engagement in the world. To do that, a partnered approach, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, is more important than ever. But how much America must invest — or sacrifice — to make those partnerships work for both sides remains a difficult equation to solve, especially because every situation requires a unique solution tailored to the circumstances of the region in question. This dilemma is well captured through Tankel’s exploration of America’s most complex counterterrorism relationships. He exposes with great clarity and a sense of history and proportion the difficulty associated with maneuvering through intractable problem sets with multifaceted partners. In so doing, Tankel provides an objective perspective on why these relationships can be so problematic, even when dealing with a threat that, from the U.S. perspective, appears so straightforward. As policymakers continue to evaluate how best to navigate these relationships to protect the United States, they would do well to read With Us and Against Us, absorb what it has to say about the difficulties ahead, and enter into counterterrorism partnerships clear-eyed and purposeful, knowing there is much history — and folly — to learn from. Christine Abizaid served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia from July 2014 to August 2016.  

3. Counterterrorism Partnerships: A Two-Way Street

By Martha Crenshaw Stephen Tankel’s latest book, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror,[14] makes a valuable contribution to better understanding the complicated picture of post 9/11 counterterrorism, a topic that is especially relevant now that the global war on terrorism seems both endless and inconclusive. His thorough research delves into the understudied domain of the role of America’s partners in the war on terror, highlighting the fact that effective counterterrorism is difficult in both its conceptualization and its implementation. American leaders, beginning with Donald Rumsfeld, have struggled to measure or demonstrate the effectiveness of chosen counterterrorism policies, ranging from the blunt use of military force to the subtleties of “countering violent extremism” (CVE) or preventing “radicalization.” Tankel is to be further commended for situating his analysis of counterterrorism cooperation in the general framework of theories of alliances and foreign policy, rather than treating it in isolation. Implicit in his analysis is a critical question about the current U.S. strategy of “by, with, and through,” which emphasizes reliance on local forces rather than committing American combat ground forces in large numbers.[15] This model may have been successful in destroying the Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate after 2014, but the United States should be cautious about relying on it as a general solution to managing civil conflict. Recommending caution does not imply that unilateralism is a better alternative. However, U.S. decision-makers need a better grip on appraising the security interests and cooperative inclinations of local partners in the war on terror. In his book, Tankel develops a specific question: What can the United States reasonably expect from its partners in counterterrorism operations abroad? His answer is based on an impartial consideration of a select subset of those partners: states that have active jihadist insurgencies and terrorist groups and that are aided by the United States in the absence of any formal treaty obligations. To be included in Tankel’s analysis, these states must also be countries where the United States does not or did not have a major military presence. Afghanistan and Iraq are thus excluded as Iraq is a former occupation zone, and nearly 15,000 active troops are still deployed in Afghanistan. Included in his sample set are Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The set is thus weighted toward the Middle East and North Africa, where the United States is engaged in extremely volatile conflicts with local and transnational dimensions. To put this selection in global context, by mid-2017, U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed to 137 countries.[16] While these partner states are relatively friendly to the United States, the strength of each bilateral alliance varies. Some partners are much more ambivalent and reluctant — indeed recalcitrant — than others. In addition, some ongoing conflicts are more “frontline” in nature for the United States than others, making American interest in partner security uneven. The comparative case studies that Tankel presents are tightly organized around four aspects of partnership: domestic counterterrorism efforts, tactical cooperation with the United States, regional cooperation, and the somewhat ambiguous catch-all of “countering violent extremism.” The case studies are clear and informative, presented chronologically, giving the reader a sense of how cooperation has fluctuated over time. Tankel argues that U.S. expectations of partner cooperation should be tempered by the recognition that there is often a fundamental misalignment of the threat perceptions of a given terrorist group or insurgency. This misalignment seems largely inevitable and likely to continue. To the United States, the threat is external. The greatest concern is preventing terrorist attacks on the American homeland that might emanate from groups active in these countries, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan, both of which have directed terrorist plots against the United States that came near to completion.[17] AQAP was behind the thwarted Christmas 2009 airliner bombing, and LeT instigated the Times Square bombing plot in 2010.[18] But these instances of externally organized terrorism are rare. There is also the danger of decentralized “homegrown” terrorism, inspired by jihadist appeals to action, especially from ISIS. Still, the direct terrorist threat to the United States from these groups is far from existential. The United States also has a less proximate, but nevertheless real, interest in ensuring that hostile jihadist organizations do not take over territory that they can then use to attack Americans or to destabilize local allies. Hence the switch from opposing Bashar al-Assad to opposing ISIS in the Syrian civil war after ISIS had declared its caliphate and occupied large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. The United States is similarly concerned with groups in Pakistan that undermine the security of Afghanistan. For the weaker partners at the center of Tankel’s analysis, the threat is primarily an internal one — and sometimes even an existential one. Cross-border transnational terrorism overlaps with local insurgencies that undermine state control and could potentially trigger the collapse of the state. What is at stake for these countries is profound. Yet, paradoxically, sometimes the “threat” is also an asset. Some of these partners agree with the U.S. position that jihadist groups are belligerent opposing forces to be diminished, defeated, or eradicated, even at high cost. Others see good reason to collaborate with such groups, since these countries typically face multiple armed opposition groups. There are also various levels of indifference and tolerance that lie in between total belligerence and total cooperation. Tankel points out, logically, that longstanding bilateral alliances, in which two states share a history of cooperation, can ease the path of partnership. But there are limits to such familiarity. He notes that Saudi Arabia, certainly a long-time U.S. ally, in the end resists doing much about the doctrine of Wahhabism, which bolsters jihadism worldwide but remains the source of the regime’s legitimacy. Tankel also finds that tactical military cooperation (e.g., providing intelligence) is easier than initiatives of larger scale or that have more of an impact on domestic politics in the host country, such as CVE or, in particular, the acutely sensitive subject of security sector reform. The Future for U.S. Partnerships Is not so Bright The overall conclusions of this book are not optimistic, which is unsurprising. Tankel finds that “absent catalytic events, efforts to change partners’ threat perception have not met with much success.”[19] Providing security assistance to partners is highly problematic, and it is hard to see how to fix the problem. Any solution depends on tackling such confounding issues as poor governance and corruption, problems that are deeply rooted in the countries in question. Effective counterterrorism goes beyond building state capacity to encouraging the sorts of political solutions that have so far taken the back seat to military ones. Tankel argues that military capacity-building efforts have emphasized tactics over the basic reform of the partner’s institutional security apparatus. Military planners (who are at the forefront of partner relations) must find it frustrating and unrewarding to tackle endemic, intertwined problems of graft and corruption, lack of motivation, poor training, and weak leadership. Kinetic efforts are much more glamorous, producing visible results in the short term, even if the long-term effect is, at best, inconclusive, and at worst, harmful. As Tankel notes, U.S. partners abroad sometimes act as enablers in this respect. They provide tactical cooperation such as access to territory, intelligence information, and detention and rendition of suspects, in order to avoid more onerous, demanding, and costly forms of cooperation, especially those that would jeopardize the hold on power of local elites. Adding further to the problem is the fact that the United States has not excelled at assessing the cost or the pay-off of counterterrorism efforts. Here, there is obvious room for improvement, at least incrementally. For starters, the United States could better monitor security assistance. Tankel includes in a footnote in With Us and Against Us the telling observation that the United States cannot even track the money it is spending on security assistance.[20] Similarly, America’s CVE efforts in Pakistan were hampered by a lack of knowledge about the sources of the problem. Despite the encouraging observation that these efforts became more informed over time, indicating that governments can learn, there was still a “lack of metrics.”[21] Tankel was unable to figure out how much American assistance was devoted to CVE because the different agencies involved characterized it differently.[22] The Stimson Center in Washington recently released an impressive, although admittedly imprecise, report on the overall cost of U.S. counterterrorism activities, including overseas assistance as well as homeland security, which estimated a total of $2.8 trillion spent during fiscal years 2002 through 2017.[23] The report cited lack of transparency, inconsistent criteria for what counts as counterterrorism, and incomplete data as the basis for its conclusion that it is impossible to assess whether or not money is being spent to counter the most important threats or how efficacious such spending is overall. The war on terrorism has become so diffuse and open-ended that it is impossible to track accurately. While Tankel’s book focuses primarily on exposing the inconsistences of America’s partners, the U.S. government can also be erratic. Even under the same administration in Washington, different agencies can have different threat perceptions, in addition to all the other divisions that foster compartmentalization and bureaucratic rivalry.[24] The United States is also likely to switch enemy priorities: The adversary in Syria, for example, was Assad — until it was ISIS.[25] Tankel does acknowledge such American inconsistencies, but it is likely that they affect U.S. partners’ perceptions more than most American policymakers realize. It would be very enlightening to have a glimpse at that perspective to see how those partners view America’s role in counterterrorism cooperation. Although Tankel does not stress this point, he does allude to some disastrous American policy mistakes, including the “difficult to overstate corrosive effect” of the invasion of Iraq, and the “enduring stain” of Guantanamo. But it was not just these tragic blunders that disrupted chains of events and patterns of partnership. It was the way that decisions, which perhaps seemed inconsequential or even helpful at the time, in the end had unexpected consequences in the region. Adapting to these faulty decisions and sometimes shocking consequences is made all the more difficult if allied relationships are not robust and if local partner elites are divided and insecure. One example of this is the Obama administration being blindsided by the Arab Spring and by the civil war in Syria, setting the stage for the breakdown of Yemen. The behavior of America’s partners there — the regimes of Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, as well as Saudi Arabia — was, at best, unreliable and opportunistic, and at worst, destructive, causing even more problems. Counterterrorism efforts in Yemen that were focused on AQAP eventually morphed into supporting the Saudi campaign against the Houthi rebels. Another example is Libya, where the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi led to an unexpected descent into chaos that disrupted the entirety of North Africa and the Sahel region (in addition to causing the death of the American ambassador to Libya).[26] Both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara now have operational bases there, which has, in turn, led to American drone strikes. Yet another example in the region is Mali, which was so caught off guard and threatened by the movement of AQIM into the north of the country, due to the Algerian state’s victory in the Algeria civil war that began in the 1990s, that France was invited to intervene. Now, the region is in turmoil, and the United States is establishing an armed drone base in Niger. In effect, Algeria, a U.S. ally, was so effective in defeating what was largely a local jihadist movement that it pushed the local organizers to ally with al-Qaeda in 2006. AQIM’s southern branch then spilled over into partner Mali, undermining Mali’s own security and territorial integrity as well as regional stability more broadly. The chaos in Libya only made the conflict worse by providing ungoverned spaces as well as an abundant supply of arms. Tankel’s study reinforces the findings of other scholars who have similarly stressed misaligned preferences as the cause of difficulties in patron-client relationships. Their research expands the analysis beyond counterterrorism to other areas, counterinsurgency in particular, and highlights different state partners.[27] These scholars are equally pessimistic about what can be achieved through these types of U.S. partnerships. In documenting the obstacles to effective security assistance, they find that, in order to work, it requires levels of intrusiveness and conditionality that might not be practical or desirable. The bottom line is that differences between patron-client preferences require the patron, in this case the United States, to drive a hard bargain to get any sort of compliance or cooperation. The January 2018 suspension of State and Defense Department security assistance to Pakistan, in the hopes of compelling stronger action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, might be an instance of such a hard bargain, but its effectiveness is doubtful.[28] Paul Kapur has argued convincingly that Pakistan is irreversibly committed to the idea that supporting jihadist groups, as well as the Taliban, is essential to its regional security. It regards India as a much greater threat than domestic extremism, and it will not abandon the relationship with its jihadist clients, despite the disastrous consequences that Kapur predicts.[29] What’s more, a Brookings report by Vanda Felbab-Brown points out that the United States decreased its military aid to Pakistan by 60 percent between 2010 and 2017 without any discernible impact on Pakistani behavior.[30] It is understandable that U.S. military leaders might not completely grasp the complexities and ambiguities that Tankel describes, especially when they are dealing with newer counterterrorism partners. Transparency is not, after all, a strong point in these regimes. Tankel is certainly right to say that it is critical for the United States to understand its partners’ calculations. But is it realistic to expect this level of insight or to expect mutual comprehension? Reading this book would be a good start, but distrust and suspicion of duplicity and manipulation are likely to remain. There’s More to Learn About U.S. Partnerships Tankel’s analysis raises questions that merit further consideration and research. The argument proposed in his book could be extended to partners who are engaged in active combat against jihadists, such as the Philippines, which is a U.S. treaty ally that has had close military cooperation with America over the years. Niger also comes to mind, since American soldiers have been killed in military operations against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and, as noted above, the United States is expanding its commitment there by building a new base for armed drones. Another potential point of comparison to explore is between state and non-state partners, such as the Kurds. A further question to explore is how different is the problem of combatting terrorism from other security areas in which the United States similarly needs the help of sometimes dubious or less than willing/capable partners, and wants its partners to be the “tip of the spear.” For example, would it be instructive to examine U.S. cooperation with partners like Mexico in combating transnational drug dealing and organized crime? Jihadist violence may be fundamentally different because the actors behind it are what Tanisha Fazal describes as “religionist rebels” whose intransigence distinguishes them from other regime opponents.[31] However, there might still be lessons to be learned by applying Tankel’s analysis to these non-terrorism security areas. Tankel finds that, as time passed after 9/11, the United States reduced its reliance on unreliable partners. It would be worthwhile to know more about how this withdrawal was possible and what was the alternative to that reliance. Is it easy to switch partners? What happens if the United States abandons a partner? Can partner reliability be predicted? It would not seem so, but there are surely some identifiable characteristics of partners that could be known in advance, beyond their past performance as an ally. Perhaps there is a correlation between U.S. uncertainty about the gravity of a given threat and U.S. willingness to press partners in the sensitive areas of security sector reform and civilian institution-building, both of which appear central to effective counterterrorism as well as counterinsurgency. When the United States perceives a threat as acute, local partners are able to play the weak ally card, as South Vietnam did and as Pakistan still does. The United States is probably more willing to impose the conditionality recommended by Tankel and others when American policymakers are less impatient and less eager to see immediate results. But then again, paradoxically, uncertainty about the jihadist threat in Mali did not stop the United States from escalating involvement in the Sahel region. In the end, it seems unlikely that the problems with partners that this book identifies can be solved without a better defined and better articulated national counterterrorism policy. The current anti-jihadist strategy is essentially a mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies. Partners are asked to counter jihadist insurgencies and terrorism not just to help themselves but to help the United States defend its interests against transnational terrorism and cascading instability as the number of civil wars involving jihadist movements steadily increases. Furthermore, the various elements of counterterrorism policy are not well integrated. How can military operations, whether unilaterally conducted by the partner or in cooperation with the United States or regional allies, be compatible with countering violent extremism and undermining the jihadist claim that the West is at war with Islam? It is also hard to reconcile Washington’s opposition to “nation-building” with providing effective security assistance to these weak partners. Jihadists take advantage of and exploit civil conflicts stemming from local grievances that U.S. partners have not been able or willing to deal with. Military cooperation will not resolve those grievances, although it could buy time for solutions to be pursued. Tankel is right to emphasize that, ultimately, the problem is more political than military. Martha Crenshaw is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies’ Center for International Security and Cooperation and Professor of Political Science, by courtesy, at Stanford University. She is the co-author, with Gary LaFree, of Countering Terrorism (Brookings Institution Press, 2017).    

4. America and Its Counterterrorism Partners: A Principal-Agent Relationship

By Jacob N. Shapiro Stephen Tankel’s new book, With Us and Against Us: How America's Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, marks a significant contribution toward understanding why states do (or do not) cooperate with major powers to fight terrorist groups.[32] The book addresses a basic puzzle: What accounts for the great variation over time and across groups in how hard key states have worked to cooperate with America’s counterterrorism efforts? Pakistan, for example, worked reasonably well with the United States to capture and kill al-Qaeda operatives from 2002 to 2005 (with important exceptions), generally allowed a range of militants to operate with near impunity from 2006 to 2008, and then provided tacit support to the massively ramped up U.S. drone campaign in some regions of the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier from 2009 to 2011. Pakistan has also had the habit of targeting some groups while leaving others untouched at the same point in time. Tankel’s book reveals that this kind of variation is not unusual. In his chapters on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mali, and Egypt/Algeria, Tankel lays out the competing strategic incentives that influence the United States’ putative allies in the “War on Terror.” Each chapter walks through the history of how the country in question has cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism efforts over the years, as well as how it has worked at cross purposes to U.S. goals. What becomes clear as the book progresses is that there is tremendous variation in the extent of cooperation with U.S. efforts. Understanding the cause of that variation is critical in several respects, most importantly because policies that assume unconditional cooperation are clearly misguided and doomed for failure. But more subtly, having a clear sense of the conditions that hinder cooperation can help policymakers identify ways to set the stage for our allies to do more. To analyze patterns of cooperation in each country, Tankel employs a pair of two-dimensional graphs that illustrate a) the extent to which the United States and its ally share the same threat perception of different terrorist groups and b) the extent to which a terrorist group is either useful or poses a threat to the U.S. ally in question. By placing specific groups on these two graphs, Tankel concisely highlights whether the United States and its ally would be conflicted about cracking down on a given group. Tankel argues that when the United States and its ally disagree about the threat-level and when a group has some utility to the ally — situating it in the lower right quadrant of each graph — then one should expect to see shoddy cooperation or outright subversion of U.S. interests on the part of the ally. This is a clean argument that helps make sense of a great deal of variation within each individual case — e.g., Pakistan cooperating with the United States against some Islamist militants while supporting groups with superficially similar ideologies — and the evidence laid out is persuasive. The case studies provide tight chronological narratives for each country and bring together a range of events that every scholar and policymaker working on the topic should know about. Overall, the book highlights the inherent limits on cooperation between states in counterterrorism efforts and should encourage caution among policymakers who have too-easily assumed that other states will follow U.S. priorities on counterterrorism because they are strong allies in some other area. Tankel’s key advice to the policy community is dead on:
It is critical to comprehend the security paradigm that drives a partner’s decision-making, how relations with the terrorists that are the target of cooperation fit into that paradigm, and how U.S. policies influence the political and security challenges the partner faces.
Great History, Wrong Framework The main weakness of the book is that, by framing the analysis in the literature on alliances,[33] Tankel situates his work in the wrong literature. As Tankel himself points out, the kind of cooperation the United States is seeking in its counterterrorism efforts is fundamentally different from the commitments sought in traditional interstate alliances. Moreover, the alliance literature that Tankel presents never deals explicitly with the complexities of politics within individual states, and so provides little guidance for thinking through how potential counterterrorism partners will behave. Although Tankel does not rely heavily on alliance theory in his analysis, there is nevertheless a missed opportunity here. Specifically, alliance theory, with its focus on structural conditions, provides little insight into the vexing question of how the United States and other great powers should work with allies in the counterterrorism fight. The issues Tankel studies would have been better understood through the lenses of agency theory and organizational economics. Because these approaches are focused tightly on how to configure relationships that can lead to cooperation between interdependent entities with partially aligned interests, they provide deeper insights into how to shape the strategic thinking of allies in counterterrorism than do the literatures on alliance behavior and coercion. In particular, principal-agent models highlight the challenge of sustaining cooperation when a) the principal has to delegate certain activities to an agent, e.g., running counter-radicalization programs; b) the agent’s preferences differ from those of the principal, e.g., it might disagree about which groups are truly “radical”; and c) the principal cannot credibly punish the agent for taking actions that are in its own interest instead of the principal’s. Threats to punish can fail because the principal cannot be sure whether the agent has taken advantage of the principal’s discretion (say by not working as hard as the principal would like) or because the threat of punishment is not one the principal is likely to carry out when the time comes. From the perspective of organizational economics, the United States is clearly engaged in a principal-agent relationship with its counterterrorism partners. The United States, the principal, seeks to delegate various counterterrorism activities (collecting intelligence, protecting U.S. sites, running de-radicalization programs, etc.) to another state, its agent. That state, however, can take actions that are not in U.S. interests and the United States has only imperfect tools to compel cooperation. That is both because it is hard to measure counterterrorism efforts (because many are necessarily covert) and thus difficult to know how hard an ally is working, and also because the agents are balancing multiple priorities and know that the United States will not completely cut them off even if they misbehave. Take Pakistan, for example: United States policymakers wished to punish Pakistan for its support of the Haqqani network at points, but were constrained by their reliance on Pakistan for cooperation against al-Qaeda and for transshipment of supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, making a complete breach in relations over counterterrorism issues unthinkable. Two books — one that was recently published and one that is forthcoming — that address the challenges of working with allies to achieve counterinsurgency goals from a principal-agent perspective can help foster a better understanding of the rich case histories that Tankel presents. Walter C. Ladwig III’s, The Forgotten Front: Patron Client Relations in Counterinsurgency,[34] applies agency theory to understand why the United States had such difficulties achieving its strategic goals in the Philippines after World War II, Vietnam from 1957 to 1963, and El Salvador from 1979 to 1992. He begins the book by pointing out that, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, military action by outside powers created moments of political opportunity that were not capitalized upon by local governments. Ladwig then pivots to outline in rich detail the many problems agency theory predicts states should have in managing what he terms “patron-client relationships.” Ladwig argues that structural factors in the international system do a poor job of explaining the variance in the extent to which principals in counterinsurgency efforts (essentially great power patrons) can shape their agents’ actions. Put more provocatively, the kinds of variables that play a major role in theories of alliance behavior and interstate coercion have little explanatory value when trying to understand cooperation in counterinsurgency. It is easy to argue that the same is true with respect to understanding cooperation in counterterrorism, and it would seem Tankel agrees, given that his analysis makes little use of alliance theory after the introductory setup. Ladwig demonstrates that moral hazard — a term of art for the problems that occur when an agent can take actions that increase its utility at the expense of the principal — loomed large in each of his three examples because it was usually hard for the U.S. government to monitor what its agents were doing and to credibly threaten punishment for any identified transgressions. Sometimes that difficulty arose from the lack of credible options outside of the local partner, as when the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam was quoted as arguing, “We would assist a Communist takeover by withholding our aid, even if it must necessarily be given to a government which is less than perfect,”[35] and sometimes it stemmed from the unwillingness of leaders in the United States to publicly acknowledge their allies’ shortcomings in the context of zero-sum Cold War competition. Many of the themes in Ladwig’s volume are deepened and extended in the forthcoming Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence through Local Agents, edited by Eli Berman and David Lake.[36] The authors of this volume argue that “Working through local proxies has always been a central tool of foreign policy,” and therefore, “Understanding indirect control, how to motivate local leaders to act in sometimes costly ways — and when and how it succeeds — is essential to effective foreign policy in today’s world; especially for managing violence and illicit activities by non-state actors operating from the territory of other states.” This insight is driven by years spent talking with U.S. policymakers as they struggle to “do more with less” and “work by, with, and through” local allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. To help build a richer understanding of indirect control Berman and Lake take a novel approach, working with game theorists Gerard Padró i Miquel and Pierre Yared to lay down a logically coherent and mathematically-derived account of the principal-agent dynamics involved in indirect control. Eight other authors in this edited volume then apply that theoretical framework to nine proxy relationships, including the United States and South Korea, Nazi Germany and Denmark, and Israel and Hamas, among others, examining a different outcome and different set of principal-agent challenges in each case. The book’s essential argument is that the great power principal can choose different methods for addressing what Berman and Lake generically term “a disturbance,” which can include terrorism emanating from poorly governed spaces, as in parts of Pakistan, or drug production in remote areas, as in regions of Colombia. At one extreme, the principal can engage in direct action (e.g., military strikes) or it can disengage and accept ongoing disturbances. The principal can also attempt a strategy of indirect control in which it either a) promises rewards and punishments to the proxy to induce the proxy to suppress the disturbance,[37] or b) enhances the capacity of the proxy to manage the disturbance, for example, by providing security force assistance.[38] The optimal mix of carrots, sticks, and supplements depends on how tightly aligned the principal’s interests are with those of the agent, echoing Tankel’s discussion of shared agreement on the severity of the threat and the extent to which the agent sees strategic value in the group producing the disturbance. Situations that Tankel classified as having high U.S. threat perceptions, low ally threat perceptions, and high ally utility for the terrorist group, are those that Berman and Lake would describe as having poor preference alignment between principal and agent. Cooperation is not impossible in such settings according to their argument, but securing it requires the principal to create strong incentives for the agent to comply with its demands. And it is in thinking about how to create such incentives, that the agency theory approach pays greatest dividends. In Berman and Lake’s formulation, interests can diverge when disturbances are more costly for the principal than the agent, when the proxy simply has higher priorities, or when reducing the disturbance is politically costly for the agent (as going after the Pakistan Taliban in the wake of the Abbottabad raid would have been for the Pakistani government, for example). When interests diverge a great deal, the principal will have to provide large rewards or significant punishments to make the agent comply. Simply providing capacity, however, will not help. Weapons and training can be diverted to address problems other than the disturbance the principal cares about (in the case Tankel studies, military aid provided to enhance Pakistan’s ability to fight local insurgents was spent bolstering the country’s defense against India). When interests diverge modestly, then, the great power can tailor punishments and rewards to get its proxy to deal with the threat to some extent, but capacity building will largely be a wasted investment. This prediction is consistent with the poor results of U.S. security force assistance in Iraq. It is only when interests are closely aligned that unconditional capacity building will work, or so Berman, Lake, and the other contributors to this volume argue. In practical terms, their argument implies that increased aid, military training, and other forms of assistance should be used sparingly and only in cases such as postwar Europe, where the United States and (most of) its allies agreed on the nature of the Soviet threat. This perspective finds much support in the examples discussed in Proxy Wars, though there are exceptions. Overall, the authors find that great powers have been overly sanguine about the potential for capacity building to help proxies manage disturbances and that explicit rewards and punishments are not used as often as one would think, despite their record of success. Stephen Biddle’s closing chapter draws on that observation to identify key policy lessons, many of which mirror suggestions made by both Tankel and Ladwig, regarding the need for being realistic about the incentives facing state partners. Not surprisingly, Berman and Lake’s theoretical arguments are fully supported by the facts presented in Tankel’s careful dissection of the U.S.-Pakistan proxy relationship. Capacity building for purposes of counterterrorism largely did not work. Meanwhile, without credible punishments, Pakistan routinely invested less than the United States would have liked in containing threats emanating from its territory and redirected military aid to its own purposes. And during periods when working with the United States was more politically costly for Pakistani politicians and military leaders, levels of cooperation went down across the board. What the agency theory approach brings to the table is a clear-eyed view of what would be required to gain that cooperation: a way to credibly threaten to punish the Pakistani state when groups that it sees as valuable — e.g., the Haqqani network — create costs for the United States. Absent that, Pakistan is likely to remain a partial cooperator at best. Overall then, Tankel’s With Us and Against Us is a valuable and welcome contribution to the literature on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. The book provides an essential history of counterterrorism cooperation in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mali, Egypt, and Algeria. And it does more than any other book to illustrate how even the best allies can advance the United States’ goals against some groups while working against them with regards to others. In this respect, With Us and Against Us makes a unique contribution to the growing set of books highlighting just how limited cooperation often is in this domain. It should be required reading for anyone in the executive branch considering a counterterrorism strategy that relies on local cooperation and for anyone in the legislative branch considering funding such strategies.   Jacob N. Shapiro is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and directs the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project, a multi-university consortium that compiles and analyzes micro-level data and other information on politically motivated violence in countries around the world. He studies conflict, economic and political development, and security policy. He is author of The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations and co-author of Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict. His research has been published in a broad range of academic and policy journals as well as a number of edited volumes. He has conducted field research and large-scale policy evaluations in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, and Pakistan. [post_title] => Book Review Roundtable: America's Hot and Cold Relationship with Its Counterterrorism Partners [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-review-roundtable-americas-hot-and-cold-relationship-with-its-counterterrorism-partners [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-31 10:35:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-31 14:35:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=651 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Stephen Tankel's new book, With Us and Against Us, looks at the troubled relationship between America and its counterterrorism partners in the Middle East and North Africa. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Book [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 30 [1] => 186 [2] => 187 [3] => 77 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Garrett Epps, “A Bill to Curtail the Forever War, or Extend It?” Atlantic, May 7, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/a-bill-to-stop-the-forever-war-or-extend-it/559769/. [2] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [3] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 58. [4]  Paul Scharre, “Why Drones Are Still the Future of War,” Foreign Affairs, February 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-15/why-drones-are-still-future-war. [5] Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on US Drone Policy (Second Edition) (Washington, D.C.: Stimson Center, 2015), https://www.stimson.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/recommendations_and_report_of_the_task_force_on_us_drone_policy_second_edition.pdf. [6] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 159. [7] For further reading on Pakistan’s history of cultivating non-state actors, as well as the history of its cooperation with the United States, see Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin Books, 2004); Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Vintage Books, 2006); Peter Bergen, Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: Free Press, 2001); and Stephen Tankel’s Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). [8] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 131. [9] Aamair Latif, “Pakistan Nuclear Body Staff Comes Under Suicide Attack,” Andalou Agency, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/pakistan-nuclear-body-staff-comes-under-suicide-attack/1134625; Gul Yousafzai, “Pakistani Army Kills Senior Militant, Seven Suicide Bombers,” U.S. News and World Report, May 17, 2018, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-05-17/pakistan-kills-senior-lashkar-e-jhangvi-militant-in-baluchistan-raid. [10] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 158 [11] Tankel, With Us and against Us, 158. [12] Lisa Ferdinando, “Pentagon Spokesman: U.S. Wants Pakistan to Take ‘Decisive Action’ Against Terrorism,” Department of Defense, Jan. 8, 2018, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1410401/pentagon-spokesman-us-wants-pakistan-to-take-decisive-action-against-terrorism/. Missy Ryan and Carol Morello, “Trump administration suspends most security aid to Pakistan,” Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2018; https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-suspends-security-aid-to-pakistan/2018/01/04/303145e4-f18a-11e7-b3bf-ab90a706e175_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b4db88e61e92. [13] Robert Burns, “Amid little scrutiny, US military ramps up in Afghanistan,” Military Times, Mar. 10, 2018; https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2018/03/10/amid-little-scrutiny-us-military-ramps-up-in-afghanistan/. [14] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [15] Linda Robinson, “SOF’s Evolving Role: Warfare ‘By, With, and Through’ Local Forces,” Rand Blog/Cypher Brief, May 9, 2017, https://www.rand.org/blog/2017/05/sofs-evolving-role-warfare-by-with-and-through-local.html. [16] Nick Turse, “American Special Ops Forces Have Deployed to 70 Percent of the World’s Countries in 2017,” Nation, June 26, 2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/american-special-ops-forces-have-deployed-to-70-percent-of-the-worlds-countries-in-2017/. [17] Stephen Tankel has also written an excellent book on LeT, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011). [18] See the useful website maintained by New America, Terrorism in America After 9/11, https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/terrorism-in-america/. [19] But if there are some even modest successes it would be good to know more about them. re trying to point out. nd effect aretthe mean and connect with the world and friends with developmental disabilities.evelopment [20] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 345. [21] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 161, 357. [22] Admittedly CVE remains a nebulous concept and practice, even within the United States. The core of the policy is countering violent ideologies, attitudes, and beliefs rather than degrading, defeating, or eradicating an enemy organization. [23] Stimson Study Group on Counterterrorism Spending, Protecting America While Promoting Efficiencies and Accountability (2018), https://www.stimson.org/content/counterterrorism-spending-protecting-america-while-promoting-efficiencies-and-accountability. See also “Counterterrorism: DOD Should Fully Address Security Assistance Planning Elements in Global Train and Equip Project Proposals,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 30, 2018, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-449. [24] See the vivid accounts in Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Press, 2018). [25] Tankel says that a noteworthy effect of building an anti-ISIS coalition after 2014 was that it brought Muslim majority countries into the counterterrorism cooperation framework. Still, ISIS was less of a priority for Saudi Arabia than for the United States. In Yemen, the Houthi threat entirely dominates the security concerns of America’s erstwhile counterterrorism partner. [26] Christopher S. Chivvis and Andrew Liepman, North Africa’s Menace: AQIM’s Evolution and the U.S. Policy Response (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2013), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR415.html. [27] Stephen Biddle, Julia Macdonald, and Ryan Baker, “Small footprint, small payoff: The military effectiveness of security force assistance,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 41, nos.1-2 (2018): 89–142; Barbara Elias, “The Big Problem of Small Allies: New Data and Theory on Defiant Local Counterinsurgency Partners in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Security Studies, 27, no. 2 (2018): 233–262; Walter C. Ladwig, The Forgotten Front: Patron-Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and Daniel Byman, “US counterterrorism intelligence cooperation with the developing world and its limits,” Intelligence and National Security 32, no. 2 (2017): 145–60. [28] Mark Landler and Gardiner Harris, “Trump, Citing Pakistan as a ‘Safe Haven’ for Terrorists, Freezes Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/us/politics/trump-pakistan-aid.html. [29] Paul Kapur, Jihad as Grand Strategy: Islamist Militancy, National Security, and the Pakistani State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). [30] Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Why Pakistan supports terrorist groups, and why the US finds it so hard to induce change,” Brookings Institution, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/01/05/why-pakistan-supports-terrorist-groups-and-why-the-us-finds-it-so-hard-to-induce-change/. [31] Tanisha M. Fazal, “Religionist Rebels & the Sovereignty of the Divine,” Daedalus 147, no. 1 (2018): 25–35. [32] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America's Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [33] Tankel, With Us and Against Us, 49–54. [34] Walter C. Ladwig III, The Forgotten Front: Patron Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge University Press, 2017). For an outstanding review of Ladwig’s book see Will Selber’s excellent piece at War on the Rocks: Will Selber, “Hope and Hype: Advising Foreign Forces in the Middle of a Counterinsurgency Campaign,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 17, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/08/hope-and-hype-advising-foreign-forces-in-the-middle-of-a-counterinsurgency-campaign/. [35] Ladwig, The Forgotten Front, 71–72. [36] Eli Berman and David Lake, Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence through Local Agents (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming). Full disclosure, I am a co-PI on the grant that funded the book, but did not participate in writing it. [37] Along the lines of the contract that Ladwig advises establishing at the start of a principal-agent relationship for counterinsurgency purposes. [38] Interestingly, both methods have been used over the years as the United States tries to manage its counterterrorism relationship with Pakistan and, as Tankel shows, have had uneven success. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => 1. Introduction: A Timely Assessment of U.S. Counterterrorism Partnerships, by Derek Chollet 2. The Imperfect Truth Behind Counterterrorism Partnerships: Reality Bites, Christine Abizaid 3. Counterterrorism Partnerships: A Two-Way Street, by Martha Crenshaw 4. America and Its Counterterrorism Partners: A Principal-Agent Relationship, by Jacob N. Shapiro ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 573 [post_author] => 56 [post_date] => 2018-05-08 05:00:11 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-08 09:00:11 [post_content] => Insurgencies are famously difficult to defeat, yet the Afghan Taliban have proven especially so. Accounts of Taliban resilience have focused on both the deficiencies of Western efforts and the Afghan state and on Pakistani support for the Taliban. These accounts fail, however, to reveal the full picture of how the Taliban have been able to survive. Drawing on original field research, this article explores how the Taliban’s success has been shaped by factors internal to the insurgency, namely, the social resources that sustain it and the group’s ability to adapt militarily. The fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was swift and brutal. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States went to war against al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Taliban forces were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by American special operations forces and their Afghan allies, supported by an armada of warplanes. U.S. air forces did most of the killing. The U.S. Air Force and Navy dropped 18,000 bombs in the air campaign, 10,000 of which were precision munitions. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed is unknown, but according to one estimate the death toll was 8,000 to 12,000.[1] By early 2002, the Taliban emirate had ceased to exist as a physical entity, and its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. In the decade that followed, the new Afghan state and its Western backers were unable to stop a Taliban insurgency from steadily gaining more ground across the country. In 2016, the Taliban seized Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan for a second time, having done so the year before as well.[2] The Taliban had also come close to capturing the provincial capitals of Helmand and Uruzgan in the south and Farah in the west. In May 2016, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan command reported that only 65 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under government control.[3] This highlights the question of how the Taliban were able to come back so successfully from utter defeat. Between 2001 and 2016, the United States spent around $800 billion on war in Afghanistan. The international community spent an additional £240 billion building up Afghan security forces. In 2010, at the height of the international military effort in Afghanistan, just over 100,000 U.S. troops and around 40,000 troops from 50 other nations were deployed there. Despite all this military might and international largesse, the Taliban were not defeated. How can this be explained? To date, studies on the war have mostly focused on deficiencies in the international military effort and problems with the Afghan state. Lack of success in defeating the Taliban has been blamed on the failings of Western leadership and strategy, on the hubris and incoherence of the international effort, and on flaws in counterinsurgency tactics and operations.[4] Equally important has been the scale of corruption in Afghanistan, fueled by the massive influx of international aid, which has undermined both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the Afghan government and security forces.[5] In explaining the persistence and success of the Afghan Taliban, many commentators have highlighted the support the group received from Pakistan. The long, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (across which men, material, and money move with relative ease), the use of refugee camps in Pakistan as secure rear bases, and significant military assistance from the Pakistani Army have unquestionably been important to sustaining the insurgency in Afghanistan.[6] The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of the Pakistani Army has been central in this. The ISI has largely succeeded in hiding its involvement in the Afghan conflict, working through undercover agents, civilian sympathizers, contractors, and retired officers. Taliban interviewees are also cautious about commenting on Pakistan’s role in their struggle. Thus, outside the world of secret intelligence, it is possible to get only glimpses of the ISI’s assistance to the Taliban. While the group receives significant financial support from Gulf Cooperation Council states (and from various sources within GCC states), and some military assistance from Iran and possibly Russia, Pakistan has been the Taliban’s most important source of funds, training, and military supplies.[7] According to the journalist Steve Coll, by 2008 it had become apparent to the U.S. military that the Pakistan Army was supporting the whole deployment cycle of Taliban forces, from their training in Pakistan to their deployment in Afghanistan to their return to Pakistan for rest and recuperation. Coll even notes that “Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps troops along the Pakistan border were firing on American border posts to provide covering fire for the Taliban to infiltrate into Afghanistan and return.”[8] Less studied, however, is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. To be sure, the literature on the Taliban is sizable and includes important books on the group’s origins, politics, culture, and war making before 2002.[9] Antonio Giustozzi has produced a number of studies on the organization, governance, and fighting tactics of the post-2002 Taliban insurgency.[10] Still missing, though, is a comprehensive explanation for the Afghan Taliban’s remarkable resilience. How is it that the Taliban managed to survive an onslaught by the most powerful military alliance in the world? In this article, I draw on two bodies of theory from the field of security studies, one on the roots of insurgency and the other on military adaptation. The former identifies the critical nature of social resources that give resilience to insurgencies — in particular, the strength of horizontal networks within the insurgency and vertical links into host communities. The latter identifies those factors that make it more likely for militaries to adapt to evolving challenges in war. When applied to the Afghan Taliban, what’s revealed is an insurgency that has a deep well of social resources and that has, over time, improved its ability to innovate and adapt. Taken together, these factors point to an insurgency that is highly resilient and one that is unbeatable by military means alone. This finding has vital implications for the Trump administration’s strategy, which revolves around intensifying the military effort against the Taliban. In addition to presenting new insights informed by theory-driven inquiry, this article draws on a large number of original interviews with Afghan Taliban leaders, officials, and field commanders. Careful protocols were followed to ensure the fidelity of the interview data.[11] Of course, the reliability of what Taliban members say is inevitably open to question. On some matters, Taliban interviewees were inclined to exaggerate (e.g., the level of public support the group enjoys) or to be less than forthcoming (e.g., the role that Pakistani intelligence plays in providing support for the group). To minimize the risk of corrupt data undermining the analysis, the main findings are developed from multiple interviews and, where appropriate, are related to published scholarship on the Taliban. This article proceeds with a review of the literature on the social roots of insurgency, applying those insights to the Afghan Taliban, as well as a review of the literature on adaptation in war, likewise applying insights to the Taliban case. It concludes with a look at the implications of these findings for the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.

Social Sources and Insurgency

Even in situations that are ripe for rebellion, organizing an insurgency is far from easy. As political scientist Jeremy Weinstein notes, insurgent leaders face multiple challenges, chief among them maintaining control, especially as the insurgency grows, and extracting resources (e.g., funds, supplies, and recruits) without alienating local populations.[12] Some insurgent groups rely on terror to impose discipline within their ranks and to keep local populations subdued. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a prominent practitioner of this tactic.[13] Even more savage was the Revolutionary United Front, whose atrocities in Sierra Leone in the 1990s included abducting children and turning them into sadistic killers, and hacking off the limbs of countless thousands of civilians.[14] One problem with wielding terror as a tactic is that it “can stifle opposition but cannot engender loyalty and support from the civilian population.” For insurgent groups seeking to hold territory, this creates the ever-present risk of civilian defection to the opposing side.[15] For many insurgencies, consent is as important as coercion in maintaining both internal control and external local support. Weinstein points to the importance of “social endowments” in mobilizing people to join or support an insurgent movement. Social endowments include preexisting networks, common identities, shared beliefs, and norms of reciprocity, all of which facilitate cooperation and collective action, especially in situations with short-term costs and only the promise of long-term gains.[16] In his major study on the cohesion of insurgent organizations, Paul Staniland also highlights the role of prewar social networks, noting that insurgent leaders often “‘socially appropriate’ existing structures of collective action for new functions.” Staniland distinguishes between two types of structures: horizontal networks and vertical ties.[17] Horizontal networks link people who may be dispersed geographically through common ideological beliefs or professional identities. Political parties are a prime example. Insurgent movements often originate from or incorporate political parties. One example is the peasant insurgency in Nepal from 1996 to 2006, which sprang from the Maoist wing of the Communist Party of Nepal.[18] Vertical ties, on the other hand, are preexisting linkages between insurgent groups and local people, often based on common ethnic, tribal, or familial networks. These make it possible for insurgent groups to bind local communities to their cause and to extract resources from and exert control over them. Thus, “bonds of family and kinship” were crucial to the success of the Naxalites in mobilizing peasant support for their Maoist insurgency in eastern India.[19] Staniland argues that variance in the cohesion and resilience of insurgencies may be explained by the degree to which they are founded on, and are able to exploit, both horizontal networks and vertical ties. Over time, many insurgencies develop governance processes and structures to provide services for civilians in the territory they control. This requires insurgent groups to divert resources that could otherwise be devoted to their armed struggle. It may also require insurgent groups to take civilian preferences into account, even when they differ from the interests and preferences of the insurgency.[20] In the case of secessionist insurgencies, the impulse to govern is obvious since the struggle is focused on achieving independent statehood. In other cases (especially with Maoist insurgencies), insurgent groups are ideologically predisposed to govern the areas and populations over which they have control.[21] For most insurgent governments, establishing the means to police the population and regulate disputes is the first order of business. The provision of other public services, such as education and health care, is usually a secondary concern.[22] Nonetheless, providing some governance is important in the long term for insurgencies to sustain public support. This can, in turn, lead to the moderation of ideologically driven insurgent governments, if only for pragmatic reasons.[23] Regardless of the extent and effectiveness of their governance, insurgencies will often take on the symbolic trappings of statehood, and “perform” like a state. As Zachariah Mampilly notes, "[b]y mimicking the behavior of the modern state, rebels seek to discursively construct a political authority imbued with a comparable legitimacy enjoyed by national governments."[24] Such behavior can be important in sustaining the political claims of an insurgency group. When it comes to the Taliban, this discussion raises two questions. First, what role did horizontal networks and vertical ties play in the development of the post-2002 insurgency? Second, how successful have the Taliban been in creating state-like structures and public services since 2002?

The Social Roots of Taliban Resurgence

At the core of the Taliban movement is a horizontal network, based on common religious schooling and shared military experience, that endows the group with a powerful, unifying ideology and worldview. The Taliban movement was founded on a network of Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan within which the group’s leadership and cadre were educated. Thousands of young men were mobilized from these madrassas to fight against the Soviets in the mujahedeen war in the 1980s. Mujahedeen fighting groups organized themselves into larger networks, called “fronts,” or mahaz, each led by a great leader who was able to disburse military supplies from foreign donors across his front to field commanders.[25] According to one major study on the origins of the Taliban, “In greater Kandahar, there were literally hundreds of Taliban commanders and dozens of Taliban fronts. … The Taliban sought to distinguish themselves from other mujahedeen groups by offering a more ostentatiously religious jihad to those who fought with them.”[26] Young Taliban fighters formed strong bonds with the movement and with each other through the rigors and hardships of the mujahedeen war.[27] The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, and the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul three years later, removed the common cause that had held different mujahedeen parties together, and civil war promptly ensued. In southern Afghanistan, local warlords had free rein to prey on civilians, imposing arbitrary fines, stealing land, and kidnapping people for ransom and sexual abuse. In Kandahar, the Taliban returned to arms in 1994, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, to bring security and justice to the Pashtun population. Within four years, Taliban fighters had swept across the country, defeating or buying off rivals who stood in their path. By 1998, only a few pockets of resistance remained, most notably the Tajik Northern Alliance, which was holed up in its mountain retreats in the northeast. Upon seizing control of the country, the Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Chronically underfunded (with an annual budget of around $80 million) and untrained in public administration, the Taliban were unable to reestablish basic public services across the country. Moreover, the group imposed myriad fundamentalist strictures on the population, most notably preventing women from going to work and girls from going to school.[28] Accordingly, the downfall of the Taliban in late 2001 and early 2002 was welcomed by a great many Afghans. [quote id="1"] The major challenge for the interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai in 2002 was asserting government rule beyond Kabul and preventing a return to civil war. Karzai did this primarily by coopting various warlords into the new Afghan government. In this way, the corrupt warlords who had been pushed out of power by the Taliban in the 1990s returned as local governors and police chiefs. Under the guise of officialdom, these reincarnated figures once again stole from and abused the population. This, in turn, provided fertile ground for the gradual return of the Taliban into southern and eastern Afghanistan beginning in 2004. As one local elder from Helmand province noted, “day by day people got fed up with this Afghan government and welcomed the Taliban back into their districts.”[29] The United States ruled out peace talks with the Taliban in 2001 and 2002, and Karzai did not respond to a number of Taliban overtures during this period. Instead, U.S. special operations forces hunted down Taliban “terrorists,” who were rendered to detention facilities in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Many “common people,” as the Taliban call non-Taliban locals, also were caught up in the net thrown by U.S. special operations. As Mike Martin notes, the Americans “failed to understand how offering a bounty would cause people to denounce anyone they were having a feud with, or even innocent people, in order to collect the money.”[30] The injustice of U.S. counterterrorism operations, combined with the return of abusive warlords, drove the Taliban to remobilize. Echoing the views of several Taliban interviewees, one noted: “When Karzai became president, Taliban were not fighting, they were in their houses. … But when the Americans and Afghan governments were disturbing and attacking on the families of all those Taliban … this is the reason that Taliban started fighting again.”[31] In late 2002 and 2003, groups of Taliban began to operate in the southern provinces of Uruzgan, Helmand, and Kandahar and the eastern provinces of Paktia and Khost. Senior Taliban figures also began to remobilize in Pakistan, leading in March 2003 to the formation of a Taliban leadership council in the city of Quetta. Called the Rahbari Shura by the Taliban, it is more commonly known in the West as the Quetta Shura. In the years that followed, the Taliban effectively reestablished a government in exile. Mullah Omar remained in hiding so his deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, chaired the Quetta Shura. Provincial and district governors were appointed, starting in Kandahar and Helmand in 2003 and 2004 with other provinces in southern and eastern Afghanistan following in 2005. Twelve national commissions were established in Pakistan (military, politics, finance, culture, health, etc.) that effectively operated as shadow Taliban government departments.[32] From 2004 on, the Taliban returned in a more concerted way to southern Afghanistan. Taliban infiltration of rural districts followed a pattern. In most cases, it began with small groups of Taliban visiting villages to make contact with sympathizers, foment rebellion, and intimidate or kill pro-government elders and clerics. As they became more confident, these Taliban emissaries held open meetings to call on people to wage jihad on the “cruel government” and “foreign invaders.” Taliban mullahs were also dispatched to preach jihad to villages. As leading expert on the Taliban, Antonio Giustozzi, notes, “The strategic task of these ‘vanguard’ teams was to prepare the ground for a later escalation in the insurgency.”[33] In Musa Qala district in northern Helmand in 2004, the Taliban “secretly entered the district and talked to some villages and elders … they told the people that they were coming back to the district to fight against the government.”[34] In 2005, the Taliban returned in force to Musa Qala and “within two to three months they had captured all the villages,” leaving only the district center under government control.[35] In eastern Afghanistan, significant Taliban mobilization predated the formation of the Quetta Shura. In mid-2002, the former Taliban minister of tribal affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani, began to remobilize his front, and later that year Haqqani fighting groups were operating in Paktia and Khost.[36] Indicative of a powerful horizontal network, mobilizing Taliban fronts in southern Afghanistan reunited under the Quetta Shura. Invariably, rivalries emerged between some senior Taliban figures and the fronts they led. The rivalry between Mullah Baradar and Mullah Dadullah was especially pronounced. The eastern Taliban also resented the dominance of the Kandahari clique within the movement, and in time this led to the emergence of two additional leadership shuras that rivaled the Quetta Shura. The first was Miran Shah Shura, based on the Haqqani network, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in August 2007.[37] The second was the Peshawar Shura, which declared autonomy from the Quetta Shura in 2009.[38] Both shuras took direct control of the fronts and fighting groups in their networks. Yet neither openly challenged the primacy of the Quetta Shura. This was both symbolically important and consistent with Taliban ideology, which emphasizes the centrality of obedience to the emir. It also ensured that most Taliban members, regardless of what front they were in, retained and evoked a residual loyalty to Mullah Omar.[39] Vertical links were equally important to the establishment of the Taliban insurgency. A closed political system developed under Karzai whereby government resources flowed primarily to the familial and patronage networks of the warlords appointed to office.[40] Many disenfranchised communities ended up siding with the Taliban out of disgust at the inequitable distribution of those resources and the corruption of the new warlord-officials.[41] Downtrodden communities also aligned with the Taliban to gain protection from abusive pro-government militias. In some cases, the Taliban expertly exploited local dissatisfaction by supporting local elders and mullahs who called for rebellion and silencing those who were opposed.[42] The Taliban also stoked popular opposition to the presence of armed foreigners. This was not difficult given the growing Afghan anger toward U.S. night raids on homes as well as civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes. Expressing a view typical of many interviewees, one local elder in Ghanzi noted that he “was happy for return of Taliban in our district because of the cruelties of the Americans.”[43] Clumsily executed British operations in Helmand — and the widespread perception that these were targeting the poppy crop, the main livelihood for most locals — caused a popular revolt in the province in 2007.[44] One group of local elders later recalled, “We thought the British were trying to kill us with hunger — they destroyed our opium but didn’t give us one Afghani [the Afghan currency]. That is why people decided to join the Taliban; they needed someone to defend them.”[45] In fact, the British did provide compensation for the destruction of poppy crops, but farmers got nothing as this scheme was administered by corrupt local officials.[46] In many places, rebellion mapped onto existing tribal rivalries. A noted example is the Ishaqzai community within Sangin district in Helmand. For generations, the Alizais and Alikozais of northern Helmand had been in competition with the Ishaqzai. Under the Taliban state, Ishaqzais held a number of key government posts in the province, including the governorship. The tables turned when Karzai appointed an Alizai warlord as provincial governor and an Alikozai warlord as head of the provincial secret police. As Martin notes, warlords in both positions “used the cover of their government positions to tax, harass and steal from the Ishaqzai.”[47] One Alikozai admitted in 2007 that “The Ishaqzai had no choice but to fight back.”[48] As they gained control of sizable portions of territory, the Taliban set about trying to reestablish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan. To achieve this goal, Taliban provincial governors were provided with a modest budget.[49] The Taliban lacked the resources and expertise, however, to replicate the state. For many Afghan locals and Taliban commanders in Helmand, establishing a shadow government was not seen as a major part of the Taliban war effort.[50] The only area in which the Taliban were able to provide alternative government services was in the administration of justice. There was high demand for Taliban services given the frequency of rural disputes over land, trade, and family matters. Initially, the Quetta Shura sought to replicate the court system of the Islamic emirate of the 1990s, with standing lower and higher courts. In Helmand, the Taliban were able to reestablish the emirate court system for a time. But in most places, justice was administered by shadow governors, Taliban mullahs, and military commanders. According to Thomas Johnson and Matthew DuPee, “The Taliban shadow justice system is easily one of the most popular and respected elements of the Taliban insurgency by local communities, especially in southern Afghanistan.”[51] Under growing pressure from operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Taliban switched in 2009 from standing to mobile courts in Helmand. As one elder noted, “Judges are hiding; sometimes they meet in people’s houses, sometimes in the mountains, sometimes in the mosques.”[52] Nonetheless, Taliban courts remained widely used because, compared with the official Afghan courts, they offered accessible, quick, and corruption-free justice. As one elder observed, “In two or three hours, [the Taliban] could solve disputes with someone over one jerib of land. Now in Lashkar Gah, if you have a dispute with someone over one jerib of land, you have to sell twenty jeribs to pay the courts.”[53] In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. The 2010 edition of the Taliban rulebook (the layeha) specifies the structure of the Taliban shadow government at provincial and district levels and even provides for the appointment of suitably skilled non-Taliban officials. In reality, in many cases the local Taliban commander de facto acted as the shadow governor.[54] As one local elder from Musa Qala noted, “There was a [Taliban] district chief, but he didn’t have much influence. Most of the power was with commanders who had lots of fighters in the district.”[55] U.S. and international forces intensified their campaign targeting Taliban leadership, which led many shadow governors to flee to Pakistan, where they would issue instructions by mobile phone.[56] This gave local commanders even more authority in matters of governance. A local elder from central Helmand described the status quo this way in 2011: “When people have an issue, they will approach the local [Taliban] commander. They don’t know who the district chief is.”[57] The Taliban focus on the military campaign meant that, with the exception of administering justice, the Taliban were not able to provide public services to people in areas under their control. This, combined with the conflict’s growing intensity, led support for the Taliban to decline over time in many parts of Afghanistan. Aside from those villages and sub-tribal groups that had allied with the Taliban, many farmers just wanted to get on with their lives in peace. In eastern Afghanistan, Taliban restrictions on the movement of civilians, and interrogation of locals suspected of spying, became further sources of friction.[58] The Quetta Shura did regulate the shadow governors to ensure that they took measures to win over communities, such as banning arbitrary executions and limiting attacks on teachers and health officials. The 2007 and 2010 editions of the layeha outlined processes for communities to complain to the Quetta Shura if a provincial or district governor was too repressive or corrupt. Two district governors were replaced in Sangin in 2009, one for allowing Taliban fighters to attack local farmers who had received government agricultural aid and the other for his overly draconian administration of justice.[59] The Taliban also took measures to strengthen the military chain of command to improve adherence by field commanders to directives from Quetta (This is discussed further in the next section). While attacks on schools and extrajudicial killings declined in 2010 and 2011, they did not disappear altogether.[60] [quote id="2"] The Taliban benefited from extensive social resources in establishing the post-2002 insurgency. Shared education, ideology, and military experience all endowed a powerful horizontal network that helped the Taliban mobilize its fighting groups and maintain the coherence of a movement that contained many rival fronts and shuras. The Taliban were also able to develop and exploit vertical links with disgruntled villages and disenfranchised sub-tribal communities, which helped the group to seize control of rural areas from pro-government warlords. The situation is more mixed with regard to the Taliban’s success in developing legitimacy by establishing state-like structures and services. The Taliban sought to reestablish the Islamic emirate in the areas they controlled and took care to listen to the concerns of locals. But the group’s ability to govern was severely hampered by the conflict. Only in the administration of justice were the Taliban able to provide a public service that was valued by local Afghans. Shoring up insurgent morale and public support was an extensive Taliban propaganda campaign that utilized many forms of media — including jihadi magazines, radio, night letters, and sophisticated uses of social media — and contained narratives tailored for local Afghans and Pakistanis as well as global audiences.[61]

Military Adaptation in War

War involves a dynamic struggle between two or more armed parties, each trying to outwit and outfight the other.[62] By its nature, war demands that those engaged in this bloody struggle be prepared to adapt both to their environment and to the other side’s strategy and tactics. Military history is replete with examples of how fighting forces have adapted under battlefield pressure,[63] as well as how they have taken advantage of newly available technologies.[64] Those militaries that fail to adapt quickly or extensively enough are at greater risk of defeat and find that, even if they do end up winning the war, the price of victory was higher than necessary.[65] Notwithstanding these realities about adaptation, military organizations can nevertheless be slow to change. That is in part because, through training, planning, and equipment, militaries invest heavily in excelling at particular methods of waging war. This, in turn, creates a “competency trap,” whereby it becomes difficult to abandon existing ways of doing things.[66] So, how and when do militaries adapt? The literature on military change identifies the shock of defeat as a key driver.[67] Although militaries have powerful incentives to adapt based on their battlefield setbacks, higher-ups sometimes fail to appreciate and act upon lessons learned on the ground. This points to another key factor in military adaptation identified in the literature: namely, effective organizational leadership. When the innovations originate from below, i.e., on the battlefield, all that is required are senior leaders who are prepared to support the necessary changes throughout the organization.[68] In some cases, innovations will flow from the top, for example, when senior leaders champion organizational change in order to harness new technology, incorporate foreign military lessons, or respond to new political direction.[69] In a study published in 2010 on British military operations in Afghanistan, I identified two key enablers of military adaptation. One is the degree of centralization within an organization. Here it is about getting the balance right. Military adaptation requires sufficient delegation of authority so that battlefield commanders have the latitude to try out new tactics when the old ones prove ineffective.[70] It also requires sufficient centralized direction to ensure that organization resources are committed to developing and rolling out new tactics and to acquiring the equipment necessary to operate in new ways. A second key enabler is personnel turnover: Fresh ideas can travel into organizations with people. This is well understood in business, in what has become, in many sectors, a global hunt for talent. It applies in the military context with changes of command and the rotation of units into and out of theaters of operation.[71] In an important correction to my model, Kristen Harkness and Michael Hunzeker identified political considerations as a further factor critical in enabling military adaptation. In a study of the failure to adapt in the British counterinsurgency campaign in Southern Cameroons in 1960–61, they found that “British politicians chose to sacrifice military effectiveness for broader strategic and political interests, thus subverting bottom-up adaptation.” Their research highlights the importance of political leadership in setting overarching objectives for military campaigns, putting in place any high-level operational constraints, and allocating the resources necessary for adaptation.[72] Until now, scholarship on military adaptation has focused on the armed forces of states — that is, organizations with centralized authority exercised through a formal hierarchy and structured into functionally based subunits.[73] Indeed, through a process of transnational emulation of professional norms and practices, state-based militaries around the world have come to adopt remarkably similar organizational structures since the 19th century.[74] However, non-state military actors are more heterogeneous. Some emulate the hierarchies, units, and uniforms of state-based militaries, to varying degrees of fidelity. Others have a hybrid structure, with subunit formation reflecting local circumstances, and a less centralized and more informal hierarchy in which authority is often exercised through patronage networks. This variation can be seen in the military forces of Afghanistan’s foremost warlords during the late 1990s, specifically the more hierarchical and formally structured army of Ismail Khan and the patrimonial and semi-regular forces of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostrum.[75] In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders perceived themselves to be at a disadvantage when it came to military adaptation, believing that, with their flatter hierarchies and networked structures, insurgent groups found it easier to adapt.[76] Certainly, the less regimented culture and informal hierarchies of insurgent groups reduce the social and organizational barriers to experimentation. At the same time, as noted above, military adaptation requires sufficient organizational capacity to identify operational problems and develop tactical and technological solutions.[77] Modern militaries devote considerable resources to developing such capacities whereas insurgencies are less able to do so, suggesting that insurgencies may find it more difficult to ensure wider adoption of new tactics and integration of new technologies. The literature on military adaptation thus leads to the following questions when considering the Taliban. First, how did the Taliban adapt to battlefield setbacks? Second, what role did Taliban leadership — military and political — play in enabling that adaptation? Third, how centralized is the Taliban, and how has the group’s organizational structure affected military adaptation? And, finally, as the insurgency grew, is there evidence that new ideas about military matters had a significant impact on the Taliban?

Military Adaptation and Taliban Resilience

The Taliban have proven to be highly adaptive adversaries. During the war with the Soviets, the Afghan mujahedeen developed a pretty standard repertoire of guerrilla tactics. In particular, these involved planting mines in roads, ambushing convoys, and conducting raids against military bases.[78] Experience gained in this conflict shaped Taliban thinking about how they should fight. However, this did not stop the Taliban from adapting after the fall of the Islamic emirate. As noted above, the deployment of Western combat forces into southern and eastern Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007 increased pressure on the Taliban insurgency. The group responded with a number of adaptations to improve its ability to mass and control its forces in the field. The Taliban also adapted tactics to take advantage of bomb technology and to reduce exposure to Western firepower. The Taliban’s loose organizational structure, based primarily on a large number of semi-autonomous fronts linked to various shuras, presented a fundamental problem for the Quetta Shura in terms of managing the war effort. Initially, the Quetta Shura tried to get fronts to cooperate by offering financial incentives. The Taliban also tried to mass forces by moving experienced fighting groups across provinces, usually within the same mahaz network. By 2008, the Taliban leadership realized that this attempt to reform the mahaz system was not working. Anecdotal evidence from Helmand province illustrates the problem. In Kajaki, an Afghan interpreter hired by the British to listen to Taliban communications “described almost comical attempts by different commanders to shirk combat and foist the responsibility on other commanders.”[79] Around this time the Peshawar Shura began to develop a more centralized command system for Taliban fighters in the east and northeast. This new system involved the creation of provincial military commissions to plan large-scale operations, manage logistics, and deal with disputes between front commanders, as well as the appointment of district military commissioners (Nizami Massuleen) to ensure that field commanders complied with direction from the Peshawar Shura. This type of centralized system was alien to Taliban culture. So where did it come from? The Pakistani military’s extensive support for the Taliban, including providing military advisers, no doubt contributed to the creation and functioning of this more centralized system. But recent work by Claudio Franco and Antonio Guistozzi suggests that the Taliban’s organizational innovations originated in the more regimented structure of Hezb-i Islami, a rival mujahedeen party during the Soviet war. The Peshawar Shura was formed partly out of a breakaway faction from Hezb-i Islami in 2006. In this way, Hezb-i Islami’s ideas about how to organize the insurgency came into the Taliban. This more centralized system was subsequently adopted, with some reluctance, by the southern Taliban when Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir was appointed to head the Quetta Military Commission in 2009. There is a complicated but important backstory here: Zakir, a prominent Taliban commander from northern Helmand, had fallen out with his erstwhile patron, Mullah Baradar, and so he aligned instead with the Peshawar Shura. It was only under pressure from Peshawar that Baradar appointed Zakir to oversee the Quetta Military Commission. From this position, which he occupied until 2014, Zakir was able to ensure that the new centralized system rolled out across the south.[80] In addition, from 2008 on, foreign aid flowing through Pakistan was increasingly directed toward the Peshawar Shura, which allowed them to progressively outspend the Quetta Shura in funding the war.[81] This, in turn, enabled Peshawar to push its professionalization effort on Taliban fronts in the south as well as the east.[82] The result was a somewhat cumbersome double chain of command, in which Taliban units belonging to a particular front would respond to both their parent networks and the Peshawar or Quetta military commissions (whichever had given direction).[83] As one field commander noted in 2011, “If we see an ISAF convoy or police or army, we have orders to attack them. But if we make a plan to attack someplace, I ask Haji Mullah [his mahaz chief]. Sometimes we get orders from the nizami commission as well.”[84] Taliban interviewees also confirmed that the military commissions took over the task of resolving problems among commanders: “When some small problems come between to Taliban commanders, they are solved by the nizami commission in a very short time.”[85] Where necessary, a mediator figure — “a Pakistani mullah,” sent from Quetta — would be dispatched to sort out conflict between commanders when the district military commissioners were unable to cope on their own.[86] Thus, while it enabled more coordination between fronts and fighting groups, the Taliban’s new centralized system did not foster state-like command and control. The Taliban also adapted tactics in response to battlefield pressures. In Helmand, for instance, the group made wide use of fairly conventional infantry assaults in 2006 and 2007 in an attempt to overrun British outposts. The exact number of Taliban fighters killed in action over this period is unknown, but British defense intelligence estimated it to be in the thousands.[87] In response to these growing losses, Taliban field units adapted by moving toward greater use of asymmetric tactics. Taliban commanders interviewed across nine districts in Helmand reported this change. Three of these interviewees confirmed that the imperative to reduce Taliban battlefield casualties drove the shift in tactics.[88] Nevertheless, the Taliban still engaged in occasional large-scale attacks and paid a heavy price when they did so. This included, most spectacularly, an assault on Lashkar Gah in October 2008 by a 300-strong force, with the objective of decapitating the provincial government and discrediting the British mission. This attack was repulsed by airpower, leaving around 150 Taliban dead.[89] Perhaps having learned from such setbacks, in 2010 the Quetta Military Commission issued a general order instructing field units to avoid direct combat and to make greater use of guerrilla tactics.[90] [quote id="3"] Based on extensive interviews with Taliban commanders and officials, Giustozzi shows how alongside the new tactics came a number of “technological innovations,” including the introduction of anti-aircraft heavy machine guns, heavy mortars, advanced anti-armor weapons, and large-scale use of sniper rifles and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[91] Taliban interviewees admit to having received military equipment from Iran, and some said they had received military supplies from Russia.[92] Interviewees are far more careful in discussing support the Taliban received from the Pakistani Army. It is very likely, however, that these Taliban technological innovations were facilitated by equipment and training provided by Pakistan. The Taliban’s most significant technology-enabled military adaptation was the move to industrial-scale use of IEDs. In Quetta and Peshawar, the Taliban established Mine Commissions to lead this effort. In 2006, around 30 percent of all coalition fatalities were caused by IEDs. The next year, the share rose to almost 40 percent. From 2008 to 2010, IEDs were responsible for more than half of all coalition troop deaths.[93] By late 2008, use of IEDs had quadrupled in Helmand from the previous year. The number of such devices detected in Helmand jumped from around 100 per month in late 2008 to more than 450 per month in the summer of 2009 (they caused 80 percent of British fatalities that summer). This number continued to rise in 2010, to more than 600 in February and 700 in March.[94] Initially, most improvised explosive devices were made using recycled Soviet mines and unexploded ISAF ordnance. To meet demand, however, the Taliban had to switch to large-scale production of explosives using fertilizers from Pakistan.[95] By 2009, 80 percent of IEDs used these types of homemade explosives.[96] Western forces responded to the threat by deploying far more capable armored vehicles. The Taliban’s homemade explosives were about twenty times less powerful than military explosives, so it was difficult for the group to produce IEDs large enough to destroy such vehicles. U.S. and British forces also invested more heavily in IED detection capabilities. The Taliban responded by reducing the metal content in the devices to make them harder to detect. By 2011, the Taliban were producing IEDs on an industrial scale in Helmand, Kandahar, and Khost.[97] Hunting down IED makers became a priority for U.S. and coalition intelligence and special operations forces. One Taliban source gives insight into the impact of this counter-IED campaign on the Haqqani network: It lost almost 100 IED makers in 2013 and around 75 in 2014.[98] According to Taliban sources, the Iranians began to provide remotely triggered mines capable of penetrating Western armored vehicles in 2010 and increased the supply in 2011 and 2012.[99] Such extensive use of IEDs made it increasingly difficult for U.S. and coalition forces to move around. In 2006–07, the British had only two IED disposal teams for the whole of Helmand. There were six teams by late 2008 and 14 by late 2009, but this was still not nearly enough. A British military review of the IED threat concluded that it had created “a defensive mindset” in British forces, who were increasingly focused on simply not getting blown up. The situation gradually improved for U.S. and international forces with the deployment of new armored vehicles, better training and equipment for detecting IEDs, and the targeting of IED production. By 2011, the proportion of coalition troops killed by IEDs fell below 50 percent. It dropped further, to around 30 percent, in 2012.[100] Since the coalition mission ended in December 2014, bringing with it the withdrawal of Western combat forces, the burden of fighting the Taliban has fallen on the Afghan National Security Forces, whose unarmored trucks and lack of counter-IED capabilities leave them highly vulnerable to such devices. Professionalization of the war effort by the Peshawar Shura, including adoption of military commissions by the Quetta Shura, was critical to the Taliban’s ability to adapt militarily. With a shift in tactics came a new military training regime, reinforced by directives from Quetta and Peshawar compelling the tactical commanders to undergo training and receive regular advice on guerrilla tactics. One Taliban commander in Helmand noted in early 2012 that “now we are all focused a lot on getting training of IEDs, making of Fedayeen vests, getting ready of Fedayeen bombers and guerrilla fighting.”[101] According to another commander, Taliban units undergo “15 or 20” days of training every four months.[102] One interviewee from Sangin said that the Taliban “decided to open new training centers for mujahedeen.”[103] Yet another offered a contradictory and altogether more convincing view, given U.S. and British military operations: “We don’t have a secure place for our training. One day we get training in one area and the other day we get training in another area.”[104] Many Taliban interviewees from Helmand reported “foreign Taliban” (in this case meaning fighters from Pakistan) entering their districts for a week or two to provide military training. These men are most likely members of mobile training teams dispatched from Quetta or Peshawar that move from village to village.[105] Pakistani and Iranian military advisers appear to have provided significant support to the Taliban training effort.[106] This centrally directed and resourced training regime greatly increased the Taliban’s capacity to absorb new weapons and bomb-making technology into general use by field forces.[107] The ability to adapt has been key to the success of the Taliban insurgency. Early tactics learned during the Soviet war — ambushing military convoys and raiding enemy bases — proved suicidal in the face of Western artillery and airpower. The loose structure of the Taliban, based on the mahaz system, also greatly limited the group’s ability to mass force and achieve decisive outcomes on the battlefield. The Taliban adapted in two major ways: first, by introducing some degree of centralized command of fighting groups through a system of provincial military commissions and district military commissioners; and, second, by shifting to guerrilla warfare tactics and avoiding direct engagement with enemy forces. The latter adaptation involved a massive increase in the use and sophistication of IEDs, significantly hindering freedom of movement by international and Afghan security forces. The typical drivers of military adaptation are present in the case of the Taliban. Growing battlefield losses drove the Taliban to find new ways to fight and organize. This effort accelerated when Mullah Zakir assumed leadership of the Quetta Military Commission in 2009. The Taliban’s political leadership, in the form of the Quetta Shura old guard, was not keen on Zakir and his organizational reforms, but pressure from the Peshawar Shura backed by Pakistani funds swept aside these concerns. The decentralized structure of the Taliban had given local commanders too much latitude to fight when and how they liked. Under Zakir, some semblance of centralized command was superimposed on the mahaz system. This, over time, enabled the rolling out of new tactics, training, and bomb technologies. Finally, new ideas travelled with people into the Taliban: Organizational and tactical innovations came not only from the Pakistani ISI (as previously believed) but were also adopted when a breakaway faction of Hezb-i Islami was absorbed into the Taliban movement, forming the Peshawar Shura.

Conclusion: The Problem with U.S. Strategy

The resilience of an insurgency is substantially shaped by its social resources and its ability to adapt. The importance of these factors is identified in the relevant theoretical literature and is furthermore evident in the case of the Afghan Taliban. The group was founded on a powerful horizontal network. In establishing a post-2002 insurgency, however, the Taliban were able to exploit vertical links into host communities as well. The group was less successful in its efforts to rebuild the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but garnered some legitimacy from the efficiency of Taliban courts. The Taliban also adapted militarily, in terms of tactics and supporting technologies, as well as in the command of insurgent fighting groups. The latter improvements to the Taliban’s chain of command, and the overall professionalization of the insurgent war effort led by the eastern Taliban, also increased the group’s capacity to adapt tactically. Previous studies have further highlighted the importance of foreign support for the Taliban and of their ability to operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan. The combination of the group’s social resources, ability to adapt, and trans-border support make the Taliban’s resurgence from what had looked like utter defeat not all that surprising. Ultimately, insurgencies win by not losing, especially when facing off against a foreign great power. Essentially, the insurgents need only outwait the foreign interloper. This has been the Taliban’s basic strategy. Under President Donald Trump, the United States has decided to double down in Afghanistan. One element of the “new” Trump strategy involves getting tough with Pakistan for failing to crack down on the Taliban. On Jan. 1, 2018, the president tweeted that Pakistan was playing the United States for “fools” by giving “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”[108] His comments triggered an immediate suspension of U.S. military assistance to Pakistan.[109] The Trump administration is gambling hugely by cracking down on Pakistan given Islamabad’s capacity to make things far worse both by interfering with the U.S. logistical routes through Pakistan, and by increasing support to the Taliban.[110] Even in the unlikely event that the Pakistan Army withdraws its support for the Afghan Taliban, the United States would still have to contend with an adaptive insurgency that has strong social roots. This is where the other element of the Trump strategy to intensify the relatively modest U.S. military effort in Afghanistan becomes problematic. Around 11,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, 8,400 of whom are committed to supporting NATO’s Resolute Support mission to “train, advise, and assist” the Afghan security forces. In August 2017, Trump approved the deployment of an additional 3,900 troops to Afghanistan. Gen. Joseph Vogel, head of U.S. Central Command, declared that in 2018 U.S. forces would “focus on offensive operations and ... look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season.”[111] It is hard to see how such a modest increase in U.S. ground forces could have a decisive effect. The U.S. military’s last attempt to turn the tables on the Taliban came in late 2009 and early 2010, when there were around 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and about 40,000 troops from coalition partners.[112] Afghan capabilities, insofar as they have grown since 2010, can hardly make up for the withdrawal of Western combat forces.[113] Indeed, the Afghan security forces have steadily lost ground across the country since 2014, with major Taliban gains that year in the south (Helmand and Uruzgan provinces), east (Ghanzi, Wardak, Kapisa, and Logar provinces), and north (Kunduz province).[114] According to the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, only around 70 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were under government control in late 2015. Two years later, that share was down to just over half of the districts.[115] History is instructive here: When the United States got bogged down in drawn-out wars against peasant armies in Korea and Vietnam, it resorted to major bombing campaigns to break the stalemate. This failed to work in both of those wars.[116] In Afghanistan, history is repeating itself. In December 2017, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, revealed that a major campaign by U.S. air forces was targeting some 500 Taliban drug laboratories in southern areas, bringing the number of airstrikes in 2017 to three times more than had occurred in 2016.[117] Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of this bombing campaign: The United Nations reported a 52 percent increase in civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in 2017 in comparison to the year before.[118] Civilian casualties notwithstanding, the United States is pursuing a targeted bombing campaign. Noting that the Taliban earn around $200 million a year through its taxation of the opium trade, Nicholson declared, “We’re hitting the Taliban where it hurts, which is their finances.” He added: “The Taliban have three choices: reconcile, face irrelevance or die.”[119] According to the leading analyst on the Afghan opium trade, David Mansfeld, the U.S. military is grossly overestimating both the Taliban’s ability to collect taxes and the amount of poppy being destroyed in the bombings. Mansfeld finds accordingly that the bombing campaign is having far less impact on Taliban revenue than is claimed by U.S. military commanders.[120] [quote id="4"] In a January 2018 Foreign Affairs article titled “Why the Taliban Isn’t Winning in Afghanistan,” Seth G. Jones argues that “Although the Taliban has demonstrated a surprising ability to survive and conduct high-profile attacks in cities like Kabul, it is weaker today than most recognize.”[121] Jones is only partly right. Citing various Afghan opinion polls, Jones argues that public support for the Taliban has plummeted thanks to its extremist ideology, brutal tactics, and reliance on both the drug trade and support from Pakistan. He fails to note, however, that polling in Afghanistan is famously unreliable and that public views of the Taliban are especially difficult to gauge in areas under Taliban control. He is on safer ground in noting that few non-Pashtun Afghans recognize the legitimacy of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and that Afghanistan’s growing urban population abhors the socially regressive ideology of the Taliban. Some in the Taliban leadership have long understood these realities and foresee the Taliban entering government only through a power-sharing arrangement.[122] These days, the Taliban’s main problem is not the group’s decline in popularity but its waning cohesiveness. In November 2016, Michael Semple and I spent a week conducting interviews with seven senior Taliban figures. Our subjects included two former deputy ministers, a former provincial governor, and two former senior military commanders. What we discovered surprised us. We had expected Taliban confidence to have been boosted by recent battlefield success. Instead, those we interviewed reported widespread disillusion within the movement, with the state of Taliban leadership, and with a seemingly endless war. Multiple interviewees told us that many Taliban members feel that the war lost direction and purpose after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces. The Taliban’s current leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is widely seen as ineffective and lacking the moral authority of the group’s founder, Mullah Omar. This is undermining the ideological cornerstone of the Taliban, namely obedience to the emir. Several factions are vying for power within the movement, most notably the Ishaqzai-dominated Mansour network based in northern Helmand (led by Mullah Rahim, the Taliban governor of Helmand).[123] Thus, while the Taliban maintains strong vertical ties with rural communities, which have supported the group’s battlefield gains since 2014, the horizontal network holding the insurgency together is weakening.[124] Sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan and pushing them out into the field is likely to provide some short-term gains. Importantly, the presence of a Marine battalion in Helmand helps prevent the provincial capital from falling to the Taliban. Yet this marginal increase in combat-force levels will not break the strategic stalemate in Afghanistan when massive U.S. military power failed to do so in 2010. Rather, sending in more troops and conducting more airstrikes may well make the Taliban stronger. Meanwhile, destroying drug processing and production facilities will hurt not only the Taliban but also anybody involved in opium farming, which is just about every farmer in Helmand. It stands to once again drive them into the arms of the insurgents. And just as before, public patience is likely to wear thin at apparent U.S. military carelessness and mounting civilian casualties.[125] In the end, ramping up the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan risks reenergizing the Taliban’s sense of purpose and uniting a movement that may be beginning to unravel. If the United States is not careful, it could end up bombing its way to defeat in Afghanistan.   Acknowledgements: The author would like to acknowledge the generous funding of this project by the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Grant ES/L008041/1, “The Taliban's War: The Other Side of the Taliban Conflict, 20012015”).   Theo Farrell is professor and executive dean of law, humanities, and the arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He was previously professor of war in the modern world and head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He is a fellow of the U.K. Academy of Social Sciences and former president of the British International Studies Association. Professor Farrell is the author of Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 2001–2014 (Penguin Random House, 2017), which was shortlisted for the RUSI Duke of Wellington Medal for Military History and the British Army Military Book of the Year. It was also named as a book of the year in the Times and the Evening Standard. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: isafmedia [post_title] => Unbeatable: Social Resources, Military Adaptation, and the Afghan Taliban [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => unbeatable-social-resources-military-adaptation-and-the-afghan-taliban [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-06 11:47:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-06 15:47:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=573 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => Following the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan Taliban were obliterated in a lightning war prosecuted by the United States. Their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan ceased to exist as a physical entity, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, fled to Pakistan. Within five years, however, the Taliban had regrouped and returned in large numbers to southern and eastern Afghanistan. By 2016, they had overrun at least a third of the country. How did the Taliban come back so successfully from utter defeat? This article draws on the literatures on civil wars and on military adaptation to identify and unpack two sets of factors that explain the relative success of insurgencies: the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation. Using a large number of original interviews with Taliban leaders, cadre, and field commanders, I demonstrate how these factors combined to make the Taliban essentially unbeatable. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Less studied is how the Taliban have been the makers of their own success. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => In the end, the Taliban never fully invested in reconstituting their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Instead, the military campaign took precedence. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [H]ow centralized is the Taliban, and how has the group’s organizational structure affected military adaptation? ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Professionalization of the war effort by the Peshawar Shura, including adoption of military commissions by the Quetta Shura, was critical to the Taliban’s ability to adapt militarily. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 644 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 56 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “A Flawed Masterpiece,” Foreign Affairs 81 (May/June 2002): 48, 55, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2002-05-01/flawed-masterpiece. [2] Mujib Mashal and Najim Rahim, “Afghan Forces Push Taliban Out of Kunduz Center, Officials Say,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-kunduz.html. [3] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, July 30, 2016, 86, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2016-07-30qr.pdf. [4] Theo Farrell, Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 20012014 (London: The Bodley Head, 2017); Jack Fairweather, The Good War: The Battle for Afghanistan, 200614 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2014); Daniel P. Bolger, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); David H. Ucko and Robert Egnell, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (London: Bloomsbury, 2012); Sten Rynning, NATO in Afghanistan: The Liberal Disconnect (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); David P. Auerswald and Stephen M. Saideman, NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Sherard Cowper-Coles, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign (London: Harper Press, 2011); Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); Tim Bird and Alex Marshall, Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); M.J. Williams, The Good War: NATO and the Liberal Conscience in Afghanistan (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Seth G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009). [5] Chris Kolenda, “Endgame: Why American Interventions Become Quagmires,” PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2017; Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016); Antonio Giustozzi, The Army of Afghanistan: A Political History of a Fragile Institution (London: Hurst, 2015); Astri Suhrke, When More Is Less: The International Project in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2011); Peter Marsden, Afghanistan: Aid, Armies and Empires (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009). [6] Peter Bergen with Katherine Tiedemann, eds., Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics, and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 19732012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 20012014 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). [7] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html; Ahmad Majidyar, “Afghan Intelligence Chief Warns Iran and Russia Against Aiding Taliban,” The Middle East Institute, Feb. 5, 2018, http://www.mei.edu/content/io/afghan-intelligence-chief-warns-iran-and-russia-against-aiding-taliban; Justin Rowlatt, “Russia ‘Arming the Afghan Taliban’, Says US,” BBC News, Mar. 23, 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43500299. The extent of Pakistan support to the Taliban is documented in Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 20012016 (New York: Random House, 2018); and Gall, The Wrong Enemy. [8] Coll, Directorate S, 329-340. [9] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords (London: Pan Macmillan, 2001); Gilles Dorronsoro, Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); Kamal Matinuddin, The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan, 19941997 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 19702010 (London: Hurst, 2012); Rob Johnson, The Afghan Way of War: Culture and Pragmatism: A Critical History (London: Hurst, 2011). [10] Antonio Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2007); Antonio Giustozzi, ed., Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field (London: Hurst, 2009). [11] In total, 282 interviews with Taliban and 138 interviews with non-Taliban Afghan locals were conducted by Afghan researchers over two periods, from 2011–12 and 2014–15. Those interviewed were not paid for their interviews. Interviews were recorded in field notes and transcribed into English. The research project was led by myself, and the field research was supervised by Dr. Antonio Giustozzi. In conformity with the project protocols, I do not reveal the precise location and date of the interviews in order to protect the anonymity of the interviewees. The findings from the 2011–12 pilot project were published as Theo Farrell and Antonio Giustozzi, “The Taliban at War: Inside the Helmand Insurgency, 2004–2011,” International Affairs 89 (2013): 845-71. The overall findings of the main project will be published as Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War (London: Hurst, forthcoming). [12] Jeremy M. Weinstein, Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 43-44. [13] Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (London: William Collins, 2015). [14] Kieran Mitton, Rebels in a Rotten State: Understanding Atrocity in the Sierra Leone Civil War (London: Hurst, 2015). [15] Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 52-55. [16] Weinstein, Inside Rebellion, 48-49. [17] Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). [18] Madhav Joshi and T. David Mason, “Between Democracy and Revolution: Peasant Support for Insurgency Versus Democracy in Nepal,” Journal of Peace Research 45 (2008): 765-82, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27640768. [19] Alpa Shah, “The Intimacy of Insurgency: Beyond Coercion, Greed or Grievance in Maoist India,” Economy and Society 42 (2013): 480-506, https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2013.783662. [20] Nelson Kasfir, “Rebel Governance — Constructing a Field of Inquiry: Definitions, Scope, Patterns, Order, Causes,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Ana Arjona, Nelson Kasfir, and Zachariah Mampilly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 22-23. [21] Bert Suykens, “Comparing Rebel Rule Through Revolution and Naturalization: Ideologies of Governance in Naxalite and Naga India,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 138-57. [22] Mampilly, Rebel Rulers, 63-64. [23] Till Forster, “Dialogue Direct: Rebel Governance and Civil Order in Northern Cote d’Ivoire,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 203-25; and Suykens, “Comparing Rebel Rule Through Revolution and Naturalization.” [24] Zachariah Mampilly, “Performing the Nation-State: Rebel Governance and Symbolic Processes,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, ed. Arjona et al., 77-78. [25] Johnson, The Afghan Way of War, 217-39. [26] Van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created, 45. Initially, it was believed that the Taliban originated in Kandahar in 1994 as a religious militant group that sought to bring law and order to southern Afghanistan and stop local warlords from abusing the area population. This view was most notably advanced in Rashid’s Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords. However, van Linschoten and Kuehn have subsequently proven that the Taliban predated the 1990s and indeed fought in the mujahedeen war. This is also recounted in the published memoir of a former senior Taliban. See Abdul Salam Zaeff, My Life With the Taliban (London: Hurst, 2010). [27] On the mujahedeen as “brothers-in-arms” communities forged in war, see David B. Edwards, Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017). [28] Christina Lamb, The Sowing Circles of Herat (London: HarperCollins, 2004). [29] Interview with local elder no. 7, Nad-e Ali district, Helmand, March 2012. [30] Mike Martin, An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict (London: Hurst, 2014), 125. [31] Interview with mahaz commander no. 2, Nangarhar, 2015. [32] Interview with national commission member, 2014; interview with former member of Rahbari Shura, 2014. [33] Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop, 101. [34] Interview with local elder no. 3, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2012. [35] Interview with local elder no. 4, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2012. [36] Interview with Taliban cadre no. 10, Peshawar, 2015. A number of Taliban fronts also reactivated in Nangarhar in 2004–05, each with many hundreds of fighters. Interview with mahaz commander no. 1, Nangarhar, 2015; interview with mahaz commander no. 2, Nangarhar, 2015. [37] Interviews with two cadre, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [38] Interviews with four Taliban leaders, Nangarhar, 2015. [39] See, for example, Graeme Smith, “What Kandahar’s Taliban Say,” in Decoding the New Taliban, 191-210. [40] On closed versus open political orders, see Douglas C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). [41] Interview with local elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [42] Carter Malkasian, Jerry Meyerle, and Megan Katt, “The War in Southern Afghanistan, 2001–2008,” unclassified report (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analysis, July 2009): 11, 14, https://info.publicintelligence.net/CNA-WarSouthernAfghanistan.pdf. [43] Interview with local elder no. 3, Qarabagh, Ghanzi, 2014. [44] Farrell, Unwinnable, 226-28. [45] Interview with group of local elders no. 9, Nad-e Ali district, 2012. [46] Interview with elder no. 3, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [47] Martin, Brief History, 49. [48] Cited in Tom Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand: An Oral History,” in Decoding the New Taliban, 139. The British Army provided limited and reluctant support to the Afghan government’s poppy eradication program. Britain was the lead nation for the international counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan; however, the British Army quickly realized that it risked losing local support in Helmand if its forces were too closely associated with the destruction of the poppy crop. The British got blamed for it anyway. See Farrell, Unwinnable, 227-28. [49] Interview with Taliban leader no. 14, Quetta, 2015. [50] Interview with local elder no. 3, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; Taliban commander no. 2, Nad-e Ali, 2012; and Taliban commander no. 1, Marjah, 2011. [51] Thomas H. Johnson and Matthew C. DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code of Conduct (Layeha): An Assessment of Changing Perspectives and Strategies of the Afghan Taliban,” Central Asian Survey 31 (2002): 84, https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2012.647844; see also Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 148-49. [52] Interview with local elder no. 5, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. Also confirmed by interviews with elder no. 1, Now Zad, 2011; elder no 6, Nad-e Ali, 2011; and elder no. 2, Garmsir, 2011. [53] Interview with local elder no. 7, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; similar view was offered in interview with elder no. 5, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [54] Johnson and DuPee, “Analysing the New Taliban Code,” 85-86. [55] Interview with elder no. 3, Musa Qala, 2011. [56] Interviews with elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011; and elder no. 3, Musa Qala, 2011. [57] Interview with elder no. 4, Nahr-e Seraj, 2011. [58] Interview with local elder no. 1, Logar, February 2015; interview with local elder no. 2, Logar, February 2015; interview with local elder no. 10, Nangarhar, March 2015. [59] Phil Weatherill, “Targeting the Centre of Gravity: Adapting Stabilisation in Sangin,” RUSI Journal 156 (2011): 98, 22n, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071847.2011.606655. [60] Antonio Guistozzi and Claudio Franco, The Battle for the Schools: The Taleban and State Education (Berlin: Afghan Analysts Network, 2011), http://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/2011TalebanEducation.pdf. [61] Thomas H. Johnson, Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict (London: Hurst, 2017). [62] The dynamic competition at the heart of war is captured by Carl von Clausewitz’s description of it as “a duel on an extensive scale.” Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), 101. [63] Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). [64] Theo Farrell, “Introduction: Military Adaptation in War,” in Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell, Frans Osinga, and James A. Russell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 9-10. [65] The classic study is by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War (New York: Free Press, 1990). [66] James G. March and Barbara Levitt, “Organizational Learning,” in The Pursuit of Organizational Intelligence, ed. J.G. March (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 78-79. [67] Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Stephen P. Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991). [68] Philipp Rotmann, David Tohn, and Jaron Wharton, “Learning Under Fire: Progress and Dissent in the US Military,” Survival 51, no. 4 (August 2009): 31-48, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396330903168824. Thus, nonresponsive senior leaders within the military or the government can block necessary military adaptation. See Adam M. Jungdahl and Julia M. Macdonald, “Innovation Inhibitors in War: Overcoming Obstacles in the Pursuit of Military Effectiveness,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38 (2015): 467-99, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.917628. [69] The importance of senior leaders with the vision and organizational standing to lead military innovation is explored in Rosen’s Winning the Next War. See also Theo Farrell, Sten Rynning, and Terry Terriff, Transforming Military Power Since the End of the Cold War: Britain, France and the United States, 1991-2012 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). [70] The importance of sufficient “force autonomy” to enable military adaptation is also identified in Torunn Laugen Haaland, “The Limits to Learning in Military Operations: Bottom-Up Adaptation in the Norwegian Army in Northern Afghanistan, 2007–2012,” Journal of Strategic Studies 39, no. 7 (2016): 999-1022, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2016.1202823. [71] I also identified a third enabling factor, poor organizational memory, that is not relevant for the Taliban case. Theo Farrell, “Improving in War: Military Adaptation and the British in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006–2009,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 4 (2010): 567-94, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2010.489712. [72] Kristen A. Harkness and Michael Hunzeker, “Military Maladaptation: Counterinsurgency and the Politics of Failure,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 6 (2015): 777-800, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.960078. (Quote is from p. 778-79.) [73] James A. Russell, Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005–2007 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011); Chad C. Serena, A Revolution in Military Adaptation: The US Army in the Iraq War (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011); Farrell et al., ed., Military Adaptation in Afghanistan; Stephen M. Saideman, Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016). [74] Theo Farrell, “Transnational Norms and Military Development: Constructing Ireland’s Professional Army,” European Journal of International Relations 7 (2001): 309-26. [75] Antonio Giustozzi, Empires of Mud: War and Warlords in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2009). [76] Stanley McChrystal, My Share of the Task: A Memoir (London: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013), chap. 7–10. For a stinging critique of the U.S. military’s failure to adapt in Iraq, see Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (London: Allen Lane, 2006). [77] Francis G. Hoffman, “Learning Under Fire: Military Change in Wartime,” PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2015. [78] Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau, Afghan Guerrilla Warfare: In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2001); Russian General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, trans. and ed. Lester W. Grau and Michael A. Gress (University of Kansas Press, 2002), 62-72. [79] Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 145. [80] Claudio Franco and Antonio Giustozzi, “Revolution in the Counter-Revolution: Efforts to Centralize the Taliban’s Military Leadership,” Central Asian Affairs 3, no. 3 (2016): 272-75, https://doi.org/10.1163/22142290-00303003. [81] On the rise of the Peshawar Shura, see Franco and Giustozzi, “Revolution in the Counter-Revolution,” 249-86. [82] On the importance of “resource control” to the leadership of insurgent groups, see Alec Worsnop, “Who Can Keep the Peace? Insurgent Organizational Control of Collective Violence,” Security Studies 26, no. 3 (2017): 482-516, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1306397. [83] Interview with Taliban commander no. 2, Nad-e Ali, 2012. This procedure is confirmed in interviews with Taliban commanders from other provinces (Baghlan, Kunduz, Wardak) conducted in 2011–12 as part of a project run by one of the authors. [84] Interview with Taliban commander no. 1, Marjah, 2011. [85] Interview with Taliban commander no. 1, Now Zad, 2011; also confirmed by interviews with Taliban commander no. 4, Garmsir, 2011; Taliban commander no. 4, Marjah, 2011; Taliban commander no. 2, Now Zad, 2011; and Taliban commander no. 4, Kajaki, 2011. [86] Interview with Taliban commander no. 5, Sangin, 2011. See also Antonio Giustozzi and Adam Baczko, “The Politics of the Taliban’s Shadow Judiciary, 2003–2013,” Central Asian Affairs 1 (2014): 199-224, https://doi.org/10.1163/22142290-00102003. [87] Interview with staff officer, Defense Intelligence, Ministry of Defense, London, November 2008. Tom Coghlan reports that “British commanders estimated that approximately 1,000 Taliban died during 2006.” He places less credence in newspaper reports of many thousands of Taliban dead. Coghlan, “The Taliban in Helmand,” 130. [88] Interviews with Taliban commander no. 8, Garsmir, 2011; Taliban commander no. 3, Kajaki, 2011; and Taliban commander no. 3, Marjah, 2011. [89] Interview with senior staff officer, 3 Commando Brigade, Ministry of Defense, London, July 1, 2010. For a dramatic account of the Taliban attack, see Ewen Southby-Tailyour, 3 Commando Brigade: Helmand Assault (London: Ebury Press, 2010), 55-66. [90] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Sangin. This is confirmed by 12 interviewees, with a number referring specifically to a “general order” from the Quetta Shura. [91] Antonio Giustozzi, The Taliban at War (London: Hurst, forthcoming), chap. 4. [92] Interview with former Taliban front commander, November 2016; interview with former Taliban provincial governor, November 2016. [93] Ian S. Livingston and Michael E. O’Hanlon, Afghanistan Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan (Washington: Brookings Institution, May 2014), 11, figure 1.17, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/index20140514.pdf. [94] Directorate Land Warfare, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Operation Herrick Campaign Study, March 2015 [redacted and publicly released version], Annex A to Annex E, chap. 3-6, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/492757/20160107115638.pdf; also Olivier Grouville, “Bird and Fairweather in Context: Assessing the IED Threat,” RUSI Journal 154 (2009): 40, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071840903255252. [95] Fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate are banned in Afghanistan. [96] Antonio Giustozzi, “Military Adaptation by the Taliban, 2002–11,” in Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 251. [97] Giustozzi, The Taliban at War, chap. 6. [98] Interview with Taliban leader, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [99] Interview with several Taliban commanders, Faryab, 2014; interview with Taliban commander, Kandahar, 2014; interview with Taliban leader, Miran Shah Shura, 2015. [100] Farrell, Unwinnable, 242-44. [101] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Marjah, 2011. [102] Interview with Taliban commander no. 4, Garmsir, 2011. [103] Interview with Taliban commander no. 6, Sangin, 2011. [104] Interview with Taliban commander no. 5, Marjah, 2011. [105] Interview with Taliban commander no. 3, Sangin, 2011. [106] Interviews with Taliban commander, Kandahar, 2014; and with Taliban cadre, Nangarhar, 2015. [107] On the importance of organizational capacity to “absorb” new military technologies, see Michael C. Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). [108] Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter post, Jan. 1, 2018, 4:12 a.m., https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/947802588174577664. [109] Haroon Janjua, “‘Nothing but Lies and Deceit’: Trump Launches Twitter Attack on Pakistan,” Guardian, Jan. 2, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/01/lies-and-deceit-trump-launches-attack-on-pakistan-tweet. [110] Mujib Mashal and Salman Masood, “Cutting Off Pakistan, U.S. Takes Gamble in Complex War,” New York Times, Jan. 5, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/world/asia/pakistan-aid-afghan-war.html. [111] Carlo Muñoz, “U.S. Forces to Go on the Offensive in Afghanistan, Says Top Commander,” Washington Times, Jan. 2, 2018, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jan/2/top-commander-us-forces-go-offensive-afghanistan/. [112] Farrell, Unwinnable, 292-324. [113] In a less-than-encouraging development, the U.S. Department of Defense for the first time in eight years classified the data on Afghan security forces’ operational readiness. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Oct. 30, 2017, 99-100, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2017-10-30qr.pdf. [114] Lauren McNally and Paul Bucala, “The Taliban Resurgent: Threats to Afghanistan’s Security,” Afghanistan Report no. 11 (Washington: Institute for the Study of War, March 2015): 13-17, 19-20, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/AFGH Report.pdf. [115] Of the 407 districts in Afghanistan, 7 percent were under insurgent control or influence, 21 percent were contested, and 72 percent were under government control in November 2015. By October 2017, these ratios had shifted to 14 percent under insurgent control or influence, 30 percent contested, and 56 percent under government control. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Addendum to SIGAR’s January 2018 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, Jan. 30, 2018, 1, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/Addendum_2018-01-30qr.pdf. [116] On Korea, Robert A. Pape finds that U.S. bombing was unable to have a significant impact on the enemy war effort or the civilian economy, hence he concludes that no coercive leverage was produced. On Vietnam, he argues that the U.S. bombing campaign “succeeded in 1972 where it had failed from 1965 to 1968 because in the interim Hanoi had changed from a guerrilla strategy, which was essentially immune to air power, to a conventional offensive strategy, which was highly vulnerable to air interdiction.” Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), chap. 5 and 6 (Quote is from p. 209). [117] Eric Schmitt, “Hunting Taliban and Islamic State Fighters, From 20,000 Feet,” New York Times, Dec. 11, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/world/asia/taliban-isis-afghanistan-drugs-b52s.html. [118] U.N. figures comparing civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first nine months of 2016 and 2017. Shashank Bengali, “U.S. Airstrikes Rise Sharply in Afghanistan — and So Do Civilian Deaths,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-afghanistan-us-airstrikes-20171204-htmlstory.html. [119] Schmitt, “Hunting Taliban.” [120] Andrew Cockburn, “Mobbed Up: How America Boosts the Afghan Opium Trade,” Harper’s Magazine, April 2018, https://harpers.org/archive/2018/04/mobbed-up/. [121] Seth G. Jones, “Why the Taliban Isn’t Winning in Afghanistan: Too Weak for Victory, Too Strong for Defeat,” Foreign Affairs, January 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2018-01-03/why-taliban-isnt-winning-afghanistan. [122] Michael Semple, Theo Farrell, Anatol Lieven, and Rudra Chaudhuri, Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation (London: Royal United Services Institute, September 2012), https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/taliban_perspectives_on_reconciliation.pdf. [123] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, Ready for Peace? The Afghan Taliban After a Decade of War (London: Royal United Services Institute, January 2017), https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/201701_bp_ready_for_peace.pdf. [124] For more recent analysis supporting this view, see Antonio Giustozzi, “Do the Taliban Have Any Appetite for Reconciliation in Kabul?” Center for Research and Policy Analysis, Mar. 19, 2018, https://www.af-crpa.org/single-post/2018/03/20/Do-the-Taliban-Have-any-Appetite-for-Reconciliation-with-Kabul-Antonio-Giustozzi. [125] Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Afghan Civilians Count Cost of Renewed US Air Campaign,” Guardian, Sept. 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/afghan-civilians-count-cost-of-renewed-us-air-campaign. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 517 [post_author] => 155 [post_date] => 2018-03-20 15:47:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-20 19:47:43 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: Change or More of the Same? The Future of the Jihadist Movement

By Stephen Tankel In summer 2010, the National Intelligence Council organized a small, one-day conference with Europe-based academics to get their read on possible futures for the jihadist movement. I was one of the approximately twenty participants. Osama Bin Laden was still alive, but the core al-Qaeda organization was beginning to come under rising pressure in Pakistan as a result of increasingly intense drone strikes. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was degraded thanks to the surge of U.S. forces and the Sunni Awakening. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was emerging as the most dangerous jihadist group in the world. We looked for trends and debated the future of the core of the al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whether AQAP might take up the mantle of leadership and what that would augur, and who could emerge as the next bin Laden, among other things. Today, with the core of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) increasingly squeezed in Syria and Iraq the jihadist movement may be facing an even bigger inflection point. Will al-Qaeda be able to regenerate and fill the void? Could another group — perhaps an ISIL or al-Qaeda affiliate, or maybe an independent actor — take the reins? Or might we witness the atomization of the jihadist movement after years in which ISIL and al-Qaeda became its competing lodestars? In either case, what would this mean for the long-running fault line between globalism and nationalism? And what of the 40,000-plus foreign fighters who flocked to Syria and Iraq, or the technological advances that ISIL exploited to recruit them and direct or inspire attacks around the world?[1] To help clarify the problem, we brought together three scholar-practitioners — Kim Cragin, Josh Geltzer, and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross — to weigh in on what lies ahead for the jihadist movement and the threats its adherents pose. Evolution of the Jihadist Movement: A Brief History Any assessment of where the jihadist movement might go, must account for how it has evolved to date. Despite their pretensions to universalism, jihadists have often disagreed over issues such as which enemy to prioritize, where to fight, and whether it is appropriate to attack fellow Muslims. The two main currents in the jihadist movement before 9/11 were revolutionary and pan-Islamic. Revolutionaries prioritized changing the political order in their own homelands by overthrowing the ruling powers. Pan-Islamic jihadists were focused on defending the umma — the worldwide community of Muslims — and liberating all occupied Muslim lands. Al-Qaeda was one of the few truly multinational jihadist groups that existed prior to 9/11. It developed its concept of global jihad while based in Sudan during the first half of the 1990s and then in Afghanistan for the latter half. Al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ideology prioritized attacks against the United States as the first step in a larger plan to create the conditions for toppling apostate regimes in the Arab world. Bin Laden and his inner circle believed that as long as the United States could project power into the region, it would be able to pressure Muslim countries to bend to its will and keep jihadists from toppling local regimes.[2] Driving America out of the region would enable jihadists to confront local regimes directly and inspire the youth to rise up and join these revolutions. At that point, al-Qaeda leaders believed that regimes in the Middle East and Persian Gulf would collapse. Numerous groups expanded their enemy hierarchies after 9/11. While jihadists who had previously been pan-Islamic began pursuing revolutionary action, some revolutionary groups grafted pan-Islamic or global jihad onto their preexisting local agendas. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq contributed to this phenomenon, muddying the waters between pan-Islamic jihad against non-Muslim invaders and global jihad against the United States specifically.[3] Al-Qaeda also evolved. Its leaders refined and expanded their organization’s rationale for action, blending takfiri thought, which justifies attacking apostate Muslims, with the requirement to fight the United States and its Western allies.[4] Being more overt about its revolutionary tendencies helped al-Qaeda reduce the barriers to alliances with other organizations. This became increasingly important once al-Qaeda started adding affiliates. As a result, although bin Laden continued to prioritize the United States, al-Qaeda increasingly boasted an agenda that made less of a distinction between local and global enemies.[5] By 2011, analysts worried more about some of al-Qaeda’s affiliates, especially AQAP, than they did about the core organization, which was under significant pressure in Pakistan as a result of U.S. drone strikes. Initially, it appeared that successful political transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen following the Arab Spring would undermine the jihadist narrative that violence was a necessary handmaiden for revolution or that the United States was willing to prop up autocratic regimes.[6] Yet, far from being a death knell, the revolutions ushered in by the Arab Spring reinvigorated the jihadist movement. The weakening or outright removal of police states created space for mobilization in places where jihadists had previously had little room to maneuver and enabled a level of activity unforeseen hitherto. As the Arab Spring gained steam in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took the reins of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed, directed AQI to form a group and deploy it across the border into Syria.[7] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of AQI, sent a contingent of battle-hardened fighters to form Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).[8] It became one of the most effective rebel groups in the Syrian conflict. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi issued a statement officially absorbing JN and renaming his organization the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL).[9] The move both revealed and exacerbated a rift between the two groups. JN prioritized jihad against the Assad regime in Syria, was willing to cooperate with other rebel groups to realize this objective, and pursued a population-centric approach. ISIL sought to use Syria as a launching pad for a renewed offensive in Iraq and remained committed to the old AQI strategy of intimidation and sectarian provocation that sought to pit Sunnis and Shiites against one another. Before long, ISIL controlled substantial territory in Syria. These battlefield successes, combined with a mastery of social media, helped ISIL attract the lion’s share of foreign fighters in Syria.[10] In June, four months after al-Qaeda disowned it, ISIL launched its major military offensive in Iraq that captured the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Afterward, al-Baghdadi announced the reestablishment of the caliphate and declared himself the leader of the umma.[11] Numerous jihadist groups — some of them previously loyal to al-Qaeda — offered their allegiance. Although primarily focused on building its proto-state, ISIL also used the territory as a base for launching international terrorist attacks. Indeed, as Kim Cragin points out below, the group conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces (used interchangeably with affiliates) — than the al-Qaeda network (AQN) did during a similar time period in its heyday. ISIL’s ability to conduct external operations has diminished since the group lost Mosul in July 2017 and its fighters fled Raqqa, Syria the following October.[12] These losses have also called into question the wisdom of ISIL’s aggressive approach, fueled speculation about whether al-Qaeda will resume the titular leadership mantel of the jihadist movement, and ignited debates about the nature of the jihadist threat in the years to come. Looking Ahead: The Future of the Jihadist Movement All three contributors to this roundtable point out ways in which the essence of the jihadist movement remains largely unchanged, while simultaneously identifying various factors that are shaping its ongoing evolution. Each essay has its own take on which elements will be the most critical. Four issues are worth highlighting:
  1. The Local and Geopolitical Terrain: Analysts have worried for years about jihadists’ access to ungoverned or poorly-governed territory that could be used for training, communications, and operational planning. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross observes, although ISIL has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, jihadist safe havens and enclaves have grown more numerous since 9/11, especially in countries roiled by the so-called Arab Spring. Josh Geltzer also points out that the core ISIL organization is not yet defeated. Eradicating it is likely to prove challenging, in large part because of the continuing complexities of the overall dynamic in Iraq and Syria. Both authors also sound the warning about Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) — al-Qaeda’s erstwhile affiliate in Syria — and the dangers that other al-Qaeda and ISIL affiliates continue to pose because of their ability to exploit both local grievances and grinding conflicts in weak states. Kim Cragin foresees no end to these ongoing conflicts. She argues the status quo is likely to remain in places where al-Qaeda or ISIL affiliates operate, with the important caveat that veteran foreign fighters will bring new tactical knowledge to these conflicts that could make regional groups even more lethal and push them towards greater brutality. Cragin contends a more dramatic impact from foreign fighters will likely be felt in many of the Muslim majority countries where ISIL and al-Qaeda do not have affiliates.
  2. Tensions in the Movement: Scholars identified two fault lines that have defined the jihadist movement. One is between centralization and decentralization, and the other is between globalism and nationalism.[13] Just as al-Qaeda affiliates have thrived even with the core of the organization under enormous pressure, it is unlikely that the fate of ISIL affiliates rests entirely on ISIL’s fortunes in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, Geltzer contends that as ISIL’s core loses territorial control, it is possible that some of its affiliates will distance themselves from the central organization. Gartenstein-Ross argues forcefully that analysts should not be too eager to view such a development as evidence of decentralization within the wider movement. Despite the difficulties the core organizations of al-Qaeda and ISIL are each facing, he asserts that the trend within the jihadist movement has been toward centralization. Global jihadism has simultaneously continued to spread according to Gartenstein-Ross. Most groups likely will continue to fixate primarily on regional objectives, but more of them have also adopted a transnational vision and continue to engage in transnational activities even if they do not prioritize attacks against Western targets. The spread of foreign fighters, which Cragin documents, could reinforce this trend.
  3. Technology and Foreign Fighters: According to Cragin, the most immediate threat to the West — North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand — depends on foreign fighter returnees, specifically whether they are motivated and able to conduct attacks or recruit another generation of Western jihadists. As Cragin notes, foreign fighters have conducted the majority of external operations directed by ISIL leaders. Gartenstein-Ross and Geltzer zero in on how jihadists take advantage of technological advances to enable these operations. Jihadists have combined mastery of social media with the use of end-to-end encryption, which is often inaccessible to governments, to radicalize new adherents, mobilize them, and provide the kind of assistance to remote operatives that physical terrorist networks used to provide in person.
  4. Leadership of the Movement: All three contributors to this roundtable posit that ISIL and al-Qaeda appear poised to remain key players in the jihadist movement, even if some of their affiliates may be better positioned in the near term. Their respective leaders — al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda and al-Baghdadi of ISIL — both lay claim to leadership of the movement. The competition is not simply organizational. Al-Qaeda leaders have criticized ISIL for splintering the movement, declaring a Caliphate that did not have staying power, and pursuing a brutal, takfiri strategy that has often included attacking other mujahideen (Muslim holy warriors). Al-Zawahiri lacks charisma and has struggled to motivate followers like bin Laden did, but ISIL’s losses in Iraq and Syria create space for al-Qaeda to reclaim its vanguard position. As Cragin notes, al-Qaeda has taken more of a population-centric approach and sought to present itself as a less virulent alternative to ISIL. Geltzer and Gartenstein-Ross identify various developments, such as the fortunes of HTS in Syria and its relationship with al-Qaeda’s core, which could influence whether al-Qaeda is successful in its bid to retake the titular mantle of the jihadist movement. Geltzer also posits that ISIL’s ingenuity and pioneering use of the Internet may have paved the way for a new jihadist group to capture some of the jihadist “market share” by combining online technologies with a compelling narrative and a leadership capable of inspiring followers.
Although plenty of us who came together that summer day in 2010 noted the potential for instability in the Middle East — not exactly a bold prediction — no one foresaw the Arab revolutions that would begin months later or the effects they would have on the jihadist movement. Nor did anyone predict that, within a half decade, a former soccer enthusiast in Iraq who had done time in a U.S.-administered prison camp would command the most powerful jihadist group the world had ever seen and declare himself the leader of the Caliphate.[14] What we tried to do, and what the three authors of the following essays have done so well, is to identify the trends and factors that could inform the trajectory of the jihadist movement. Then, like now, major actors in the movement were under strain, but the fundamentals suggested the jihadist threat would not disappear any time soon.   Stephen Tankel, an associate editor at the Texas National Security Review, is an assistant professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New America Security, and a senior editor at War on the Rocks. His new book — With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror — will be published in May 2018.

2. The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement

By R. Kim Cragin “Confused.” That’s how one senior Turkish official recently described the attitudes of foreign terrorist fighters being held in detention centers under his purview.[15] It also seems to be an apt description of the post-territorial Islamic State (ISIL) as well as the wider jihadist movement. To understand how the movement might evolve in the future, it’s helpful to look to the past. Until the mid-1980s, jihadists often pursued their objectives — the creation of a caliphate to be governed by sharia (or Islamic law, strictly interpreted) — in their home countries. This changed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Foreign fighters from around the world traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet forces and in doing so globalized the jihadist movement. Arguably, just as these “Arab Afghans” guided the jihadist movement for the past three decades, the future of the movement rests with a new generation of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq. Two individuals currently claim leadership over the jihadist movement: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Two other individuals have also considerably influenced the direction of the movement: Abu Musab al-Suri and Abu Bakr Naji. In his book, Call for Global Islamic Resistance, al-Suri wrote that underground organizations, like al-Qaeda, had failed to mobilize Muslim populations. He also rejected open confrontation — or large-scale insurgencies — because, according to al-Suri, the United States had demonstrated its ability to succeed against the mujahideen (Islamic holy warriors) under these circumstances.[16] Al-Suri concluded that the mujahideen should combine open confrontation in a limited number of Muslim countries with a “leaderless resistance” in the West.[17] In al-Suri’s vision, jihadists residing outside Muslim countries should not become foreign terrorist fighters, but rather stay home and join that leaderless resistance.[18] Another jihadist ideologue, Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah, with the nom de guerre Abu Bakr Naji, articulated a contrasting strategy to al-Suri’s in his book Management of Savagery. Naji argued that jihadists should work to instill chaos in all Muslim countries. Then, as regimes collapse, they should take control and re-establish order by imposing Islamic law.[19] In order for Naji’s strategy to be successful, it requires support from all jihadists and therefore he urges those living outside Muslim countries to travel to conflict zones and become foreign terrorist fighters. ISIL adopted components of both Naji’s and al-Suri’s strategies. In keeping with Naji’s direction to create chaos, the group’s fighters exacerbated tensions between Sunni, Shiite, and Christian populations in both Syria and Iraq. They took control of territory, city-by-city, implementing Islamic law as they went along, most notably in Raqqa and Mosul. ISIL leadership also encouraged its fighters outside Syria and Iraq — based in their so-called provinces like Libya, Egypt, and Yemen — to mimic this approach.[20] Then, following al-Suri’s advice, ISIL extolled its sympathizers via social media[21] to either join the fight in Syria as foreign terrorist fighters or undertake attacks wherever possible, essentially advocating for a leaderless resistance in the West:[22]
If the infidels have shut the door of hijrah [travel to Syria and Iraq] in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs. Make your deed a source of their regret. Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here [in Syria]; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them. If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State, then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them until every neighbor fears his neighbor.[23]
This combined strategy — chaos, open confrontation, and leaderless resistance — was successful between June 2014 and June 2017. While ISIL’s territorial gains within Iraq and Syria have been well documented, it is perhaps less well-known that ISIL has been more aggressive in its violence against the West than al-Qaeda. Indeed, ISIL conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces — from 2015 to 2017 than the al-Qaeda network (AQN) did during a similar period from 2008 to 2010. ISIL’s “inspired” operations, which fall into the category of a leaderless resistance, make up a significant proportion of the total number of its operations: 37 percent (or 273 external operations). Inspired attacks do not exceed those directed by ISIL leaders, however, which make up 55 percent of the total. Further, of those external operations directed by ISIL leaders, foreign fighter returnees conducted most of them.[24] All of this changed after ISIL’s loss of Mosul in July 2017 and, in particular, after ISIL fighters fled Raqqa in October 2017.[25] Not only did ISIL lose territorial control in Iraq and Syria, but its ability to conduct external operations also diminished. Between December 2016 (the height of its influence and reach) and December 2017, the number of external operations directed, enabled, or inspired by ISIL dropped by 30 per cent.[26] Thus, like al-Qaeda’s previous efforts in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Iraq, ISIL’s recent losses call its basic strategy into question. Of course, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders have always disputed the wisdom of ISIL’s strategy. They also have criticized Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for splintering the jihadist movement.[27] In September 2015, for example, al-Zawahiri issued a series of speeches in which he drew distinctions between al-Qaeda and ISIL. Al-Zawahiri stipulated that (1) al-Qaeda supported ISIL fighters’ efforts to attack Shi’a Muslims and secularists, but not other mujahideen; and (2) al-Qaeda supported ISIL fighters’ efforts to help Muslims globally, but not if it meant encouraging defections from al-Qaeda’s ranks.[28] In this context, al-Qaeda leaders have attempted to set themselves up as a less virulent alternative to ISIL, albeit also with questionable success. Both Naji and al-Suri remain influential thinkers with al-Qaeda and ISIL, as well as in the wider jihadist movement. Yet neither strategist has cracked the code on how to achieve victory. As we have seen, al-Qaeda and ISIL are at odds over the direction the movement should take. And they continue to compete with one another to lead it. This brings us back to the “confusion” personified by those foreign terrorist fighters who left Syria after the fall of Raqqa and are now languishing in Turkey’s detention centers with nowhere else to go. The future of the jihadist movement likely rests in the hands of these veteran foreign terrorist fighters. Foreign Fighters: The Past and Future Vanguard Historically, after similar conflicts in Afghanistan and Bosnia, veteran foreign fighters have chosen to either return home or join likeminded mujahideen in third countries.[29] Of those who returned home, some reintegrated peacefully. But most did not.[30] They established local terrorist cells, sent resources to other mujahideen in ongoing conflicts, and recruited others to support the jihadist movement.[31] The Afghan veterans were integral to the expansion of al-Qaeda’s network, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Jemaah Islamiyya (JI) in Indonesia, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[32] Veterans of the wars in Bosnia and Iraq similarly contributed to the rapid expansion of ISIL worldwide, including its recruitment of foreign fighters.[33] It is therefore likely that we will see a similar pattern with the veterans of the more recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The most immediate threat posed by the jihadist movement to the West — North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand — depends on the willingness and ability of these foreign fighter returnees to participate in local attacks for ISIL or al-Qaeda. The United States government has estimated that 40,000 individuals left their home countries and travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight.[34] Approximately 14,910 foreign terrorist fighters have already departed these battlefields.[35] Significant numbers have returned home through smuggling networks or have been deported by Turkey: 980 foreign fighters have returned to Tunisia; 900 to Saudi Arabia; 850 to Russia; 830 to Indonesia; 550 to France; 500 to Jordan; and 300 to Germany.[36] Only 36 per cent of these are in prison.[37] The rest remain a potential threat for either participating in an ISIL-directed attack locally, an al-Qaeda attack, or creating local terrorist cells of their own. Beyond external operations in the West, some of the veteran fighters from Syria and Iraq have already relocated to other conflict zones, such as Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Yemen, and the southern Philippines. Tunisian security officials have noted the presence of ISIL training camps in Libya. Some of the trainers, reportedly, are foreign fighter veterans.[38] Other veteran fighters have taken on leadership positions in the so-called ISIL provinces. Bahraini national Turki al-Ban’ali reportedly moved from Mosul to Libya to take on the role of emir of ISIL in Libya.[39] Abu-Hajir al-Hashimi, the once-leader of the Islamic State-Sinai (now deceased), had been an officer in the Iraqi army before joining ISIL and eventually moving to Egypt.[40] Thus, we are already beginning to see foreign terrorist fighters depart Syria and Iraq to participate in other conflicts. Based on historical patterns and current realities, some of these relocating foreign fighters will re-join al-Qaeda and others will attach themselves to local ISIL affiliates. We will likely witness in-fighting between al-Qaeda and ISIL factions in these areas of conflict for a period of time. But, given their common worldview, it is also likely that a certain degree of cooperation will exist on the ground. The veteran foreign fighters will bring new tactical knowledge to conflicts — e.g., in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — and will push local groups toward the brutal tactics sensationalized by ISIL. But, for the most part, the status quo will remain in these ongoing conflicts. Thus, the most dramatic shift will likely be felt beyond these conflict zones: in the West and even more so in many of the Muslim majority countries where ISIL and al-Qaeda do not have affiliates. The future of the jihadist movement in the rest of the world will not depend on al-Qaeda versus the ISIL, nor the writings of one ideologue versus another. But rather, over the next three to five years, many of these veteran foreign fighters will attempt to persuade others to join their cause. As in the past, this recruitment will take place in prisons, prayer groups, mosques, and universities. Veteran foreign fighters will continue to reach out on social media. And, as in the past, they will be successful. The question is how successful. The answer will depend on the success or failure of re-integration and de-radicalization programs for the foreign fighter returnees and their families. Some countries have begun to implement such programs, but most of them are nascent, leaving the prospects of de-radicalizing veteran foreign terrorist fighters uncertain.[41] It will also depend on counter-terrorism cooperation worldwide. Interpol has begun to assist law enforcement agencies around the world in their efforts to monitor foreign terrorist fighters as they attempt to return home or relocate to other countries.[42] But this cooperation, too, has only recently begun to accelerate in the international community, primarily due to the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2396 in December 2017.[43] Other, wider factors will matter too. For example, attitudes toward and treatment of Muslim minorities in the West, as well as in other countries such as Myanmar, India, and Thailand, will be an important determinant.[44] Thus, in this wider context, the future direction of the jihadist movement over the next three to five years depends both on the behavior of foreign fighter veterans and on the global response to them in the wake of ISIL’s territorial defeat today.   R. Kim Cragin, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at the National Defense University. She is a widely published expert on counterterrorism, foreign fighters, and terrorist group adaptation. Cragin recently left a position as senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and also has taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. The opinions expressed here represent her own views and are not those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government

3. We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL) has rapidly imploded since the latter half of 2017, yet despite this fact, global jihadism remains a potent force. Since the Arab Spring first began in late 2010, jihadism has experienced a rapid growth phase that continues today. In addition to jihadists continuing to fight on Syria’s front lines, major battlefields where these militants have recently controlled territory, or threaten to, include Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen. Despite this, ISIL’s implosion has left many wondering about the future of the jihadist movement. In order to understand where it is headed, we must consider three factors: First, the geopolitical backdrop against which jihadism continues to thrive. Second, the fact that violent non-state actors are currently doing a very effective job of exploiting technological advances. And third, the present state of two major fault lines in the jihadist movement that have come to define how we understand it: centralization vs. decentralization, and globalism vs. nationalism in regional militant groups. Similar to what happens when one squeezes a balloon, the caliphate’s collapse has displaced jihadists, their ideology, and the threats they pose, into other places. Yet, though aspects of the jihadist movement continue to evolve, we should not be too quick to declare that its essence has changed. While defeating ISIL as a territorial entity was necessary for various pragmatic and moral reasons, it unfortunately does not signal the beginning of the end of global jihadism — a movement that is dedicated to overthrowing existing political orders and replacing them with a transnational political Islamic entity, and that will act transnationally to advance this goal[45]  — as a significant strategic threat. Indeed, even as the caliphate has fallen, global jihadism has continued to spread. Room for Growth: The Geopolitical Context For years, the existence of ungoverned spaces used to enable training, communications, operational planning, and other organizational functions have factored heavily in analysts’ evaluation of jihadist threats. These ungoverned spaces and jihadist safe havens have increased in number since the time of the 9/11 attacks, especially in countries touched by the Arab Spring. Even after ISIL’s collapse as a territorial entity, Sunni jihadist groups continue to control a significant swath of territory in Syria. Indeed, even ISIL’s collapse may end up being less devastating to the group than it initially appeared would be the case, as Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin has distracted ISIL’s foes, whose attention is now focused more on fighting one another than it is on mopping up the remainder of the caliphate and preventing its resurgence.[46] While ISIL is the group we most associate with holding territory in Syria, many different jihadist groups now hold or contest areas of the country. In Libya, the government was never able to reestablish its writ after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. Jihadists have predictably exploited this situation. ISIL succeeded in capturing and holding the city of Sirte for months, while other jihadist groups have experienced even more sustained success. The Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB) and the Mujahedin Shura Council (MSC), an umbrella organization in which ASMB plays a leading role, have seized control of the eastern coastal city of Derna. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb officially endorsed the MSC in July 2015.[47] Jihadists also have significant operating space in Yemen despite the United States escalating its kinetic campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As the New York Times recently reported, “the threat of a terrorist attack — with the most commonly feared target a commercial airliner — emanating from the chaotic, ungoverned spaces of Yemen remains high on the government’s list of terrorism concerns.”[48] Both Mali and Somalia face burgeoning jihadist-led insurgencies. In Somalia, African Union forces have already begun to reduce their numbers, bolstering the jihadist group al-Shabaab’s hopes that it could again become the dominant military force in southern Somalia. In the place where the “global war on terror” first began — Afghanistan/Pakistan — not only has the Taliban been gaining ground militarily, but available evidence, including the discovery of a 30-square-mile al-Qaeda training facility near Kandahar, suggests that the Taliban has not severed its ties to al-Qaeda.[49] ISIL has also established a foothold in Afghanistan, where it has been responsible for a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks.[50] Although it doesn’t fit the mold of other safe havens, which are typically made possible by operating in ungoverned spaces, Turkey deserves a mention here. In recent years, U.S. officials have been alarmed by Turkey’s growing willingness to shelter violent jihadists, including those connected to al-Qaeda.[51] In addition to ungoverned spaces and safe havens, jihadism has experienced significant growth in areas where it had previously been a marginal movement at best. Prior to the outbreak of the Arab Spring, analysts held that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak had defeated the country’s militant Islamic groups after they overplayed their hand in the 1997 Luxor massacre.[52] Today, jihadism has powerfully reemerged, and there are more frequent attacks than ever before by militant groups like ISIL’s Wilayat Sinai, including the devastating November 2017 attack on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai that claimed over 300 lives.[53] In countries like Tunisia and Jordan, jihadism has moved from an afterthought to a first-order strategic concern. Meanwhile, the jihadist resurgence from South to Southeast Asia — most dramatically underscored last year by the months-long capture of the Philippine city of Marawi by a regional ISIL affiliate — represents a reversal of one of the major success stories of the post-9/11 era. Early Adopters: Taking Advantage of Technology Jihadists’ ability to leverage technological advances, especially in the communications space, is another reason that their movement remains strong. Technology has historically had an ambiguous impact on sub-state violence. On the one hand, states can leverage new advances, including for surveillance purposes and gathering information from local populations.[54] On the other hand, militant groups can capitalize on these same platforms. Many key recent advances appear to, on the whole, favor jihadists. The world has witnessed breakthroughs across so many spheres, including social media and encrypted end-to-end communication, that exploiting new advances has seemingly proven easier for those who would use these technologies for the more straightforward task of destruction than for those who want to use them to protect. An early sign of jihadists’ growing ability to take advantage of new technologies was the way ISIL combined a deft exploitation of social media with breakthroughs in DIY video production techniques to craft slick and effective propaganda that helped drive a record number of foreign fighters to the Syria-Iraq theater.[55] The suspension of pro-ISIL social media accounts by service providers later reduced, but did not eliminate, the yield that ISIL received from this platform.[56] By the time states caught up, ISIL had already found other creative ways to exploit new technologies. For example, the post-Edward Snowden boom in end-to-end encryption allowed ISIL to craft digital methods of providing the same assistances to remote operatives that physical terrorist networks once provided in person.[57] Over the past few years, Syria-based ISIL operatives have found recruits online, spurred them to action, and have played an intimate role in the conceptualization, target selection, timing, and execution of attacks. They have also used encrypted communication platforms to assist in bomb-making techniques. Virtual planners have even helped operatives who got cold feet, literally coaching them right up until the moment they blew themselves up. In a July 2016 suicide bombing outside a concert in Ansbach, Germany, attacker Mohammad Daleel told the virtual planner with whom he was communicating that he found the security measures outside the concert daunting. The Long War Journal reports their ensuing conversation:
The unnamed operative told Daleel … to look for an appropriate place to put his bomb and then try to “disappear into the crowd.” The jihadist egged Daleel on, saying the asylum-seeker should “break through police cordons,” run away and “do it.”   “Pray for me,” Daleel wrote at one point. “You do not know what is happening with me right now,” Daleel typed, in an apparent moment of doubt.   “Forget the festival and go over to the restaurant,” the handler responded. “Hey man, what is going on with you? Even if just two people were killed, I would do it. Trust in Allah and walk straight up to the restaurant.”[58]
And that is what Daleel did. He walked into a wine bar and blew himself up, injuring 15 people. Had Daleel not been communicating with a virtual planner up until the moment of the attack, his fears and uncertainty very likely would have prevented him from completing his terrorist mission. The virtual planner model has helped transform lone attackers, relying solely on the internet for inspiration, guidance, and planning, from the bungling wannabes of a decade ago into something much more dangerous.[59] The operatives who are recruited and coached by virtual planners have been seamlessly incorporated into jihadist groups’ global strategy in a way that “lone wolves” never were before. There are also technological advances that jihadist groups haven’t yet employed in Western countries, but that they have already begun using in Iraq and Syria. In January 2017, researchers from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and Harvard University’s Belfer Center published an article examining documents discovered by the Iraqi military that shed light on ISIL’s program for developing and enhancing its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities.[60] They found that ISIL had “a formal, institutionalized, and resourced drone unit as early as 2015,” and that the group was already planning on using UAVs in an offensive capacity at that time. And ISIL did indeed use UAVs for military purposes. BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio did some of the most valuable embedded reporting from Iraq on the campaign to push ISIL from its territorial stronghold. In a report published in June 2017, he graphically described ISIL’s use of UAVs against Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force fighters with whom he was embedded:
ISIS drones swarm overhead as the battalion’s convoy pushes into the outskirts of western Mosul the next morning. One after another they drop grenades, wreaking havoc as soldiers fire their weapons wildly into the sky. From one of the Humvees, I watch as the battalion’s portly cook makes his lunch rounds in an armored truck, driving up and down the convoy to deliver Styrofoam boxes of food. The drones track him, dropping grenades as soldiers gather to collect the boxes. They are remotely piloted by militants who weave in and out of civilian neighborhoods on motorbikes to take cover from airstrikes. ISIS also uses the video feeds on the drones to coordinate mortars and car bombs. On the front lines, its fighters are standing their ground, and soldiers at the head of the convoy can hear them shouting, “Allahu Akbar.”[61]
In January, Russian forces in Syria destroyed a swarm of 13 improvised UAVs as they approached the Khmeimim airbase and Tartus naval facility to carry out an attack. Though no Russian forces were killed, this fact should not cause undue complacency. As militant groups innovate, their early attempts to try out new tactics often appear to result in failures, but they would be better understood as steps in the learning process. Moreover, the Russian investigation of the UAVs revealed their impressive range. The UAVs were “launched from a site more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) distant from their targets,” and could strike a target 62 miles away.[62] Although jihadists currently seem to be getting more out of new technologies than states do, relative to their respective capabilities, states may be able to gain the upper hand in the future. But for now, the efficacy of militant groups continues to rise, and for every new app or tech toy that we stop to admire, someone else is wondering how they can use it to wreak havoc. Inside the Jihadist Movement: Assessing its Fault Lines New communications technologies contribute to a general sense of interconnectedness, which is a crucial component of globalization. At the same time, this interconnectedness is highly relevant to the jihadist movement, as it fundamentally relates to two key fault lines within that movement that have defined how we understand it: centralization vs. decentralization, and globalism vs. localism.[63] In the past, analysts have been too eager to discern trends toward decentralization and localism that, if true, would work to America’s advantage.[64] Similar perceptions have arisen from some recent high-profile internal disputes involving core al-Qaeda members, as well as the fall of ISIL’s territorial caliphate. But caution is warranted before concluding that the essence of the jihadist movement has now definitively shifted toward a decentralized or locally-focused entity. Centralization vs. Decentralization Analysts have consistently tended to underestimate the role of senior leadership in providing strategic direction to jihadist groups, leading them to conclude that these groups are highly decentralized. Before ISIL’s rise as an independent entity, al-Qaeda — as the world’s preeminent transnational jihadist group — stood at the center of this debate. Its senior leadership was generally underestimated, in part, because al-Qaeda does not fit scholars’ top-down leadership model.[65] When ISIL essentially controlled its own state, it better accorded with this model. It remains to be seen, however, how analysts will assess the relevance of ISIL’s core leadership to its affiliates now that the group has lost most of its territory. Another reason that analysts may have a tendency to view the jihadist movement as decentralized is that state officials frequently disparage or downplay the role of jihadist groups’ senior leadership — either as part of information operations (IO) campaigns or due to sincere belief — dismissing them as irrelevant, disconnected, unable to communicate, and the like. These official portrayals have an impact on scholarly and analytic perceptions of organizational dynamics.[66] For al-Qaeda, although it has evolved somewhat over time, the group’s current organizational structure reflects the strategic vision of its founders. From the outset, al-Qaeda adopted an organizational design wherein the group’s senior leadership outlined a strategic course, empowered mid-level commanders to execute the strategy as they saw fit, and even encouraged “terrorist entrepreneurs” to pitch them on new plots. This latter characteristic spurred scholar Bruce Hoffman to note that bin Laden often “operated as a venture capitalist” in his running of al-Qaeda.[67] This concept of “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution,” as it has been described,[68] remains relevant today, and indeed, has enabled al-Qaeda to maintain organizational and strategic coherence even in the face of considerable challenges, both external and internal. But al-Qaeda’s decision to adopt new affiliates created an organizational challenge in terms of maintaining strategic coherence that did not exist at the group’s founding. Although the implications of these new affiliates are discussed below, it is worth stating here that the foundational principle of centralization of decision and decentralization of execution would prove important in incorporating them into the group’s broader organizational plans. Even in times of great duress, al-Qaeda has always viewed some form of leadership over the jihadist movement as essential, so as not to leave the movement rudderless. Even when al-Qaeda was at its nadir in November 2002 — when the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had displaced it from the safe haven it previously enjoyed, and when U.S.-led kinetic operations were constantly taking important al-Qaeda leaders off the battlefield — the organization rejected Abu Musab al-Suri’s proposal to move to a leaderless model of jihad.[69] Of course, the fact that it sees itself as a centralized organization does not mean that al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is influential throughout the network in practice. Since 9/11, two specific obstacles to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership maintaining strategic coherence have arisen. First, the group has expanded geographically, taking on new affiliates at the same time that its senior leadership has remained targeted and thus constrained. Second, these affiliates have grown financially independent of al-Qaeda’s leadership, making loyalty and allegiance important tools by which al-Qaeda Central attempts to maintain organizational and strategic cohesion. Al-Qaeda’s leaders have built enduring relationships with jihadists across the globe over the decades. These personal relationships — which are often solidified on the battlefield, or through marriage and extended family networks — serve as a binding force, and as a buffer against disobedience. Allegiance to the organization’s brand and mission serves as another crucial source of organizational cohesion — and also provides al-Qaeda Central with indirect coercive power, because jihadist groups that defect or clash with al-Qaeda’s leadership may be unable to benefit from relationships with al-Qaeda-aligned regional jihadist groups. For example, both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia helped to bolster Boko Haram organizationally when the Nigerian government cracked down on the insurgent group in 2009. Boko Haram’s later defection to ISIL in 2015 may have impeded its ability to be succored by al-Qaeda-aligned jihadist organizations when a four-country offensive targeted the Nigerian jihadist group beginning that year. Al-Qaeda is not the only transnational jihadist organization to face internal challenges. Before losing its Syria/Iraq territorial stronghold, ISIL operated in a highly centralized fashion, similar to al-Qaeda in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. The evidence about ISIL’s relations with its affiliates across the globe is less robust than the information about how it governed in its caliphate territory. But it is clear that the organization possessed the means to wield some coercive power over those groups, including the ability to provide or withhold funding, and to authorize or withdraw the right of these affiliates to associate themselves with its soaring brand. But ISIL’s decline as a territorial entity will challenge its ability to maintain a strategically coherent organization. This raises two key questions when it comes to the relevance of ISIL’s core leadership. First, have the group’s leaders taken the necessary preparations to ensure that affiliates fit into their strategic plans, even as the caliphate itself drastically declines? Second, will key affiliates defect from the organization, risking a spiral of defections and weakening ISIL Core’s ability to maintain control? It remains to be seen what will come of the organizational challenges that both al-Qaeda and ISIL currently confront. Yet the current difficulties that confront both groups do not change the fact that the discernible trend within the jihadist movement over the past 20 years has been toward centralization rather than decentralization. Many jihadist groups fighting in conflicts in Chechnya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, and elsewhere were previously only loosely connected to transnational jihadism as an organizational matter. Today, these regional groups are overtly aligned with transnational ones. Conversely, there are no jihadist theaters where local, independent groups have supplanted transnational jihadists militarily. As previously alluded to, new communications technologies have accelerated the trend toward centralization by allowing greater interconnectedness. Conversely, new communications platforms also allow a multiplicity of voices to be heard where once messaging could be more tightly controlled. Global vs. National Focus A second fault line runs between globally focused jihadist movements and nationalist jihadist movements. Global and local agendas and strategies have existed simultaneously within the jihadist movement for years, sometimes clashing with one another. Yet, if we zoom out of the particulars of current controversies and instead examine the broad sweep of the movement, we can see an overall trend toward globalism rather than nationalism among jihadist groups, just as we see a trend toward centralization. For example, an increasing number of jihadist groups act in accordance with their professed transnational vision when the opportunity arises, by aiding jihadists whose primary focus is outside their own theater. This has been true in the relationship among Boko Haram, AQIM, and al-Shabaab. It can also be seen in the jihadist foreign fighters who leave their homes for far-flung theaters where they lack any real connection to local dynamics. A “global focus” should not be conflated, as is sometimes the case, with whether a given group is trying to attack Western countries at the moment. Rather, when determining whether a group is globally focused, it is more relevant to look for the combination of a transnational vision and transnational activities, rather than simply gauging whether it prioritizes Western targets. When al-Qaeda embraced a “far-enemy” focused military strategy in the 1990s, it was motivated by the assessment that Islamists could only topple local regimes and establish Islamic emirates if they first crippled the West, or forced Western disengagement from the Middle East and North Africa. Otherwise, al-Qaeda strategists thought, Western states would step in, provide military, economic, and intelligence support, and prevent these “near enemy” regimes from falling. The far-enemy strategy was thus a means to an end, rather than an unalterable commitment to prioritizing attacks against the West. Furthermore, there is zero evidence that since adding affiliates, al-Qaeda’s senior leadership disapproved of the local objectives of AQIM, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Indeed, for any transnational jihadist group’s senior leadership, it is vital that local branches are tailored to concerns, grievances, and aspirations that resonate in that theater, even as their activities fit into the mother group’s broader ambitions. The events of the Arab Spring shifted jihadists’ calculus, as it demonstrated that Western states would not necessarily step in to save autocratic regimes. Indeed, in the case of Libya, Western governments actually intervened to topple Qaddafi. ISIL’s ability to control significant territory for years despite foolishly making enemies at every turn further underscored new opportunities for jihadists in the region.[70] It would be in the United States’ interest if regional groups eschewed all aspects of a global jihadist agenda and instead focused on local conflicts in places like Yemen or Somalia. But we should not overestimate our ability to bring this about, nor should we assume that jihadist groups, left to their own devises, will naturally choose to focus exclusively on local agendas. The increasingly globalized world we inhabit outside the jihadist context, the diffusion of secure communications technology, and greater adoption of a pan-Islamic identity across multiple regions all support the trend toward a global focus, even as regional groups also tailor their strategies and activities to local preferences. Writing about the “ideological hybridization” of jihadist organizations in 2009, Thomas Hegghammer observed that “the distinction between near enemy and far enemy groups seems less and less relevant.” The process of ideological hybridization, Hegghammer concluded, had “the result that the enemy hierarchies of many jihadist groups are becoming more unclear or heterogeneous than they used to be.”[71] Hegghammer’s hybridization thesis still has significant explanatory power today. Conclusion The collapse of ISIL’s caliphate was an important achievement for numerous reasons. ISIL was using the territory it controlled to plan large-scale terrorist attacks across the world, was brutalizing the population under its yoke, openly boasted of how it had instituted sex slavery, and adopted genocidal policies toward the Yazidis and other religious minorities. The fact that it no longer controls its own state is a positive development. Yet ISIL Core, although still an important player, does not represent the jihadist movement as a whole. At key inflection points like this one, the majority of analysts have sometimes misread the movement’s future direction.[72] When the Arab Spring began, many assessed that the revolutions would likely harm the jihadist movement. Likewise, analysts overestimated the likelihood that ISIL, once it split from al-Qaeda, would attract major al-Qaeda branches into its orbit. Today, ISIL’s precipitous decline should be understood in the context of a larger movement that remains dynamic, adaptable, and dangerous, and that has significantly grown in strength since the Arab Spring revolutions. If Western countries are to turn ISIL’s territorial defeat into a lasting strategic success, their leaders must correctly interpret where the movement goes from here. Three factors are helping to define its future and enable its resiliency and lethality: a geopolitical environment favorable to jihadist groups, technological advances they can leverage, and a trend toward centralization and a global focus. Together, these factors help to explain why, almost 17 years after the 9/11 attacks, “victory” in the War on Terror — or even a path to or concept of victory — remains elusive.   Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Chief Executive Officer of the private firm Valens Global. Previous positions that Gartenstein-Ross has held include Senior Advisor to the Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Community Partnerships, Fellow at Google’s think tank Jigsaw, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The author or volume editor of twenty-three books and monographs, Gartenstein-Ross holds a Ph.D. in World Politics from The Catholic University of America and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law.

4. ISIL, al-Qaeda, and What Goes Viral Next: Why Tomorrow’s Jihadist Movement Might Not Look so Different from Today’s

By Joshua Geltzer Since the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) swept across Syria and into Iraq, the group’s core, with its expansive territorial safe haven and legions of fighters, has generally been considered the world’s preeminent jihadist terrorist threat.[73] This remained the case even as longer-simmering jihadist threats — such as those posed by al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and by al-Shabaab in East Africa — persisted and evolved, and as the global jihadist movement grew more complex and varied.[74] It is too soon to declare the threat posed by ISIL’s core a thing of the past.[75] But the group has lost and continues to lose much of the territory that it once controlled in Syria and Iraq.[76]  That territorial control not only provided time and space for plotting terrorist attacks in the region and beyond,[77] but also fueled the group’s global messaging, which in turn filled its ranks with foreign fighters and incited violence by those who never travelled to Syria or Iraq and instead opted to remain at home, attacking those whom the group deemed its enemies. With the core of ISIL increasingly squeezed in Syria and Iraq and debates rising about whether al-Qaeda can leverage this opportunity to retake market share, what lies ahead for the various strands of the jihadist movement and the threats they pose? Geographically, Syria is likely to remain a major focus: ISIL is still a threat there, and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate has sown the seeds of a long-term threat with which the West has yet to grapple sufficiently.  Organizationally, ISIL and al-Qaeda appear poised to remain key players, even if their affiliates — for ISIL, in places like Libya and Egypt; for al-Qaeda, in locations like Syria and Yemen — may prove better situated to continue the fight than either organization’s embattled core. On the technological front, ISIL has shown the way for other jihadists who might rise to present their own global threats via the Internet. Mission Still Not Accomplished: ISIL’s Core Isn’t Defeated Yet As tempting as it may be to treat ISIL’s core as defeated and focus instead on other terrorist threats, it is simply too soon to declare “mission accomplished” in Iraq and Syria. To be sure, ISIL is losing geography, fighters, and resources as the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against it continues and even appears to be accelerating.[78] But, as I recently suggested elsewhere, the last mile of defeating a terrorist group can be the hardest one, a lesson the United States learned all too well from the lingering remnants of ISIL’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.[79] ISIL is down but not out, especially in Syria where it remains a more robust fighting force than in Iraq. The group is estimated to retain thousands of fighters, and the area in which those fighters appear to be making their next stand — the Euphrates River Valley — will likely challenge the reach of the Counter-ISIL Coalition, given the lack of a previous ground presence there, the possibility of greater sympathy and even support for ISIL among the local population, and the continuing complexities of the overall dynamic in Syria, including rising tensions between Turkey and the Kurds.[80] This dynamic includes a number of dissonant elements: an Assad regime that has an opportunity to reassert control over an increasing swath of the country, a patron regime in Moscow that wants to see a return on the investment it made by backing the Assad regime, a government in Tehran that seeks to be more assertive regionally while also coping with increasingly vocal discontent at home, and subnational Syrian actors, like the Kurds, who are aiming for at least a greater degree of autonomy in Syria when it emerges from the devastating conflict that continues there. In addition, Washington’s own approach to these and other key actors (like Baghdad and Erbil) has involved the deliberate perpetuation of strategic ambiguities that have enabled crucial progress in the fight against ISIL but are ultimately unsustainable.[81] Truly defeating a terrorist group is hard enough under the best of circumstances. In this tremendously challenging scenario, it is all the more difficult. So, for the moment, ISIL’s core remains a formidable piece of the overall jihadist picture, and one unlikely to be eradicated imminently given the enduring complexities surrounding counterterrorism efforts against the group. The challenges presented by ISIL extend beyond the shrinking but persistent and still formidable remnants of its core in Syria and Iraq. The group lays claim to officially recognized affiliates as well as less formally acknowledged networks worldwide.[82] ISIL-Libya, which once exerted such control over the coastal city of Sirte that it could hold flag-waving parades down its major boulevards, is among its most lethal affiliates.[83] Another is ISIL-Sinai, which is believed responsible for bringing down Metrojet Flight 9268 in October 2015, killing 224 in the deadliest bombing of a civil airliner since Pan Am Flight 103 exploded above Lockerbie in 1988.[84] It is simply too soon to project reliably the trajectories of these and other ISIL affiliates. ISIL-Libya, for example, appears largely cleared from Sirte, thanks in part to U.S. air power, but the group is assessed to retain hundreds of fighters elsewhere in the country.[85] Meanwhile, ISIL-Sinai is thought to be responsible for killing more than 300 worshippers at a mosque in November 2017 in the affiliate’s deadliest attack yet.[86] Whether these particular ISIL affiliates are waxing or waning depends in part on the counterterrorism pressure that they will face in coming months and years.  Regardless, neither affiliate appears likely to recede swiftly, and each might well prove to remain on the rise. Overall, while ISIL has attempted to provide some coherence to its global organization, it seems unlikely that the fates of the group’s affiliates will entirely stand or fall with ISIL’s trajectory in Syria and Iraq. From West Africa to Southeast Asia, ISIL affiliates have worked assiduously to build redundancies into the group’s overall system, such that many individual affiliates have their own local leadership, recruiting pipeline, and operational networks.[87] Success has been uneven. But at least some of ISIL’s affiliates will continue, for the foreseeable future, to pose a threat to carry out attacks, galvanize followers, and even seize new territory no matter how the group’s core is faring. Indeed, the prominence of these affiliates may be set to rise, as the organization as a whole attempts to compensate for setbacks in Syria and Iraq by boosting the prominence of ISIL’s presence elsewhere. That may mean not only augmented messaging focused on ISIL outside Syria and Iraq but also increased violence, as those outposts attempt to sustain the group’s relevance through terrorist attacks and potentially through the establishment of new safe havens. It is also possible that, as ISIL’s core loses territorial control, certain ISIL affiliates will distance themselves from the central organization. This may be particularly appealing for the affiliates whose existence predated ISIL’s formation, such as the portion of Boko Haram that became ISIL’s West African affiliate.[88] For such affiliates to splinter from the global ISIL organization could weaken them or at least create opportunities for counterterrorism forces to make gains against them, thanks to reduced financing, renunciations by discontented members, and general strategic and tactical drift. At the same time, for those affiliates that can turn to regionally focused grievances and exploit them effectively, there is the possibility of gaining traction and strength. It is further possible that Washington would no longer see them as a Western problem, thus leading the United States to lose focus on the threat that they pose — a seriously shortsighted and potentially dangerous miscalculation.[89] One can also imagine, with its territory in Syria and Iraq shrinking, ISIL becoming even less centralized of an organization than it already is. Characterizing a terrorist group’s level of centralization is susceptible to oversimplification. For example, while ISIL’s Internet-based messaging has certain central themes that are repeated in languages worldwide, its operational direction over the tactics of specific terrorist attacks is famously decentralized.  That said, overall one might expect ISIL’s core in Syria and Iraq to become increasingly focused on simply surviving and thus decreasingly able to align global messaging, seed leaders for new affiliates and networks, and otherwise provide general direction to the group’s far-flung pockets of fighters. That, in turn, may lead ISIL affiliates to experiment with new attack tactics, new ways of interacting with local populations, and new messaging themes — perhaps even finding success that is then ripe for emulation and replication across ISIL’s other affiliates. Al-Qaeda: Laying the Foundations for a Resurgent Threat ISIL is not the only serious terrorist threat emanating from Syria today. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria — now calling itself Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) — may continue to rebrand itself periodically and to spar publicly with al-Qaeda’s overall leader Ayman al-Zawahiri,[90] but its essence remains unchanging:[91] It is a jihadist terrorist organization committed to using violence to pursue “a transnational jihadi project.”[92] HTS — which, to reiterate, should be understood at its core as “al-Qaeda in Syria,” regardless of what its relationship to al-Zawahiri happens to be at the moment — is increasingly marked by more than just its violent ambition. The group has consolidated control in Idlib Province and swelled its ranks.[93] Meanwhile, the continuing multisided violence, humanitarian catastrophe, and lack of governance in huge swaths of Syria have limited the counterterrorism pressure being applied on the group. This combination of enjoying a physical safe haven, boasting sizable numbers, and facing minimal governmental pressure have produced for HTS a literal “Qaeda” or “base” of the type that Osama bin Laden once worked assiduously to establish in Afghanistan, only to see it lost to the United States-led military campaign launched in the wake of 9/11. HTS appears to be exhibiting both greater strategic patience and greater tactical patience than bin Laden. Strategically, it is insinuating itself for the long haul in the Syrian population and local power structures. Tactically, the group appears to be looking toward large-scale terrorist attacks in the West once those become feasible — when that would be remains uncertain and deeply worrisome — rather than prioritizing smaller-scale operations, like ISIL has done, that are more readily achievable. But, if HTS is not yet the preeminent global terrorist threat today, then it might well be tomorrow. With ISIL losing literal and figurative ground in Syria, HTS may be poised to gain ground elsewhere in the country and to take advantage of having a safe haven essentially on the shores of the Mediterranean to pose a terrorist threat stretching into Europe and beyond. While HTS’s fundamental commitment to the basic jihadist agenda is clear, the precise balance among the group’s long-term priorities is less so. For example, it is unclear how the group’s aims within Syria will be prioritized in relation to its objectives in the broader region as well as globally. How HTS strikes that balance is likely to determine how quickly the group uses — and thus risks — the base that it has built in Syria in service of pursuing terrorist attacks elsewhere. It may also affect its role within the broader al-Qaeda organization. If HTS seeks to exercise leadership over that global organization, then it may need to find ways to reverse its recent acrimony with al-Zawahiri.[94] In contrast, if the group is satisfied with a near-term focus on Syria, then there may be little urgency in reestablishing harmony across al-Qaeda’s various franchises. Either way, policymakers in the United States and elsewhere would be wise to regard the threat posed by HTS — with its safe haven and potentially widespread global credibility among jihadists — as urgent. Outside of Syria, al-Qaeda’s affiliates continue to pose serious threats, especially those in areas rife with ongoing conflict and lacking in credible governance. That is especially true of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As outgoing National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen recently commented, Yemen “continues to be one of the most frustrating theaters in our work right now.”[95] Much as for HTS in Syria, the continuing violence and lack of effective governance in Yemen allow AQAP physical and political space to plot attacks, recruit fighters, and stockpile resources.[96] Making things even more complicated, nowhere are the lines between allegiance to al-Qaeda and allegiance to ISIL more blurred than in Yemen,[97] suggesting that, should ISIL wane in global popularity with the loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, AQAP may stand to gain recruits from ISIL defectors.  So, too, does al-Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, al-Shabaab, which was reportedly behind Somalia’s worst terrorist attack ever in October 2017, which killed more than 500 people.[98]  And al-Qaeda continues to fester elsewhere as well, from Mali to India. The draw of al-Qaeda to jihadists never fully waned, even as ISIL surged to prominence. And should that surge be reversed as ISIL suffers continued setbacks in the heartland of its self-declared caliphate, al-Qaeda stands to gain from those whose allegiance could easily be reversed. While al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, presumed to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, appears largely isolated and focused primarily on survival,[99] al-Zawahiri and other top figures retain meaningful resonance for key influencers among al-Qaeda’s global followers and therefore represent their own continuing threat.[100] Even as other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as AQAP and HTS, have moved toward slicker Internet-disseminated messaging, al-Zawahiri has tended to circulate videos generally reminiscent of those that bin Laden used to share a decade ago, with al-Zawahiri generally speaking in a monotone while gazing, unmoving, at the camera.[101] Nonetheless, the fundamental credibility that al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda figures maintain with segments of the jihadist population means that a resurgence in their prominence remains conceivable, especially if they were to adopt a fresher approach to crafting and disseminating their communications. ISIL 2.0 So far, this discussion of the global jihadist threat landscape has had a familiar ring. After all, ISIL and al-Qaeda are the household names of jihadism. It is precisely because those groups have been so successful, not just at establishing their own “brands” but also at coopting local groups from Syria to Nigeria to the Philippines, that ISIL and al-Qaeda, in rather different ways, have become the overwhelmingly dominant franchises of what, beneath the surface, is a multifaceted and complicated jihadist movement.[102] Their dominance of the jihadist marketplace has made it hard for “start-up” groups with similarly global, rather than merely local, ambition to gain comparative traction. If one such group does gain traction, it tends to get quickly targeted by the behemoths — either for cooption or for elimination. Nevertheless, ISIL’s ingenuity has demonstrated to other nascent groups where opportunity does exist to capture some of the jihadist “market share”: through the Internet. While its claim to a physical caliphate helped ISIL to grab attention and gain adherents since its 2014 surge, that message gained swift global traction because of the group’s sophisticated use of social media, file-upload sites, and other modern communications platforms to radicalize and mobilize followers worldwide. That means, on the one hand, that, despite the increasing efforts of technology companies to police their platforms,[103] ISIL will retain something of a virtual safe haven even as its physical safe haven in Syria and Iraq shrinks, allowing the group’s followers a platform to attempt to maintain relevance and exhort violence. But it also means that, because of ISIL’s online pioneering, a new jihadist group — what some have called “ISIS 2.0”[104]— would not need the distribution chain and seed capital normally required to challenge two dominant corporate giants. Instead, that distribution chain already exists in the form of the Internet, and exploiting it in the name of terrorist violence requires little seed capital, as it is available essentially free of charge. What matters more is having a compelling narrative and a leadership capable of inspiring followers based on that narrative. As my former colleague Jen Easterly and I have argued elsewhere, ISIL used the Internet to cultivate a false sense of belonging to a community centered around the group’s purported caliphate. Indeed, rather than mobilizing “lone wolves” as is often suggested, ISIL actually did the opposite: It made vulnerable and disaffected individuals feel that they were not alone because they were part of ISIL’s global community.[105] That sense of connection, initiated through deliberately accessible and even ostentatious online recruitment materials, is particularly dangerous in an era in which those who respond to it can then be shifted to communications platforms using end-to-end encryption inaccessible to governments. It is on those platforms that later stages of radicalization and even operational plotting can ensue.[106] For ISIL, a claim to a physical caliphate that could be marketed online with videos, photographs, and firsthand narratives was at the core of that sense of community with which the group energized the global jihadist movement and seized momentum within it. Generating a movement of that magnitude was no easy feat. It required first articulating an all-consuming worldview, barbaric as it was, and then making that worldview feel both real and compelling to those scattered around the world but potentially drawn to it. Still, there is no reason to think that laying claim to a physical caliphate is the only type of jihadist message that can be carefully cultivated, assiduously marketed, and, ultimately, go viral. Predicting what the next jihadist messaging campaign to go viral might be is ultimately impossible. Maybe that campaign could depend on a resurgence of familiar types of jihadist activity in the physical world, from the establishment of a new purported caliphate to a series of global terrorist attacks. Or it might instead become truly digitized by relying on offensive cyber operations to wreak havoc on computer systems or physical entities like power plants and electric grids, along the way energizing the global following needed to power ISIL 2.0.[107]  Revitalizing a new wave of jihadism through those sorts of cyberattacks, which would be relatively unprecedented for jihadists despite years of warnings,[108] presents a particularly concerning scenario, and one to which U.S. and other policymakers should be paying urgent attention. Regardless of what form it takes, somewhere a young jihadist may already be sitting in front of his or her computer screen, concocting the germ of a messaging campaign that, under the right circumstances, could gain traction. If such a campaign catches fire online, its creator will have ISIL to thank for demonstrating how to revive and refine jihadism for the digital age. Conclusion Across two administrations in Washington, one Democratic and one Republican, the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against ISIL has featured a number of key elements:[109] a commitment to American leadership, including a major role for the U.S. Military, novel partnerships with state and sub-state actors on the ground, the involvement of a diverse set of coalition countries offering different types of capabilities to the campaign and collectively contributing to the credibility of the effort, and an attempt to minimize noncombatant casualties, even if that effort has at times fallen short in tragic ways.[110] This approach incorporated lessons learned from U.S. counterterrorism efforts since 9/11, while also adapting to the new roles that technology and the distinct features of the Syrian conflict were playing in the terrorist and counterterrorist dynamic emerging in Syria and Iraq. Tomorrow’s jihadist terrorism will not, of course, be identical to today’s. ISIL and al-Qaeda, while dominating the jihadist movement, are themselves changing, and whoever may surge next to prominence in the jihadist movement’s leadership will bring still more changes to that movement.  For policymakers charged with protecting the United States and U.S. interests against jihadist threats, the key will be to learn the right lessons from today’s counterterrorism efforts, while being prepared to adapt to tomorrow’s new challenges. That will require adapting, in particular, to the ever-changing role of technology, from social media sites where terrorist recruitment videos can be disseminated, to end-to-end encrypted platforms on which terrorist plots can be hatched without government awareness, to the next potential wave of technologically enabled terrorist activity, such as offensive cyber operations that cause damage in the physical world. The ways in which ISIL and al-Qaeda continue to evolve and the potential for new actors to use technology in novel ways for terrorist recruitment and incitement will shape the contours of jihadism in the years to come.   Joshua Geltzer is the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and an ASU Future of War Fellow in New America’s International Security program. He served in various roles on the National Security Council staff, including as Senior Director for Counterterrorism from 2015 to 2017.  Flickr: Alatele Fr [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-future-jihadist-movement [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-24 12:20:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-24 16:20:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=517 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => With ISIL having lost the bulk of its territory in Iraq and Syria, we asked a group of experts what comes next for the jihadist movement. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 155 [1] => 152 [2] => 153 [3] => 154 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Karen Parish, “Stopping flow of foreign fighters to ISIS 'will take years,' Army official says,” DoD News, April 6, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/185550/stopping_flow_of_foreign_fighters_to_isis_will_take_years_army_official_says. [2] John Miller, “Declaration of War Against the Americans: Interview with Osama bin Laden,” ABC News, May 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html. [3] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Ideological Hybridization of Jihadi Groups,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, November 18, 2009, https://www.hudson.org/research/9866-the-ideological-hybridization-of-jihadi-groups. [4] Leah Farrall, “How Al-Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 2 (March/April 2011), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/south-asia/2011-02-20/how-al-qaeda-works. [5] See for example, “Dots on the Letters, as-Sahab’s 2nd Interview with Sheikh Abu Yahya at-Libi, Two Years After His Deliverance from Bagram Prison,” as-Sahab, September 9, 2007, https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/5138/AYL20070909.pdf?sequence=3. [6] The NATO-led intervention in Libya also showed that the West would intervene to protect Muslim civilians. [7] William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (Kindle Edition: St. Martin's Press, 2015), 85. [8] Cole Bunzel, From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2014). [9] Abū Bakr al-Baghdādī, “Wa-bashshir al-mu’minīn,” via Jihadology, April 9, 2013, http://jihadology.net/2013/04/09/al-furqan-media-presents-a-new-audio-message-from-the-islamic-state-of-iraqs-shaykh-abu-bakr-al-%E1%B8%A5ussayni-al-qurayshi-al-baghdadi-announcement-of-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-an/. [10] “20,000 Foreign Fighters Flock to Syria, Iraq to Join Terrorists,” CBS News, Feb. 10, 2015, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ap-20000-foreign-fighters-flock-to-syria-iraq-to-join-terrorists/. [11] “Sunni Rebels Declare New Islamic Caliphate,” Al Jazeera, June 30, 2014, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/isil-declares-new-islamic-caliphate-201462917326669749.html. [12] Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” BBC News, Nov. 13, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/raqqas_dirty_secret. [13] Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures (London and New York: Routledge, 2011). [14] William McCants, The Believer: How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer Became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Leader of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2015). [15] Author interviews, Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), Ankara, Turkey, January 2018. See also R. Kim Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” Lawfare, Nov. 26, 2017, https://lawfareblog.com/foreign-fighter-hot-potato. [16] Lia Brynjar, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of al-Qa’ida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). [17] Brynjar, Architect of Global Jihad, 2008. [18] R. Kim Cragin, “Metastases: Exploring the Impact of Foreign Fighters in Conflicts Abroad,” Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 1, no. 2 (November 2017). [19] Naji Abu Bakr, Management of Savagery: The Most Critical State Through Which the Ummah will Pass, trans. William McCants, unpublished manuscript, 2004. [20] As of December 2017, ISIL had declared 25 provinces in at least 13 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. (Some dispute exists as to whether or not the southern Philippines and Bangladesh also constitute official ISIL provinces.) It should be noted that ISIL affiliates have not been able to claim and/or hold territory in all 13 of these countries. [21] Jytte Klausen, “Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Vol. 38, no. 1 (2015): 1, doi:10.1080/1057610X.2014.974948. [22] These messages began to emerge via ISIL fighters and media personalities as early as the fall of 2015, but it became prominent in official ISIL statements in the summer of 2016. For more information see R. Kim Cragin, “The November 2015 Paris Attacks: The Impact of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” Orbis Vol. 61, no. 2 (Spring 2017), https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/03/november-2015-paris-attacks-impact-foreign-fighter-returnees/. [23] Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, “That they Live by Proof,” Statement by ISIL Spokesman, translated and released by al-Hayat Media Center, May 22, 2016. [24] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. [25] Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” BBC News, Nov. 13, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/raqqas_dirty_secret. [26] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. For more information on trends in ISIL’s external operations, see R. Kim Cragin and Ari Weil, “’Virtual Planners’ in the Arsenal of Islamic State External Operations,” Orbis (forthcoming Spring 2018). [27] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Islamic Spring,” issued Sept. 12, 2015, translated and reposted by the SITE Intelligence Group under the title “Zawahiri Incites Lone Wolf Attacks in the U.S. and West, Urges Fighters in Syria, Iraq, to Cooperate with IS Against Enemy Alliance,” Sept. 12, 2015. [28] al-Zawahiri, “The Islamic Spring,” 2015. [29] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters” International Security Vol. 35, no. 3 (Winter 2010/11): 53-94; Evan F. Kohlmann, Al-Qa’ida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network (Oxford: Berg, 2004). [30] R. Kim Cragin, “The Challenge of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Vol. 33, no. 3 (July 2017). [31] Cragin, “The Challenge of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” 2017; see also Cragin, “Metastases,” 2017. [32] Cragin, “Metasteses,” 2017; see also Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Jean-Pierre Filiu, “The Local and the Global Jihad of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghrib,” The Middle East Journal Vol. 63, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 213-226. [33] Author interviews in Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, and Jordan with security officials responsible for countering foreign fighter flows, 2016-2017; see also Cragin, “Metastases,” 2017. [34] Karen Parish, “Stopping flow of foreign fighters to ISIS 'will take years,' Army official says,” DoD News, April 6, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/185550/stopping_flow_of_foreign_fighters_to_isis_will_take_years_army_official_says. [35] Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” 2017. [36] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. The information comes from official estimates released by foreign fighters’ countries-of-origin, as well as fieldwork in the respective countries. [37] Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” 2017. [38] Author interviews in Tunisia with security officials, September 2017. [39] Mohamed Benahmd, “Daqis and AQIM vie with Killings,” El Khabar, Jan. 22, 2016. [40] Author interviews with Egyptian officials in Washington, D.C., July 2017. [41]  Bart Schuurman and Liesbeth van der Heide, Foreign fighter returnees & the reintegration challenge (Radicalization Awareness Network, 2016). [42] Interpol, “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” https://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Terrorism/Foreign-terrorist-fighters. [43] Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, United National Security Council Resolution 2396, Dec. 21, 2017. [44] William Marcellino, Kim Cragin, Joshua Mendelsohn et al., “Measuring the Popular Resonance of Daesh’s Propaganda,” Journal of Strategic Security Vol 10, no. 1 (March 2017), http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jss/vol10/iss1/4. [45] This definition was formulated during a discussion with analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who suggested the basic components of how global jihadism can be defined. [46] See Patrick Cockburn, “Inside Syria: With Its Enemies Diverted or Fighting Each Other, Isis is Making a Swift and Deadly Comeback,” The Independent (London), March 4, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-comeback-syria-ypg-raqqa-kurdish-war-fighting-islamic-state-a8239316.html. [47] See discussion in Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Backs Jihadists Fighting Islamic State in Derna, Libya,” Long War Journal, July 9, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/07/al-qaeda-in-the-islamic-maghreb-backs-jihadists-fighting-islamic-state-in-derna-libya.php. [48] Eric Schmitt and Saeed al-Batati, “The U.S. Has Pummeled Al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Threat is Barely Dented,” The New York Times, Dec. 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [49] See Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” The Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [50] See discussion in, for example, Krishnadev Calamur, “ISIS in Afghanistan is Like a Balloon that Won’t Pop,” The Atlantic, Dec. 28, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/afghanistan-isis/549311/. [51] Joby Warrick, “Double Game? Even as it Battles ISIS, Turkey Gives Other Extremists Shelter,” The Washington Post, July 10, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/double-game-even-as-it-battles-isis-turkey-gives-other-extremists-shelter/2016/07/10/8d6ce040-4053-11e6-a66f-aa6c1883b6b1_story.html?utm_term=.53e6be64a1f6. [52] See discussion in Hassanein Tawfik Ibrahim, “The Rise and Fall of Militant Islamic Groups in Egypt,” in Klejda Mulaj ed., Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). [53] Declan Walsh and Nour Youssef, “Militants Kill 305 at Sufi Mosque in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack,” The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/world/middleeast/mosque-attack-egypt.html. [54] One of the most important studies on this issue, by political scientists Jacob Shapiro and Nils Weidmann, used micro-level data from Iraq to compare trends in cellphone network penetration with insurgent violence. The trends in declining violence that Shapiro and Weidmann found suggested to them “that cellphone coverage reduces insurgent violence largely because it enhances voluntary information flow from noncombatants to counterinsurgents by reducing the risks of informing.” Jacob N. Shapiro and Nils B. Weidmann, “Is the Phone Mightier Than the Sword?: Cellphones and Insurgent Violence in Iraq,” International Organization 69:2 (March 2015), 271. [55] See discussion in J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Population of ISIS Supporters on Twitter (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2015), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/isis_twitter_census_berger_morgan.pdf. [56] J.M. Berger and Heather Perez, The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter: How Suspensions Are Limiting the Social Networks of English-Speaking ISIS Supporters (Washington, DC: George Washington University, 2016), https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/Berger_Occasional Paper.pdf. [57] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madeleine Blackman, “ISIL’s Virtual Planners: A Critical Terrorist Innovation,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/isils-virtual-planners-a-critical-terrorist-innovation/. [58] Thomas Joscelyn, “Terror Plots in Germany, France Were ‘Remote-Controlled’ by Islamic State Operatives,” Long War Journal, Sep. 24, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/09/terror-plots-in-germany-france-were-remote-controlled-by-islamic-state-operatives.php. [59] For a good synopsis of the ineffectiveness of DIY terrorism a decade ago, see Emily Hunt, “Virtual Incompetence,” Weekly Standard, Aug. 17, 2006, http://www.weeklystandard.com/virtual-incompetence/article/13724. [60] Don Rassler, Muhammad al-‘Ubaydi and Vera Mironovo, “The Islamic State’s Drone Documents: Management, Acquisitions, and DIY Tradecraft,” CTC Sentinel, Jan. 31, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/document/341828738/CTC-Perspectives-The-Islamic-States-Drone-Documents-Management-Acquisitions-and-DIY-Tradecraft-ctc-usma-Edu. [61] Mike Giglio, “Inside the Fight for Mosul,” Buzzfeed, June 3, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/on-the-front-lines-of-the-fight-with-isis?utm_term=.jiawaM5Dgk - .yjVGB82YM6. [62] Peter Dockrill, “First-Ever Drone Swarm Attack Has Struck Russian Military Bases, Sources Claim,” Science Alert, Jan. 11, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/swarm-home-made-drones-strike-military-base-first-attack-kind-russia-uavs. [63] For an earlier treatment of this topic, see Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures (London and New York: Routledge, 2011). [64] See, for example, the discussion in Bruce Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36 (2013), 635-38, in which Hoffman documents at length what can only be described as a kneejerk analytic tendency to see al-Qaeda’s senior leadership as marginalized and irrelevant. [65] For a perceptive account of al-Qaeda’s organizational structure, and how the innovation process for terrorist attacks relates to both top-down and bottom-up organizational dynamics, see Assaf Moghadam, “How Al Qaeda Innovates,” Security Studies 22 (2013), 466-97. [66] See Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” 638-40. Hoffman dissects a prominent report published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), which accompanied the U.S. government’s release of the first 17 documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Nelly Lahoud et al., Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Laden Sidelined? (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2012), https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB410/docs/UBLDocument16.pdf. Hoffman notes that not only were CTC’s full-throated proclamations that bin Laden was of marginal relevance to al-Qaeda affiliates based on only a thin slice of the full Abbottabad cache of materials, but worse, it contradicted previous assessments of the materials, and other available evidence. [67] Bruce Hoffman, “Rethinking Terrorism and Counterterrorism Since 9/11,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 25 (Sep.-Oct. 2002),  309. [68] See Peter Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader (New York: Free Press, 2006), 253 (quoting Nasser al-Bahri); Khalid al-Hammadi, “The Inside Story of al-Qaeda, Part 4,” Al-Quds al-Arabi, March 22, 2005. [69] “The Frightening Evolution of al-Qaida,” Dateline NBC, June 24, 2005, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8307333/ns/dateline_nbc/t/frightening-evolution-al-qaida/ - .WrAlF63MxTY. [70] See my discussion of ISIL’s over-eagerness to make enemies in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Islamic State’s Vulnerability,” War on the Rocks, Sep. 17, 2014, https://warontherocks.com/2014/09/the-islamic-states-vulnerability/. [71] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Ideological Hybridization of Jihadi Groups,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Nov. 18, 2009, https://www.hudson.org/research/9866-the-ideological-hybridization-of-jihadi-groups. [72] See discussion in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Interpreting Al Qaeda,” Foreign Policy, Jan. 6, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/06/interpreting-al-qaeda/. [73] See, for example, Nick Rasmussen, “Opening Remarks,” May, 3, 2017, Center for a New American Security, New Terrorism Threats and Counterterrorism Strategies Conference, https://www.dni.gov/files/NCTC/documents/news_documents/CNASopeningremarks.pdf. [74] See United States Institute of Peace, “The Jihadi Threat: ISIS, Al Qaeda and Beyond,” Dec. 12, 2016, https://www.usip.org/publications/2016/12/jihadi-threat-isis-al-qaeda-and-beyond. [75] See Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Perils of a Post-ISIS Middle East,” The Atlantic, Dec. 27, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/middle-east-isis-syria-kurds-iran-iraq-turkey-trump/549227/ [76] Associated Press, “A Caliphate No More—All the Land ISIS Has Lost in the Past Year,” Nov. 9, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-is-on-the-run-caliphate-land-lost-2017-11. [77] See Rukmini Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar,” New York Times, Feb. 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/world/asia/isis-messaging-app-terror-plot.html. [78] See Andrew Exum, “What Trump Got Right in Foreign Policy in 2017,” The Atlantic, Jan. 4, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/trump-foreign-policy/549671/. [79] Geltzer, “Perils.” [80] See Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Officials Eye Euphrates River Valley as Last Stand for ISIS,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/31/us/politics/isis-military-us-iraq-syria-euphrates.html. [81] Geltzer, “Perils.” [82] See Bardia Rahmani and Andrea Tanco, “ISIS’s Growing Caliphate: Profiles of Affiliates,” The Wilson Center, Feb. 19, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/isiss-growing-caliphate-profiles-affiliates. [83] “ISIS Militants Parade Through Sirte, Libya,” ABC News, Feb. 18, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/photo-isis-militants-parade-sirte-libya-photos-released-29079454. [84] See Bethan McKernan, “ISIS in Egypt: What Is Their Presence in Sinai and Have They Previously Claimed Terror Attacks in the Region?,” Independent, Nov. 24, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-egypt-sinai-terror-attack-presence-claim-map-insurgency-explained-who-are-they-a8073866.html. [85] Eric Schmitt, “17 ISIS Fighters Reported Killed as U.S. Ends Lull in Libya Airstrikes,” New York Times, Sep. 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/us/politics/libya-military-strike-isis.html. [86] Tim Lister, “Why the Massacre of Muslims in Sinai Was Too Extreme for al Qaeda,” CNN, Nov. 27, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/27/middleeast/egypt-sinai-attack-isis-al-qaeda/index.html. [87] See, for example, Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Manchester Bomber Met With ISIS Unit in Libya, Officials Say,” New York Times, June 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/03/world/middleeast/manchester-bombing-salman-abedi-islamic-state-libya.html. [88] See Phil Stewart, “Boko Haram Fracturing Over Islamic State Ties, U.S. General Warns,” Reuters, June 21, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nigeria-boko-haram/boko-haram-fracturing-over-islamic-state-ties-u-s-general-warns-idUSKCN0Z72WT. [89] See generally Jennie M. Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “More Die in Bathtubs than in Terrorism. It’s Still Worth Spending Billions to Fight it,” CNN, May 21, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/21/opinions/deadly-bathtub-compared-to-terrorism-opinion-geltzer-easterly/index.html. [90] See Daniel L. Byman, “An al-Qaeda Setback in Syria?,” Lawfare, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.lawfareblog.com/al-qaeda-setback-syria. [91] Colin P. Clarke, “Al Qaeda in Syria Can Change Its Name, But Not Its Stripes,” The Cipher Brief, March 23, 2017, https://www.rand.org/blog/2017/03/al-qaeda-in-syria-can-change-its-name-but-not-its-stripes.html. [92] Charles Lister, “Al Qaeda Is Starting to Swallow the Syrian Opposition,” Foreign Policy, March 15, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/15/al-qaeda-is-swallowing-the-syrian-opposition/. [93] See, for example, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Jihadist Group Cements Control of Syria’s Idlib Province: Rebels,” Reuters, July 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-rebels-idlib/jihadist-group-cements-control-of-syrias-idlib-province-rebels-idUSKBN1A80T1. [94] See Byman, “Setback.” [95] Eric Schmitt and Saeed al-Batati, “The U.S. Has Pummeled Al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Threat Is Barely Dented,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [96] See Yara Bayoumy et al., “How Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen Has Made Al Qaeda Stronger—and Richer,” Reuters, Apr. 8, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/yemen-aqap/. [97] See Matthew Levitt, “Terrorist ‘Frenemies,’” Politico, Jan. 16, 2015, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/isil-terrorist-frenemies-114342. [98] Jason Burke, “Mogadishu Truck Bomb: 500 Casualties in Somalia’s Worst Terrorist Attack,” The Guardian, Oct. 16, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/15/truck-bomb-mogadishu-kills-people-somalia. [99] See Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin, “Why Hasn’t the U.S. Killed Bin Laden’s Wingman Ayman al-Zawahiri,” NBC News, May 17, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/why-hasn-t-u-s-kill-bin-laden-s-wingman-n574986. [100] See Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri Argues Jihadists Can’t Deceive America,” Long War Journal, Oct. 5, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/10/analysis-ayman-al-zawahiri-argues-jihadists-cant-deceive-america.php. [101] See, for example, Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri Honors 2 Slain Jihadis in New Video,” Long War Journal, Jan. 17, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/01/ayman-al-zawahiri-honors-2-slain-jihadis-in-new-video.php. [102] There is the intriguing possibility that these two jihadist behemoths might in coming years seek to merge, or more accurately to re-merge, perhaps beginning in a location such as Yemen where the line between them is porous or Syria where the pressure against ISIL has been fierce and sustained.  See Bruce Hoffman, “The Coming ISIS-al Qaeda Merger,” Foreign Affairs, March 29, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-03-29/coming-isis-al-qaeda-merger. [103] See John Mannes, “Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube, and Twitter Form Global Internet Forum To Counter Terrorism,” TechCrunch, June 26, 2017, https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/26/facebook-microsoft-youtube-and-twitter-form-global-internet-forum-to-counter-terrorism/. [104] See, for example, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Sara Allawi, “How To Avoid an ISIS 2.0 in Iraq,” The National Interest, Nov. 18, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-avoid-isis-20-iraq-23259. [105] Jen Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Islamic State and the End of Lone-Wolf Terrorism,” Foreign Policy, May 23, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/23/the-islamic-state-and-the-end-of-lone-wolf-terrorism/. [106] See Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves.’”. [107] Levi Maxey, “When Terrorists Learn How to Hack,” The Cipher Brief, Dec. 3, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/23/the-islamic-state-and-the-end-of-lone-wolf-terrorism/. [108] See, for example, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report,” The Bipartisan Policy Center, July 23, 2014, http://bipartisanpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/files/ BPC 9-11 Commission.pdf. [109] Brian McKeon, “Trump’s ‘Secret Plan’ to Defeat ISIS Looks a Lot Like Obama’s,” Foreign Policy, May 31, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/31/trumps-secret-plan-to-defeat-isis-looks-a-lot-like-obamas/. [110] See Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, “The Uncounted,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 16, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/16/magazine/uncounted-civilian-casualties-iraq-airstrikes.html. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Stephen Tankel 2. The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement, by R. Kim Cragin 3. We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase, by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross 4. ISIL, al-Qaeda, and What Goes Viral Next: Why Tomorrow's Jihadist Movement Might Not Look so Different from Today's, by Joshua Geltzer ) ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 414 [post_author] => 100 [post_date] => 2018-01-31 04:00:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-31 09:00:19 [post_content] => When scholars discuss the contemporary international order, they tend to do so in abstract terms. Older forms of international order — the balance of power between great states and shifts in that balance — could be measured in concrete terms by counting men under arms, factories, artillery pieces, and so on. Today, however, the composition of the U.S.-led liberal international order is more difficult to articulate. Richard Fontaine has characterized today’s world order as a “web of norms, institutions, rules, and relationships”[1] that “range from maritime rules and trade regimes to norms against forcible conquest and in support of state sovereignty” and “institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, as well as a variety of key alliances and arrangements.”[2] In a similar vein, Robin Niblett has defined the liberal international order in terms of principles — “open markets, democracy, and individual human rights” — undergirded by institutions such as those forged at Bretton Woods in 1944.[3] Such descriptions make the liberal international order sound profoundly important, which is not surprising since they are generally provided as predicates for arguments that this order is fraying and in need of reinvigoration or repair.[4] Yet the descriptions of what, precisely, the international order is — and, for that matter, the laments over its uncertain state — are also undeniably amorphous. That vagueness has fueled accusations by newly resurgent nationalists that the liberal international order is at best a fanciful notion or, more sinister, a scheme perpetrated by a “globalist” elite to advance parochial interests at the expense of the national interest.[5] This charge has in turn been rebutted by scholars such as John Bew, who observes that notions of world order, far from a latter-day globalist innovation, have preoccupied policymakers from across the ideological spectrum for more than a century.[6] Yet another objection to notions of international order could be posed: that however noble such ideas may be, they are of little practical use to the policymaker engaged in the daily business of international relations. Indeed, even some defenders of the international order characterize it as “a work of abstract art”[7] and note that “the link between the pursuit of world order and American security and prosperity has always been “hard to sustain when subjected to s[k]eptical questioning.”[8] A complete argument in defense of the liberal international order requires demonstrating that this order is not merely abstract or vaguely laudable but of concrete value to the national security of the United States and its allies. This essay seeks to make that case by examining American policy toward Iran as an example of the international order in action. The essay draws upon my experience as director for Iran at the National Security Council from 2006 to 2007 and as the council’s senior director for the Middle East from 2007 to 2008. At its best, U.S. policy toward Iran melded the unilateral exercise of American power with utilization of the norms, institutions, and relationships that make up the international order to advance a vital national security interest — namely, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Yet an examination of American policy toward Iran also sheds light on practical problems the international order faces and how those problems might be addressed. That Iran should provide a case study in how the international order works to advance American security is no doubt ironic given that it is a classic revisionist state, railing against and seeking to undermine that very order, skillfully and not without some success.

Iran Policy Under George W. Bush

Iran’s nuclear activities were a preoccupation of the George W. Bush administration nearly from its outset. This was most memorably illustrated by the 2002 State of the Union address, in which the president decried Iran’s support for terrorism, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and its domestic repression. He famously described Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”[9] Within the Bush administration, however, Iran’s nuclear program came to be seen as a subset of the broader array of threats posed by Tehran, which included terrorism and attempts to stymie American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration internally debated different approaches for dealing with these various dangers, from regime change to sanctions to diplomacy.[10] What ultimately became U.S. policy for addressing Iran’s nuclear program — leading directly, if distantly, to the conclusion of a nuclear agreement in 2015 — was less the product of U.S. initiative than a reaction to external developments. Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities were publicly exposed in 2002 by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and shortly thereafter acknowledged by Iran.[11] Threatened with referral to the U.N. Security Council over having violated its 1974 nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had entered into negotiations with the “EU-3” — the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Those talks, likely reinforced by Iranian worries of U.S. military action in the wake of Washington’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, produced two successive agreements: the Tehran Statement in 2003 and the Paris Agreement of 2004. Neither deal stuck, however. The EU-3’s efforts to negotiate a long-term replacement foundered in August 2005 when, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, Tehran rejected the EU-3’s latest proposal and removed U.N. seals from its uranium conversion equipment. The IAEA Board of Governors, in turn, condemned Iran’s violations of its safeguards agreement and referred it to the U.N. Security Council in February 2006. While by no means the starting point for the Bush administration’s Iran policy, this was a meaningful turning point. Events of 2005 and 2006 inaugurated a prolonged, steady escalation in Iran’s nuclear activities, and they marked the beginning of an American strategy of looking to the international order to address the threat posed by those activities. Institutions both formal and informal, political and economic, were at the heart of this effort. The first component of the new strategy consisted of an attempt to secure U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Iran and imposing international sanctions. From 2006 to 2008, five were adopted: Resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, and 1835. All but two of these resolutions passed unanimously; Qatar cast the sole vote against Resolution 1696, and Indonesia abstained from voting on Resolution 1803.[12] [quote id="1"] The strategy’s second component consisted of a U.S.-led effort to isolate Iran’s financial system; this was later expanded to target other sectors of the Iranian economy. Unlike the first leg of the strategy, this one relied on international arrangements that had a lower profile than the U.N. Security Council and, in some cases, were outright ad hoc. Utilizing extraterritorial sanctions adopted by Congress and executive orders promulgated by President Bush, American officials were able to threaten overseas banks with exclusion from the U.S. financial system — and, later, the ability even to utilize U.S. dollars — should they continue their relationships with Iranian banks designated under American or U.N. sanctions. The resulting economic pressure on Iran was possible only because of American dominance of the international financial system — and the related preeminence of the U.S. dollar — and the degree to which that system had, over the course of decades, become integrated across national boundaries.[13] It would be tempting to see the latter effort’s success as evidence of the efficacy of the unilateral exercise of American power.[14] In reality, however, the two policy initiatives depended on each other for success. The U.N. sanctions, while impressive on paper, were unlikely on their own to have made a significant impact on Iran’s economy or that government’s decision-making. The ad hoc financial sanctions, in turn, would not have succeeded without the U.N. resolutions to undergird them. Those resolutions provided international legitimacy to what was otherwise the naked exercise of unilateral power by Washington, an important consideration in the wake of the ongoing war in Iraq. U.S. allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere could argue with American tactics (and did so vociferously) but not with the objective or even the broader strategy, both of which were tacitly endorsed by the Security Council. The resolutions also laid a foundation for likeminded states to impose their own sanctions on Iran, by providing both political cover and a legal basis for doing so — which was a necessity for some states. This strategy was not without costs and compromise. The decision to work around allied governments and directly warn their financial and commercial communities caused frictions that Iran sought to exploit. The need to secure Russian and Chinese agreement, along with that of various other reluctant states in the European Union and elsewhere, meant that U.N. resolutions were frequently delayed and diluted. It also required the United States to participate in the sort of nuclear diplomacy with Iran that Washington had previously resisted. The first U.N. resolution on Iran, Resolution 1696, was preceded by the first offer to Tehran by the “P5+1” (the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members, plus Germany), in the form of an “incentives package” delivered on the group’s behalf by the EU’s foreign policy chief — then Javier Solana — in June 2006. (This was subsequently revised and presented again in mid-2008.) Furthermore, what was primarily a multilateral strategy nevertheless depended on the threat or actual use of unilateral American power to succeed. For Iran, refusal to comply with the U.N. resolutions carried the risk of further sanctions or even a U.S.-led military attack, of which the Bush administration explicitly and repeatedly warned. This threat likely also explained, in part, Moscow and Beijing’s willingness to endorse U.N. sanctions, though both pointedly refused to accept American secondary sanctions, even as they quietly took steps to comply with them. While this sort of unilateral warning enjoyed no international endorsement, it was nevertheless employed in support of what was essentially a multilateral effort. That also probably dampened other states’ anger at the U.S. use of extraterritorial sanctions, which are often seen as violating state sovereignty, a key international norm.[15] The Bush administration’s success in bringing international pressure to bear against Iran’s nuclear program was largely the product of two major factors. The first was a perceived threat — shared by the United States and allies in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere — stemming from Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities. This view was sharpened by Iran’s behavior on the nuclear front — keeping its facilities secret and reportedly engaging in research related to nuclear weapons[16] — and beyond, such as its threats toward Israel.[17] The second factor was Washington’s ability to leverage the web of norms, institutions, and relationships that make up the international order. This also helps to explain why the United States has been far less successful in rallying international support to confront other issues emanating from Iran. U.S. allies in Europe and Asia simply do not share the American assessment of the gravity of the risks posed by Iran’s non-nuclear activities, and the international norms and institutions that deal with those matters are far less developed than those that exist to address proliferation. In the Middle East, where U.S. allies tend to strongly share Washington’s estimation of Iran, there was little in the way of a “regional order” — even an informal one — upon which to fall back in the absence of international action. By the time of the 2008 presidential election, U.S. strategy toward Iran had lost its momentum. Security Council Resolution 1835, adopted in September 2008 in response to IAEA reports of continued Iranian obstructionism, was the weakest of the U.N. resolutions regarding Iran adopted to that point; it imposed no new sanctions. This faltering in the pressure campaign is often attributed to the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate[18] in 2007 that asserted Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons programs in 2003 and had not restarted them as of 2007.[19] The document was widely interpreted as contradicting Bush administration assertions that Iran harbored ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons, even though the suspension it referred to related only to “weaponization” work, not to Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which were ongoing. As Bush administration National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley later noted, the National Intelligence Estimate “was misinterpreted as an all-clear when it wasn’t that at all.”[20] [quote id="2"] While the estimate was undoubtedly a hindrance to U.S. diplomacy — and a political millstone around the necks of European leaders facing constituencies skeptical of sanctions against Iran — the document’s role has been exaggerated. Even if Iran had suspended its weaponization efforts, as the document asserted, that did not make the expansion of its nuclear infrastructure, nor its record of proliferation and of threatening neighbors, less concerning to the U.S. and allied governments, whatever the consequences for public messaging. What’s more, U.S. allies largely did not accept the NIE’s conclusions.[21] Instead, the loss of diplomatic momentum has two other roots. The first was that the strategy had simply failed to achieve its intended result. Iran continued to expand its nuclear activities despite the mounting sanctions. Second, and perhaps more important, the international context was especially inauspicious. The United States and Russia were in a tense standoff over Moscow’s military campaign in Georgia. Opposition to the Iraq War, then in its sixth year, was pronounced abroad and increasingly bitter in the United States itself amid the presidential campaign. The global financial crisis, meanwhile, dampened enthusiasm for further use of economic weapons against Iran, which was in turn buoyed by sky-high oil prices.

Iran Policy Under the Obama Administration

This was the context in which Barack Obama inherited the unresolved Iran nuclear file. Yet for all of the divisiveness of the 2008 presidential campaign on matters of foreign policy, the Obama administration largely kept in place the strategy pursued by the Bush administration. Engagement with Iran was a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign, but some of Obama’s efforts continued initiatives begun during the Bush administration. For example, the Bush administration dispatched Undersecretary of State Bill Burns to participate in a P5+1 meeting with Iran for the first time in August 2008.[22] There were also discontinuities: Obama and other U.S. officials engaged in repeated, direct outreach to Iranian officials.[23] Indeed, European officials worried in the summer of 2008 that Obama’s seeming readiness to engage directly with Iran without preconditions would undermine the P5+1’s approach on the nuclear issue.[24] In addition, the Obama administration is widely perceived to have deemphasized efforts to counter Iran’s non-nuclear activities in the Middle East. Obama was skeptical of U.S. military commitments in the region, emphasizing, for example, the need to withdraw combat forces from Iraq and shift resources to Afghanistan.[25] The precise impact of all of these changes is unclear. Obama and his aides often argued that American outreach to Iran was vital to securing support for subsequent sanctions.[26] Others have observed that these sanctions built incrementally on those adopted during the Bush presidency.[27] Likewise, Obama viewed his restraint in the Middle East as serving U.S. interests,[28] whereas critics saw his focus on the nuclear issue to the exclusion of Iran’s regional behavior as undermining American leverage.[29] Whatever one’s view of events, some external developments were consequential. One such development was the discovery in September 2009 that Iran was building yet another clandestine uranium enrichment facility, at Fordow. This news undermined the narrative that Iran had abandoned its nuclear ambitions and showed that it was not acting in good faith on its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as Tehran had consistently claimed. Another external development that proved critical came in February 2010, when Iran commenced production of more highly enriched uranium.[30] This followed the failure in October 2009 of the “fuel swap” proposal, under which Iran would have exported its low-enriched uranium to a third country to be further enriched and fabricated into fuel rods for its Tehran Research Reactor.[31] The unsuccessful fuel-swap proposal had not sought to enforce existing U.N. resolutions, as it did not require Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium, but neither did it contradict them, as it offered no sanctions relief. More nettlesome to international diplomacy was the Obama administration’s apparent encouragement of a last-ditch effort by Turkey and Brazil to revive the proposal, an ad hoc initiative that ran contrary to Washington’s parallel pursuit, via the P5+1, of a new U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran.[32] These events were the basis for passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, the last of the six resolutions the council adopted regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, with increasingly vigorous prodding from Congress, continued to expand the campaign of ad hoc financial sanctions against Iran.[33] Once again, these sanctions leaned heavily on institutions of the international order, such as the U.S. dollar’s role in oil transactions, the relative concentration of the international shipping insurance industry, and the tight integration of global financial transaction networks, the latter of which were instrumental to the “SWIFT” sanctions.[34] The United States was joined in these efforts by the European Union, which in July 2010 adopted a wide-ranging package of sanctions against Iran.[35] In January 2012 an oil embargo followed.[36] Like the U.S. sanctions, these powerful EU measures capitalized on the integrated nature of the global economy. In 2012, however, the United States abruptly shifted its diplomatic strategy, pivoting from the multilateral process that had dominated from 2006 to 2011 to one that was, in essence, unilateral. The Obama administration had developed a channel to Iran via Oman that it used to secure the release of three American hikers detained by Iranian authorities.[37] It then utilized that channel to begin a bilateral nuclear negotiating track with Tehran without informing other members of the P5+1.[38] It was these negotiations, rather than the P5+1 talks that continued in parallel, that ultimately produced, in November 2013, what became known as the “Joint Plan of Action.” (JPOA)[39] This interim accord was the blueprint for the document — formally the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) — endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2231 in July 2015.[40] Negotiating an accord bilaterally with Iran in this manner was expedient. Whether it was effective is debatable. The United States made major concessions in the bilateral talks, foremost among them dropping any insistence that Iran permanently suspend its enrichment and reprocessing-related activities. Had these concessions been offered in the P5+1 talks, it is not clear that the channel would have made a difference to Iran’s willingness to reach a deal. To the extent that the more restricted channel did have an effect on the talks, it was most likely in providing a level of secrecy that made the parties more comfortable discussing their negotiating positions without fear that they would be publicly exposed. Even this is debatable, however, as the talks that led from the JPOA to the JCPOA were conducted in the P5+1 format without significant leaks. What’s more, the shift in U.S. strategy carried costs. The revelation of the secret bilateral channel roiled the P5+1, creating friction between the United States and France and pushing Britain and Germany to “the sidelines,” according to then-French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.[41] The agreement reached between the United States and Iran did not comply with the six earlier U.N. resolutions, for which Washington had previously invested significant time and effort to secure Russian and Chinese backing. Instead, Washington unilaterally changed the terms offered to Iran by the international community. The shift in negotiating format, together with skillful Iranian diplomacy, affected the discussion itself; instead of grappling over what Iran had to do to meet its international obligations and be re-integrated into the global order, the talks became about what infringement of purported Iranian “rights” could be imposed by the United States and, in turn, what level of nuclear activity the United States could tolerate in Iran. [quote id="4"] Security Council Resolution 2231 not only departed significantly from the terms of previous U.N. resolutions on Iran but also represented a fait accompli in Washington. Congress was generally wary of Iran and had played a key role in pushing some of the most powerful sanctions against that country. It had adopted legislation requiring the Obama administration to submit any nuclear agreement for congressional review. By first securing Security Council endorsement of the JCPOA, however, the administration effectively rendered congressional review moot. The Obama administration’s argument — that because the agreement had already been codified by the Security Council, it could not be unilaterally changed by the United States — presented the broader U.S. government with a binary option to accept the deal as it was or reject altogether a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and consider other options, such as a military operation. The irony was that the agreement had, in broad strokes, not been the product of an international negotiation but of bilateral discussions between the United States and Iran, regarding which Congress had been kept in the dark. Ultimately, congressional opponents were unable to muster the votes needed to overturn the agreement, and it moved ahead.[42] At first blush, the JCPOA is a victory for multilateralism. Indeed, even Fabius praised the agreement as a “historic success” for all parties involved and said it demonstrated that “diplomatic action can yield spectacular results.”[43] But that perception of success obscures how the international order was damaged by the methods used to reach the agreement. First, the United States unilaterally put aside six U.N. resolutions on Iran, all measures it had negotiated, without first coordinating with its allies — just as those allies had worried Washington might do in 2008.[44] This arguably weakened the authority of the U.N. Security Council and risked lending credence to arguments that the Security Council is merely an instrument of American power. That no doubt pleased the Iranian government, which had long decried the resolutions as “illegal.”[45] Second, by using Security Council endorsement against domestic opponents, the Obama administration risked further delegitimizing the United Nations specifically and internationalism in general among already-skeptical American conservatives. Pew Research Center has found a growing partisan gap in U.S. perceptions of the United Nations in recent decades. In 1990, Pew polling found, 68 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats viewed the United Nations favorably. By 2016, Democratic support for the United Nations had climbed to 80 percent while Republican support had dropped to 43 percent.[46] The perception that the United Nations can be used to circumvent conservative political views at home further erodes internationalist sentiments among Republicans. And neglecting to build a domestic consensus, however expedient it may have been to reach agreement, meant that the nuclear deal was not placed on a footing that would weather political changes in the United States.

Iran Policy Under the Trump Administration

Few Republicans criticized the Iran deal — or internationalism, for that matter — as harshly as Donald Trump. As a candidate and in the early days of his presidency, Trump swore at times that he would “dismantle” the agreement.[47] At other times he adopted a milder line, arguing that it should be rigorously enforced despite its flaws.[48] Ultimately, the Iran policy that his administration announced after several months of review reflected a compromise between these positions. He asserted in October 2017 that he sought to nest the JCPOA in a strengthened, comprehensive Iran strategy. But he also said that he would walk away from the agreement if an understanding could not be reached with allies on addressing what he perceived as its shortcomings and if Congress did not adopt new legislation overseeing implementation.[49] Trump’s decision not to unilaterally withdraw was well-founded, whatever his concerns about the deal’s substance. American withdrawal, especially if followed by an effort to reimpose secondary sanctions punishing European and other international firms for business dealings with Iran, would have been galling to U.S. partners in Europe and Asia. Whatever their concerns about the agreement’s negotiation, those allies by and large support the deal and perceive it as serving not only their commercial interests but also their national security interests by forestalling Iran’s nuclear progress as well as potential military conflict. Precisely because of their concerns about the deal’s negotiation, they would find a U.S. effort to force their hands through punitive sanctions especially unfair — it would amount to Washington punishing its allies for adhering to an agreement that the United States and Iran had negotiated bilaterally. Nor should it be presumed, however, that U.S. allies are naïve. Congressional debate over the JCPOA in 2015 played out in public view; few predictions about U.S. foreign policy during the 2016 election campaign were surer bets than the presumption that a Republican administration would be unenthusiastic about the deal. Furthermore, the historical record does not support the notion that diplomatic agreements are sacrosanct. Indeed, they often face pressure or dissolve when circumstances or governments change. While abrupt swings are far from the norm in U.S. foreign policy, neither are they rare. After Obama took office, his administration quickly repudiated the Bush administration’s plans for missile defenses in Europe, angering Poland but pleasing Russia.[50] Obama also abandoned the Bush administration’s understandings[51] with the Israeli government regarding settlements.[52] U.S. officials denied that any “enforceable agreements” existed[53] and moved ahead with a new policy.[54] Reactions to these decisions appeared to be rooted more in whether a person agreed or disagreed with them than in principled beliefs that administrations should honor their predecessors’ commitments. American credibility is not, of course, irrelevant. But U.S. policymakers are unlikely to advocate adhering to policies they consider bad simply to sustain credibility. Preserving this sort of credibility internationally requires more concerted efforts to build domestic coalitions that will sustain policies beyond an administration’s term. Whatever one’s opinion of the JCPOA’s merits and flaws, there is good reason to think that U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would chiefly benefit Iran. Such a step would open a rift between the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia. If the agreement survived America’s pullout, enforcement would likely be weaker without U.S. oversight. Whatever pressure Washington managed to generate through renewed sanctions enforcement would be impaired by resistance from Iran and from European and Asian states, which would be its proximate targets. The U.S.-led campaign for secondary sanctions against Iran in the mid-2000s demonstrates that such measures can be effective despite allies’ objections if there is strategic convergence among allies and if the measures are undergirded, at least in theory, by U.N. action. But when there is strategic divergence and no effort at the United Nations, any economic effect of such measures is difficult to sustain and must be weighed against serious diplomatic costs; the Clinton administration’s experience seeking to enforce the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in the 1990s demonstrates this.[55] [quote id="3"] For all of these reasons, the Trump administration’s decision appears sound — namely, to leverage other states’ desire for the United States to remain within the JCPOA to win those states’ cooperation with strict enforcement and a broader effort to challenge Iran. Such bargaining is not incompatible with the ideas of internationalism and global order; that interests are shared does not imply that states will not seek to shift the burden of securing them on to the United States, and American policymakers are right to resist. What is vital, however, is that Washington’s diplomacy not only advances U.S. interests but also preserves and strengthens the international system, lest short-term gains be outweighed by long-term costs. To be successful, the United States must not only articulate a clear policy toward Iran but also explain how it serves U.S. and partners’ interests and rally allies in support. This strategy should be implemented across multiple policy tools — economic, diplomatic, and military — not in sequence but as a single, concerted campaign. The history of U.S. policy toward Iran suggests that this will require patience and compromise but may ultimately be rewarding. A united international front has the twin benefits of spreading a policy’s costs and amplifying its effectiveness.

Conclusion

The international order may be a web of norms, institutions, and relationships, but an understanding lies at its core. American leadership of the international order is largely embraced by allies, giving the United States tremendous global influence. But U.S. allies do not subordinate their interests any more than the United States does. Rather, this enduring dynamic reflects confidence that the United States will advance shared interests, even if it ultimately does so to serve its own. And it reflects a mutual agreement that the international order generates outcomes that serve shared interests better than purely transactional relationships could, and that these outcomes justify the compromises required to maintain that order. The recent history of U.S. policy toward Iran demonstrates how the international order works in action and how it can provide Washington with tremendous leverage to accomplish policy goals, especially when utilized in concert with other instruments of American power. That history also demonstrates the mutual dependence at the heart of the international order. After all, European powers made little headway against Iran in the early 2000s absent American involvement, just as the United States could not have imposed the pressure it brought to bear against Iran without the (sometimes reluctant) support of allies and the use of international institutions. Yet that history also illustrates a temptation for U.S. officials, confronted with a preeminent role and outsize influence, to use these resources not as assets to be assiduously preserved and nurtured but as mere tools of U.S. foreign policy — or domestic politics — like any others. As the American appetite for global leadership and internationalist spirit have waned in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the global financial crisis, this tendency seems to have grown. It was on display when the Obama administration pivoted from the P5+1 process to a bilateral one and used the U.N. Security Council as a domestic political cudgel. It was similarly exhibited by those who wish to use international sanctions to coerce allies absent any effort to bridge diverging aims and strategies with respect to Iran. Treating the international order in this manner risks eroding it. Every state acts out of self-interest. If a state perceives that its economic or political dependence on the United States is a liability rather than the price of an international order that ultimately advances its security and prosperity, that state will inevitably develop workarounds and hedging strategies. The international order is not fixed or predictable like a domestic legal system. Rather, it is dynamic and relies on the balance of self-interest among allies. Iran and its fellow revisionists take gratification from friction between the United States and its allies, and they share the overarching goal of diminishing U.S. influence in global affairs. Should the United States and allied policymakers fail to defend the international order, they will discover to their dismay that the loss is not at all abstract but has concrete consequences for their states’ prosperity and security.   Michael Singh is Managing Director and Lane-Swig Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Obama White House [post_title] => The International Order and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => international-order-nuclear-negotiations-iran [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-05 15:23:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-05 19:23:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=414 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The international order is not just an abstract concept, but rather is of concrete value to U.S. national security, as exemplified by America's policy toward Iran. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => That Iran should provide a case study in how the international order works to advance American security is no doubt ironic. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => By the time of the 2008 presidential election, U.S. strategy toward Iran had lost its momentum. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Whatever one’s opinion of the JCPOA’s merits and flaws, there is good reason to think that U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would chiefly benefit Iran. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => At first blush, the JCPOA is a victory for multilateralism. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 556 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 100 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Richard Fontaine, “Salvaging Global Order,” National Interest online, March 10, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/salvaging-the-global-order-12390. [2] Richard Fontaine, “The U.S. Response to Today’s Global Order and Tomorrow’s Threats,” Journal of International Affairs online, March 15, 2017, https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/us-response-global-order. [3] Robin Niblett, “Liberalism in Retreat,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-12/liberalism-retreat. [4] See, for example, Richard N. Haass, “World Order 2.0,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-12/world-order-20. [5] See Michael Anton, “America and the Liberal International Order,” American Affairs, no. 1 (Spring 2017), https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2017/02/america-liberal-international-order/. [6] John Bew, “World Order: Many-Headed Monster or Noble Pursuit?” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (October 2017): 14–35. [7] Bew, “World Order.” [8] John A. Thompson as quoted by Bew in “World Order.” [9] George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, Washington DC, Jan. 29, 2002, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html. [10] For further detail, see David Crist, Twilight War (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), 442–460. [11] Paul Kerr, “IAEA to Visit Two ‘Secret’ Nuclear Sites in Iran,” Arms Control Today, Jan. 1, 2003, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_01-02/irannuclear_janfeb03. [12] The texts and voting tallies for all of these resolutions can be accessed at http://www.un.org/en/sc/documents/. [13] See Juan Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013). [14] See, for example, Jana Winter and Dan De Luce, “Iran Nuclear Deal Critics Push Plan for ‘Global Economic Embargo,’” Foreign Policy, Sept. 14, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/14/iran-sanctions-memo/. [15] This view was enshrined in the European Union’s “blocking statute” of Nov. 22, 1996, adopted in response to the first U.S. extraterritorial sanctions on Iran. Text of the statute can be found at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31996R2271:EN:HTML. [16] For more information, see the annex to the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency Director General, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency, November 18, 2011, https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/gov2011-65.pdf. [17] Louis Charbonneau, “In New York, Defiant Ahmadinejad says Israel will be ‘Eliminated,’” Reuters, Sept. 24, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-assembly-ahmadinejad/in-new-york-defiant-ahmadinejad-says-israel-will-be-eliminated-idUSBRE88N0HF20120924. [18] “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” National Intelligence Estimate (Washington: National Intelligence Council, November 2007), https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Press Releases/2007 Press Releases/20071203_release.pdf. [19] George W. Bush, Decision Points (New York: Random House, 2010), 419. [20] Stephen Hadley as quoted in Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball, “Special Report: Intel Shows Iran Nuclear Threat Not Imminent,” Reuters, March 23, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-nuclear/special-report-intel-shows-iran-nuclear-threat-not-imminent-idUSBRE82M0G020120323. [21] Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor (New York: Random House, 2011), 618. [22] “U.S. Reverses Course, Will Send Envoy to Talks with Iran,” CNN, July 16, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/16/us.iran/index.html. [23] Trita Parsi, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy (Yale University Press: 2017). [24] Glenn Kessler, “Europe Fears Obama Might Undercut Progress With Iran,” Washington Post, June 22, 2008,  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/21/AR2008062101658.html. [25] Barack Obama, interview by Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/politics/02obama-transcript.html. [26] Remarks by the President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony, West Point, NY, May 28, 2014, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/28/remarks-president-united-states-military-academy-commencement-ceremony. [27] Glenn Kessler, “Fact Checker: Obama’s Claim That His Administration ‘Built a Coalition That Imposed Sanctions on the Iranian Economy,” Washington Post, June 2, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/06/02/obamas-claim-that-his-administration-built-a-coalition-that-imposed-sanctions-on-the-iranian-economy/. [28] David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” New York Times, May 5, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-aspiring-novelist-who-became-obamas-foreign-policy-guru.html. [29] Michael Doran, “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy,” Mosaic, Feb. 2, 2015, https://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/02/obamas-secret-iran-strategy/. [30] International Atomic Energy Agency Director General, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency, Feb. 18, 2010, http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Report_Iran_18Feb2010.pdf. [31] “Official Proposals on the Iranian Nuclear Issue, 2003-2013,” Arms Control Association, July 2015,  https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Iran_Nuclear_Proposals. [32] Laura Rozen, “W.H. Pushes Back on Letter Leak,” Politico, May 28, 2010, https://www.politico.com/story/2010/05/wh-pushes-back-on-letter-leak-037938. [33] Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East (New York: Random House, 2016), 142-67. [34] Solomon, Iran Wars, 202-04. [35] “Council Decision of 26 July 2010 Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Iran and Repealing Common Position 2007/140/CFSP,” Official Journal of the European Union 53 (July 27, 2010): 25, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2010.195.01.0025.01.ENG&toc=OJ:L:2010:195:TOC. [36] “Council Decision 2012/35/CFSP of 23 January 2012 Amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP Concerning Restrictive Measures Against Iran,” Official Journal of the European Union 55 (Jan. 24, 2012): 22, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2012.019.01.0022.01.ENG&toc=OJ:L:2012:019:TOC. [37] Parsi, Losing an Enemy, 217. [38] Laurent Fabius, “Inside the Iran Deal: A French Perspective,” Washington Quarterly 39, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 7-38, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2016.1232630. [39] “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Full Text,” CNN, Nov. 24, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-deal-text/index.html. [40] United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2231 (2015),” S/Res/2231, July 20, 2015,  https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/unsc_resolution2231-2015.pdf. [41] Fabius, “Inside the Iran Deal.” [42] Jennifer Steinhauer, “Democrats Hand Victory to Obama on Iran Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, Sept. 10, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/11/us/politics/iran-nuclear-deal-senate.html. [43] Fabius, “Inside the Iran Deal.” [44] Glenn Kesssler, “Europe Fears Obama Might Undercut Progress with Iran,” Washington Post, June 22, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/21/AR2008062101658.html. [45] “Iran Calls New UNSC Resolution Illegal and Unfortunate,” Payvand News, Sept. 28, 2008, http://www.payvand.com/news/08/sep/1311.html. [46] “Favorable Views of the UN Prevail in Europe, Asia, and U.S.,” Pew Research Center, Sept. 20, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/20/favorable-views-of-the-un-prevail-in-europe-asia-and-u-s/. [47] Transcript of Donald Trump’s Speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington DC, March 22, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/donald-trumps-full-speech-to-aipac/. [48] Eric Cortellessa, “In Call With Riyadh, Trump Vows to ‘Rigorously Enforce’ Iran Deal,” Times of Israel, Jan. 30, 2017, https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-call-with-riyadh-trump-commits-to-rigorously-enforce-iran-deal/. [49] Remarks by President Trump on Iran Strategy, Washington DC, Oct. 13, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/10/13/remarks-president-trump-iran-strategy. [50] Peter Baker, “White House Scraps Bush’s Approach to Missile Shield,” New York Times, Sept. 17, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/world/europe/18shield.html. [51] Elliott Abrams, “Hillary Is Wrong About the Settlements,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2009, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124588743827950599. [52] Letter From President Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, April 14, 2004, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html. [53] Hillary Clinton, “Remarks With Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman,” State Department, June 17, 2009, https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2009a/06/125044.htm. [54] Daniel Dombey, “Clinton Clashes With Israelis Over Settlers,” Financial Times, June 17, 2009, https://www.ft.com/content/614c98a4-5b98-11de-be3f-00144feabdc0. [55] Kenneth M. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, (Random House, 2005), 286-89. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 5 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 663 [post_author] => 193 [post_date] => 2018-08-14 05:00:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-14 09:00:56 [post_content] => In 2011 and 2012, Israel repeatedly indicated that it was fast approaching the point when it might take unilateral military action against Iran’s advancing nuclear program, before Iranian capabilities became resilient to an Israeli attack. In a shift from its previous policy, which characterized Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a global challenge, Israel now strongly indicated that it might be forced to take it upon itself to stop Iran’s nuclear advances — and that an attack could be imminent. Led and articulated almost exclusively by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — himself a former prime minister — this new posture created deep concern in Washington, where it was thought that an Israeli attack could ignite a regional war and jeopardize key U.S. interests. Indeed, Israel had created a war scare, which was designed to enhance its bargaining power with the United States. Israel then tried to leverage its enhanced position to get its senior ally to urgently make an explicit, credible, and binding commitment to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — by military force if necessary — beyond what President Barack Obama had already stated.[1] Israel effectively attempted to influence, and even force, the United States to realign according to Israeli interests and strategic constraints, thus producing one of the tensest periods in the history of the two countries’ relationship. Drawing on open-source material and original interviews with former senior Israeli and U.S. officials, this article seeks to explain the ultimate outcome of that strategic interaction. The overarching theme of international relations and foreign affairs pertains to actors’ efforts to shape their strategic environment and control outcomes. Alliances are one of the major tools states employ in this regard,[2] whether to accumulate power, deter adversaries,[3] pursue their quest for security in the international system,[4] or restrain others.[5] Although all alliances function “in the shadow of war,”[6] scholars distinguish between two major categories — defensive peacetime alliances and offensive wartime alliances. Whereas peacetime alliances are designed to aggregate military power to deter and prevent aggression, wartime alliances are formed to fight a common adversary. Of course, the same alliance can engage in defensive and offensive missions.[7] The 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerstone famously asserted that the United Kingdom had neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies but eternal and perpetual interests.[8] Indeed, at the core of alliance politics is the fact that no two states, including close allies, share eternal, perfectly overlapping interests.[9] Yet, alliances require some measure of commitment to use force. This means that alliance formation and management are shaped by a bargaining process animated by the willingness and ability of the actors involved to offer or extract credible commitments. Whether in the context of threats or promises, to be perceived as credible, commitments require self-enforcing obligations that visibly undercut an actor’s flexibility in a way that convinces another actor (friend or foe) that the one making the commitment is, without question, tied to a certain course of action. To appear credible, commitments require measures that decision-makers will often hesitate or refuse to take. These can include explicit public statements and inherently costly military moves, such as alerting forces, canceling leave for military personnel, and moving units closer to a potential theater of operations.[10] Classic, symmetric alliances between states of roughly equal capability are used as tools for aggregating capabilities against a threat, meaning that both partners receive security from their alliance.[11] To appear meaningful, allies engaged in symmetric alliances are required to undercut their own freedom of action through self-enforcing obligations and realignment according to their partner’s interests.[12] This renders alliances a source of concern for their members, who often fear that their allies’ preferences and interests might ultimately come at the expense of their own. A state entering into an alliance could become the victim of entrapment by an ally deliberately seeking to embroil it in war. Conversely, having trusted the ally and counted on its support, a state could be abandoned in a time of need.[13] Alliance commitments could also inadvertently embolden an otherwise risk-averse ally and result in what Glenn Snyder describes as an alliance security dilemma: This occurs when states provide an ally with too sweeping a reassurance in order to deter a third actor, only to become entrapped in war.[14] This inherent tension between allies’ interests and preferences constitutes the essence of alliance politics. These perceived problems are further exacerbated in asymmetric settings. If symmetric alliances provide their members with security, asymmetric alliances provide the weaker ally with security and the stronger partner with autonomy.[15] While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. Entrapment — or “chain-ganging” — looms large in such relationships, with both sides afraid of falling prey, albeit for different reasons. Having traded its autonomy, the weak ally fears that its partner’s military superiority provides overwhelming leverage and jeopardizes its independence.[16] By contrast, the senior ally worries that its counterpart might exploit its superior capabilities, initiate a crisis, and manipulate it into coming to its aid. This concern, however, appears greatly exaggerated given the variety of ways strong allies are capable of mobilizing their resources and exploiting their leverage to shield themselves from entrapment or rein in a weaker ally. Jeremy Pressman has found that when strong allies mobilize their superior resources to restrain a weaker ally, they prevail.[17] Also, powerful allies use their stronger bargaining power to introduce escape clauses into their alliance agreements and arm-twist their partners into compliance.[18] In this vein, Michael Beckley has found that, while the fear of entrapment may be prevalent in international relations literature, in reality, it is rare. Drawing on an extensive empirical analysis of the vast U.S. alliance network, Beckley has shown that the United States successfully dictates the terms of its security commitments.[19] This finding is congruent with Tongfi Kim’s argument that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power.[20] The historical record indicates that Israel, which greatly depends on the United States, fits into this pattern.[21] After all, as Henry Kissinger remarked, “For Israel to go to war at the known displeasure of the U.S. would be a monumental decision.”[22] [quote id="7"] This, of course, does not mean that weak allies lack ways of influencing their senior allies. As Robert Keohane has pointed out, superior capabilities do not guarantee full or automatic small-ally compliance with the interests and desires of senior allies. Weak allies are sometimes capable of exploiting mutual dependence to generate bargaining power. If the weaker ally is sufficiently important to its partner, it could deny benefits to its senior ally and even “threaten collapse if not aided sufficiently.”[23] Writing about the U.S. alliance system during the Cold War, Keohane argued that U.S. perception of its weak allies’ importance gave them “a degree of influential access to American decision-making and decision-makers far out of proportion to their size.”[24] Keohane identified three avenues through which America’s weaker allies shaped U.S. policy: formal state-to-state negotiations, bargaining with separable elements of the U.S. government, and using private interest groups to influence domestic public opinion.[25] Notably, Keohane focused on relatively limited small-power influence, and some scholars argue that entrapment has caused major wars, namely World War I, in which the European powers chain-ganged one another into disaster.[26] Israel’s relationship with the United States has attracted special scholarly attention given the power disparity between the two countries and Israel’s perceived capacity to punch above its weight. Expanding on Keohane’s work, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt attribute the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to its influence over Congress.[27] That the empirical record does not reveal unambiguous cases of entrapment is of little relevance or consolation for states fearing future entrapment. Leaders are afraid of becoming the exception to this rule. Moreover, the prevailing fear of being chain-ganged to a reckless ally can be deliberately manipulated by a weaker ally in a purposeful effort to bolster its bargaining position and improve the terms of the alliance. This effort could even have coercive attributes. Ultimately, this means tying the other ally into a stronger commitment and limiting its freedom of action. The literature on alliance politics so far has overlooked the manner in which a country might seek to deliberately exploit an ally’s fear of entrapment as an instrument of bargaining. This article tells the story of just that. The episode analyzed in this article offers an exceptional opportunity to advance an understanding of coercive bargaining in an asymmetric alliance. After all, Israel and the United States are considered extremely close, and both were opposed to Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. When it came to confronting the Iranian challenge, however, not only did their interests, constraints, and preferences not overlap, but the issue was also one in which the stakes were extremely high for both sides — potentially even existential for Israel. This led both parties — perhaps Israel more than the United States — to bring their influence to bear on the other. In this article, I offer a rigorous examination of the strategic interaction and the intense bargaining that took place between Israel and the United States in 2011 and 2012. Ultimately, neither country attacked Iran, but this result was not preordained. Nor was Tehran’s and Washington’s preparedness to engage in direct diplomacy inevitable, though this led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nonetheless, this outcome cannot be fully understood without first understanding the strategic interaction that preceded diplomacy. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this topic is of acute relevance.

Israeli and U.S. Perspectives on the Iranian Nuclear Question

Different states, including close allies, do not view threats in the same way. Interests and preferences in international politics diverge because all countries operate under disparate strategic circumstances, confront different threats, possess specific military capabilities to cope with those threats, and face unique constraints. Allies are no different. Rarely will allies feel equally threatened by the same challenge. These structural tensions were on full display over the Iran nuclear issue. Although Israel and the United States generally shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining military nuclear capability, the prospect of a nuclear Iran posed a graver threat to Israel than to the militarily preponderant and geographically distant United States. The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Importantly, they differed on what constituted the nuclear threshold. For Israel, the threshold represented the stage at which Iran — having hardened and dispersed its nuclear program to render it resilient to an Israeli strike — could, if it so chose, “break out” and produce a bomb in a short period of time. For Obama, however, the threshold represented not Iran’s potential to break out, but the act itself.[28] The United States had been imposing sanctions on Iran unilaterally since 1979 and through the U.N. Security Council since 2006. However significant and painful for Iran, these sanctions were nonetheless relatively limited in scope, focusing primarily on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.[29] Israel, however, called for the urgent imposition of far-reaching sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector. In early 2010, for example, Netanyahu demanded that “crippling sanctions” be imposed “right now.”[30] [quote id="1"] Although Obama had entered the White House determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including, he said, with military force if necessary, he was determined to achieve this outcome through diplomacy and direct engagement.[31] As part of this approach, the U.S. financial pressure campaign on Iran, begun in 2006, was put on hold in 2009 and not fully resumed until mid-2010.[32] Weeks into his presidency, having already secretly reached out to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the election campaign, Obama sent two additional letters to Khamenei. While Iran’s leader responded to Obama’s first letter, he never replied to the second letter, in which the president had proposed direct talks between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.[33] Meanwhile, quiet efforts were being exerted by Oman to establish a secret line of communication between the United States and Iran. While Oman’s efforts with the State Department reached an impasse, Sen. John Kerry used Oman to convey messages to Tehran in 2011 and the first half of 2012.[34] Israel, which had picked up on these secret contacts and found them troubling, leaked them to the Israeli press in April 2012.[35] As Barak would later tell this author, “We knew quite a bit about the informal, indirect contacts between the Americans and the Iranians. ... I was very concerned that the American tone was not sufficiently clear so as to bring the Iranians to a decision.”[36] It was not until March 2013, however, that a direct and permanent diplomatic back-channel in Oman was established between Iran and the United States.[37] All this time, Iran continued to develop its uranium enrichment capabilities. In late September 2009, Obama publicly disclosed that Tehran had been constructing a secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant near Fordow, a village northeast of the city of Qom.[38] This “constituted the final straw for the administration, which now had no choice but to go into pressure mode again,” according to former senior Treasury official Juan Zarate. In the fall of 2009, Obama sought to restart the financial pressure campaign on Iran but decided to first seek a new U.N. resolution mandating tougher sanctions — a process that lasted several months.[39] In June 2010, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which constituted the strictest round of sanctions up to that point. The resolution noted “the potential connection between Iran’s revenues derived from its energy sector and the funding of Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”[40] This language would eventually pave the way for a full EU embargo on Iranian oil.[41] It was against the backdrop of increasingly aggressive international pressure on Iran that the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. Placing significant new restrictions on Iran’s energy sector, the legislation stipulated that banks conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran could not do business in the United States.[42] Still, at this stage in 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department was pursuing a “gradualist constriction campaign” designed to avoid “blunt steps that would upset the balance of the international financial system” or cause U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, who depended heavily on Iranian oil imports, to resist cooperation with tougher sanctions.[43] As I discuss later in this article, additional pressure would be needed to influence the White House to unleash measures long referred to by the Treasury as the “final bullet” and “the nuclear weapon” in its arsenal: an oil embargo and sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.[44] At least part of this pressure and its outcome can be attributed to Israeli influence. Divergence of Interests Within the U.S.-Israel Alliance In November 2011, Israeli Defense Minister Barak began stressing that, in less than a year, “probably three-quarters,” Iran’s nuclear program would enter a “zone of immunity,” effectively rendering it resilient to an Israeli attack.[45] Unlike Israel, the United States possessed advanced munitions capable of penetrating Iran’s fortified installations, as well as the bomber jets to deliver them. Therefore, the United States would remain capable of executing a decisive military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities long after they had become invulnerable to an Israeli assault. Or, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Barak, whereas Israel could give the Iranians only “a black eye,” the United States had the military capability to “deliver the knockout punch” and “take out Fordow.”[46] The two allies were thus operating on different timetables. In March 2012, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu warned,
Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.[47]
Days later, he explained, “The biggest difference is between the American clock ... and the Israeli clock,” adding that, “America is big and far away; we aren’t as big and are more nearby. We have different capabilities — nothing to belittle — but nonetheless different.”[48] Washington’s opposition to a military strike was driven by indisputable strategic constraints. The United States was engaged militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. With two military commitments already underway, Obama — now entering an election year — was averse to risking a third war involving an oil-rich country in a particularly sensitive part of the world, with potentially ominous implications for global energy markets. As the United States was well aware, these constraints were not lost on Israel. In August 2012, the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, ran a front-page report by its two most senior columnists in which they argued that, if it were up to Netanyahu and Barak, a military strike would take place “before the November elections in the United States.”[49] Obama was therefore particularly vulnerable to Israeli manipulation and exploitation. According to former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, “The perception in Washington was that the Israeli leadership — especially Netanyahu — saw their leverage as greatest in the run-up to the 2012 elections.”[50] The United States was clearly concerned that its junior ally might simply present it with a fait accompli, a worry exacerbated by Israel’s determination to keep the United States at arm’s length. In March 2012, after a U.S. official had already warned, “We don’t have perfect visibility” into Israel’s arsenal or calculations,[51] the Washington Post cited U.S. officials as noting that “no formal agreement has been reached with Israel over how a strike would be conducted — or when Obama would be informed about it.” Other officials added that the “assumption inside the White House and the Pentagon is that Israel would not give the United States warning, allowing the administration to deny prior knowledge but also limiting its ability to defend U.S. military assets in the region.”[52] [quote id="2"] From a U.S. perspective, if Israel was indeed planning unilateral action in a deliberate attempt to entrap the United States in the ensuing conflict, the question of whether Israel possessed the military capability to achieve a substantial delay in Iran’s nuclear program was of less importance. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has noted that if Israel attacked the “disbursed and hardened” Iranian nuclear program, “there would be many of us in government thinking that the purpose of the raid wasn’t to destroy the Iranian nuclear system, but the purpose of the raid was to put us at war with Iran.”[53] Indications of U.S. fear of entrapment appeared in real time. In February 2012, a front-page New York Times article cited defense analysts in Washington as questioning “whether Israel even has the military capacity” to attack Iran. The report said, “One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America’s far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks.”[54] The following month, Panetta told U.S. troops that “if Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want.”[55] Was Israel indeed contemplating such an attack only to embroil its senior ally in a war? It seems that way. According to Barak, in the summer of 2012 he was approached by a Netanyahu confidant who sounded him out on launching a strike on Iran two weeks before the U.S. elections. Barak recalls the person explaining that, politically, Obama would feel “compelled to support Israel’s action, or at the very least to refrain from criticizing it. In other words, we would be setting a political trap for the president of the United States.”[56] From a U.S. standpoint, Israel was militarily capable of dodging its surveillance capabilities and presenting it with an established fact. Panetta, who had served as CIA director before being appointed secretary of defense, noted in this regard that, although the United States “had sources that could provide some pretty good intelligence on whether or not that kind of attack was being prepared for,” a country “as sophisticated as Israel” could have found ways to “effectively cover up that kind of possibility, because they know that we have those kinds of sources.”[57] Daniel B. Shapiro, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, added, “We were pretty certain that if they didn't give us warning we would not have advance warning. They were fully capable of surprising the U.S. and give us not more than an hour or two’s notice."[58] While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. Jerusalem was especially concerned that, as Tehran’s nuclear program became increasingly dispersed and resilient, Israel would become dependent upon others — namely the United States — for the elimination of a potentially existential threat. Yet, this was precisely what Israel’s senior ally was asking. As Panetta would later write, “Israel had to trust that we would act if the time came, that we would not flinch at the moment of truth even if the graver threat was not to the United States but to Israel. That’s a lot of trust to place in an ally, even a close and historic ally.”[59] From Israel’s perspective, even if Obama was sincere about not removing any option from the table, he was still, in a sense, bluffing. As Barak reported telling Obama in 2012,
There are no future contracts in statesmanship. There’s no way that you, or any leader, can commit yourself to what will happen in a year or two. When the moment of decision arrives, nothing will be able to free you from your responsibility to look at the situation as it is then, with American interests in mind.
Barak further told Obama that when “it comes to issues critical for the security and future of Israel, and in a way for the security of the Jewish people … we can’t afford to delegate responsibility even to our best friend and ally.” Alluding to the United States, Barak went on to stress: “Our problem, Mr. President, is that we can’t be sure our friend will show up.”[60] From Israel’s vantage point, if Israel were ever to lose its credible military option against Iran, it “would no longer be an actor” in the Iranian context.[61] In other words, having lost its military options, leverage, and bargaining power, Israel’s interests would become less of a factor, including in U.S. policy considerations. As Barak later put it, while stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was a “vital interest” for Israel, it was only “an important interest” for the United States.[62] Given the stakes for each country, this made for an impossible situation for both sides. With limited direct leverage over Iran, Israel sought to harness the militarily superior United States in the service of forcing Tehran to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and risking devastating economic sanctions and possibly even a military attack. Israel thus sought to limit Obama’s flexibility and wrest an explicit, credible U.S. commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — in other words, a commitment Iran would take seriously. Of course, given the prerequisites for credibility in international relations, Obama was essentially being asked by the United States’ junior ally to restrict his maneuverability and control. This perception was precisely why the Obama administration resisted Israel’s efforts. Israel’s leaders proceeded to present the United States with two explicit demands. First, Israel wanted Washington to lead an international effort to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran. As noted, Israel demanded broad sanctions that would go beyond those that had already been implemented. Jerusalem wanted sanctions that would cripple Iran’s energy and financial sectors. To prod its ally into action, Israel’s defense minister declared in November 2011, “We are probably facing the last opportunity for internationally coordinated deadly sanctions that will force Iran to stop.” Specifically, Barak called for “sanctions on the financial transactions, on the ability to carry out international financial deals, including the Central Bank, sanctions that stop — physically if needed — the import and export of oil and refinements.”[63] That Israel was expecting the United States to lead this effort was reflected in the words of a “senior Israeli official” cited the next day as having said, “The name of the game now is the ability of U.S. President Obama to gather the leaderships of important countries such as Germany, France, Canada, and Australia in a coalition, and rein in Russia and China to impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran.”[64] That same demand was repeated in a coercive, yet informal, fashion, which implicitly threatened to entrap the United States in a conflict with Iran: Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said Israel was communicating an “important signal” to Washington, Moscow, and Beijing: “Either you impose truly painful sanctions to block Iran’s race to a bomb, with minimum cost to all of us, or we will be forced to act and then we will all pay the price.”[65] Coming from a well-connected analyst, these words almost certainly reflected a briefing by a senior official. Second, Israel expected the United States to establish a credible military threat against Iran or, in the words of Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, to take measures that would make “the Iranian regime understand that if it does not stop its military nuclear program someone will attack it.”[66] Referring to the U.S. position toward Iran, an Israeli official asked, “There are a lot of general statements they [the United States] think we want to hear… How are the Iranians to understand that if they don’t stop then they will eventually get hit?”[67] On another occasion, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times, in reference to the Obama administration, that “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they [the Iranians] have to hear it publicly and clearly.”[68] From Israel’s standpoint, a credible U.S. military threat that Iran would take seriously required a credible Israeli military threat that the United States would take seriously.

A History of the Iran Debate Before October 2011

Israeli concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of nuclear-weapons capability dates to the 1990s. Although in subsequent years, especially during President George W. Bush’s second term, U.S. concern would emerge regarding the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, no stage was as intense and urgent as that of late 2011. Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. Nor had the United States engaged in such forceful dissuasion efforts toward Israel as it would in the period discussed in this article. Although Iran’s perceived quest for military nuclear capability had long been a topic of debate and concern, Israel deliberately presented it as a global challenge rather than a challenge for Israel alone. Israeli policy maintained that the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be led by the entire international community.[69] At the same time, however, Israel was also investing in a military option against Iran. In mid-2008, media reports began to emerge about atypically large-scale, Israeli aerial exercises. These were widely interpreted as rehearsals for a preventive strike on Iran. But if these drills were designed to create the impression that Israel might be preparing to target Iran, such intentions were undercut by statements that Israel was still giving precedence to diplomacy and economic sanctions and that it would not surprise its U.S. ally with a unilateral military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In May 2008, Bush reportedly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request for a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.[70] That same month, Israel presented the United States with several arms requests, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates saw as presaging a military attack on Iran. “I recommended saying no to all the Israelis’ requests,” Gates later recalled. “Giving them any of the items on their new list would signal U.S. support for them to attack Iran unilaterally.”[71] Gates also worried that U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s arms requests would have provided it with a dangerous degree of autonomy to act independently against Iran and thus grant it leverage over the United States. “I said we would be handing over the initiative regarding U.S. vital national interests to a foreign power,” he noted.[72] Gates believes it was “probably not coincidental” that on June 2, 2008, the Israeli Air Force conducted a major exercise that included more than a hundred fighter jets, helicopters, and refueling tankers.[73] On June 20, the New York Times reported the unusual Israeli aerial mission and cited U.S. officials as describing the exercise, in which the planes had flown from Israel to Greece and back, as a multi-pronged Israeli signal. “They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” a Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”[74] Whether the exercise was intended as an Israeli signal to its principal ally, it was perceived as such in Washington. As Gates later wrote,
The Israelis held a military exercise they knew would be monitored by many nations. … The distance the fighters flew was 862 nautical miles. The distance from the Israeli airfield to the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was 860 nautical miles. Israel wanted to signal that it was prepared for a strike and could carry it out.[75]
At the same time, however, U.S. officials ruled out an imminent Israeli attack on Iran.[76] Moreover, Israel signaled it would adhere to diplomacy,[77] confirming that military action was not in the offing.[78] Still, Israel’s efforts to establish a military option persisted. In 2009, a French weekly revealed that the Israeli Air Force carried out another large-scale military rehearsal — this time, over the Strait of Gibraltar, some 1,800 miles from Israel.[79] However, an Israeli intelligence official commenting on the matter just two weeks before the French report said that it was unlikely Israel would attack Iran without receiving at least tacit U.S. approval.[80] Moreover, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remarked that Israel would not attack Iran militarily even if sanctions failed. Saying that the most effective means to stop Iran were “severe sanctions, very severe sanctions,” he added, “We are not talking about a military attack.” Towing Israel’s official line, Lieberman stressed, “Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world's problems. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, assume responsibility for resolving the Iranian question.”[81] [quote id="3"] That Israel was honing its military option undoubtedly generated concern in Washington. But still, this was a general worry about the possibility that Israel would ultimately feel compelled to act unilaterally. At times, this broad concern led the United States into taking greater risks than it may have otherwise in order to reassure and restrain the Israelis. One such example is Operation Olympic Games (“Stuxnet”), in which the United States and Israel joined forces in a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. Although not the only reason, anxiety about the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran reportedly played an important role in persuading the United States to engage in the attack.[82] On March 31, 2009, Netanyahu returned to the office of prime minister, a post he had left a decade earlier. Unlike his predecessors, who portrayed Iran as a global challenge, Netanyahu described Iran as analogous to Nazi Germany.[83] As prime minister, Netanyahu would gradually “take ownership” of the Iranian issue. In 2009 and 2010, however, Israel remained committed to working together with the United States to deal with the perceived Iranian threat.[84] In July 2010, Obama was asked whether Israel might unilaterally attack Iran. He responded that Netanyahu was “committed” to a coordinated approach.[85] A year later, when Shapiro began his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel, he too found that the two countries’ national security establishments shared a “coordinated approach” toward Iran.[86] This would change within three months.

Israel’s Pressure Campaign: Generating a War Scare

The possibility of an Israeli military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities had long been a topic of speculation and concern.[87] This is not surprising given Israel’s history of preventing other countries in the Middle East from developing nuclear capability, as well as the sort of military exercises described above. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force conducted a surprise attack in which it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant at Osirak. In 2007, Israel carried out a similar attack, this time destroying a nuclear facility secretly being built in Syria.[88] The Iranian case is factually different — Israel never attacked. But it is also qualitatively different: Rather than attacking, Israel deliberately created the impression of an impending unilateral attack and then harnessed this perception in a deliberate effort to limit Obama’s flexibility, influence U.S. policy, and alter Iran’s strategic calculus. It was not until late 2011, however, that general concern about an Israeli attack on Iran turned into genuine alarm. As one television report in Israel put it, “After years of just threats, it seems that the ground has started to shake.”[89] U.S. intelligence agencies detected stepped-up activity by the Israeli military that appeared to presage a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.[90] On Oct. 3, 2011, Panetta arrived in Israel for what was described as an “urgent discussion” on Iran.[91] That the main impetus for his trip was U.S. alarm about a potential Israeli strike was reflected in Panetta’s public statement in Israel that “the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis.”[92] The United States and Israel, he added, must confront all challenges “together.”[93] In his private meetings, Panetta demanded — and was refused — early warning in the event that Israel decided to attack.[94] The U.S. sense of urgency manifested in numerous other ways. In early November, a U.S. military official said that Washington had enhanced its “watchfulness” of both Israel and Iran.[95] The United States then bolstered its contingency military planning in the Middle East and augmented its intelligence-gathering on Israel. Obama, Panetta, and other top officials conveyed a string of private messages to Israel, warning of the “dire consequences of a strike.”[96] In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies began to closely monitor Israel’s military bases and eavesdrop on its secret communications for indications of a forthcoming strike. The United States detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for a strike.[97] Other U.S. surveillance activities included spying on the prime minister’s office and hacking into Israeli drone and fighter-jet surveillance feeds in search of indications of preparations for a strike.[98] In December 2011, Shapiro drafted a cable in which he later recalled stressing that the United States “could not in any way rule out the possibility” of an uncoordinated Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.[99] That month, Panetta publicly warned that if Israel attacked Iran,
The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases. ... the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.[100]
In January 2012, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon informed Panetta that Obama’s twin foreign policy goals for that year were to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and “to avoid a war in the Middle East,”[101] the latter being the scenario the administration feared would result from an Israeli strike.[102] As senior New York Times correspondent David Sanger wrote, the “outbreak of a public debate in Israel over whether to strike soon clearly shook the Obama administration.”[103] In February 2012, Panetta spoke of a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike before June.[104] It was against this backdrop that the Associated Press wrote, “For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear program, world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent.”[105] This sense of urgency was confirmed in later interviews with multiple senior Obama administration officials, including Panetta,[106] Deputy Secretary of State William Burns,[107] National Security Council member and senior Obama adviser Gary Samore,[108] and Shapiro.[109] The following section analyzes the various tactics Israel employed to create the perception of an impending military strike, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and limit Obama’s room to maneuver. 

How Israel Generated and Harnessed the War Scare

This section explores the primary methods by which Israel exacerbated the Obama administration’s concerns and led its senior ally to infer that a unilateral military assault on Iran could be imminent. Military Moves Designed to Be Picked Up by U.S. Intelligence Israel’s efforts to manipulate Washington into thinking a strike could be imminent included sensitive military activities designed to be intercepted by the United States, as well as actions bearing an intelligence signature too noticeable to conceal. For example, according to one Israeli report citing multiple sources, Israel carried out a significant covert measure in early October 2011 that pertained to the “diplomatic-security” realm, and was widely perceived by the sources as a sign that preparations for an attack had “shifted up a gear.”[110] The report did not detail the exact nature of the covert measure, but, since then, it has been revealed that, in 2011, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were ordered to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days.[111] It was also in late 2011 that U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly had detected Israeli aircraft entering and exiting Iran’s airspace, supposedly probing the country’s air defenses. This appeared to be a dry run for a commando raid on a nuclear site and was sufficiently alarming to merit the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the region.[112] On another occasion, multiple U.S. intelligence sources said the United States had learned that Israel, through a series of quiet understandings, had been granted access to airbases across Iran’s northern border in Azerbaijan.[113] Barak himself would later acknowledge instances in which Israel was “on the verge” of an attack and units “had entered a state of preparedness,”[114] but a senior military analyst later revealed that some of these instances “were designed to motivate the U.S. administration and the Europeans to increase the pressure on Iran and bring the Americans to a stage in which they would wield a military option and would be ready to use it.”[115] Tamir Pardo, then-director of the Mossad, similarly raised the possibility that, when he was instructed in 2011 by the prime minister to enter a state of preparedness and stand ready for an attack on Iran within 15 days, Netanyahu was “signaling” to the United States “to do something.”[116] Given that the United States, as Panetta later noted, had “fail-safe methods of determining whether or not in fact planes and pilots and crews were all being prepared for action,”[117] Washington was likely receiving real-time indications of such activities. Barak later admitted that Israel was acting on the premise that Washington was capable of monitoring its activities and that the United States inferred from Israel’s intelligence efforts that “we were getting ready.”[118] Explaining the perception of an imminent strike, Barak said, “The atmosphere was a reflection of our actual real preparations. The Americans were following us, watching what we were doing and what the Air Force was rehearsing.”[119] Strict Secrecy to Achieve Message Discipline  A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences — namely Israel’s defense establishment, the cabinet, and the United States — at arm’s length. From Barak’s vantage point, keeping Israel’s establishment in the dark was crucial for the success of the campaign. Israel’s security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike, and, as Barak would later reveal, he and Netanyahu knew that some of them were talking to their U.S. counterparts “on a daily basis.”[120] By holding their cards extremely close, Netanyahu and Barak prevented leaks, maximized their message control, enhanced their credibility and bargaining leverage, and kept their various audiences guessing. Barak and Netanyahu made all cabinet members sign an additional protocol of secrecy prohibiting them not only from making statements on Iran but also from giving strictly-off-record briefings.[121] As National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror put it, “Nothing leaked because … the ministers knew nothing.” Although Amidror claims to have been one of a handful of Israelis who were truly in the know, his statement that “I personally believe they were serious, I truly believed they were not bluffing” implies that the national security adviser, too, was in the dark about Netanyahu and Barak’s actual intentions.[122] And he was not the only senior Israeli official to find himself in that position. Asked in January 2012 whether Netanyahu and Barak were truly serious about an attack, a “very high-ranking intelligence source,” likely the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, replied, “I don’t know, there are only two people who know the answer to this question, and they are Netanyahu and Barak.”[123] Two months later, a senior Israeli official said of the two men, “Together, they control this issue.”[124] [quote id="4"] When asked about the possibility that a unilateral attack was never truly intended to take place, then-Mossad Director Pardo retrospectively admitted, “The same doubts that you raise now — I had them all along.” Pardo hypothesized that “a deception at this level requires that no more than one or two people be in the loop,” meaning that, if the Israeli campaign was intentionally deceptive, the deception was conducted either by “the prime minister alone, or the prime minister and Barak. And all the rest, including yours truly, were among those who were being duped.”[125] Even if Pardo had his doubts and, referring to the possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack, “did not believe that this could happen,” he still admits that when the prime minister “tells me to commence the countdown, you realize that he is not playing games with you. These things [entering a state of preparedness] have enormous implications. It’s not something he is allowed to do only as a drill.”[126] Cabinet member Dan Meridor, who served as Israel’s intelligence minister at the time, and theoretically should have been in the know, admitted that he had “spent nights and days” with the intelligence chiefs “asking ourselves what was going to happen. … I could not just assume that it was all a show.”[127] Amos Gilead, then-Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense, similarly admits that “we will never be able to know” if Netanyahu and Barak “really meant it,” although “according to every parameter they acted as if they did.”[128] Beyond the message clarity gained by such tactics, this information asymmetry made it significantly more difficult for the United States to affect Israel’s decision-making. Israeli Refusal to Provide Advance Warning Diplomacy was the basic means by which Israel first indicated to the United States the shift in its approach toward the Iranian issue and its refusal to coordinate its moves with its senior ally. In November 2011, a top U.S. military official said that Israeli reassurances to Washington that it would receive early warning if Israel decided to strike Iran no longer seemed “ironclad.”[129] This implies that Israel had previously provided such an assurance to the United States.[130] Later that month, when Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if Israel would alert the United States ahead of an attack on Iran, he replied, “I don’t know.”[131] In January 2012, the United States received yet another powerful signal when Barak informed Panetta of Israel’s decision to call off a joint military exercise scheduled for May. A biography of Barak claims that this exercise was delayed ahead of a “decisive session” regarding Iran.[132] In his memoir, Panetta recalls pressing Barak “to reconsider the cancellation,” to which the Israeli defense minister replied that, although Israel had not yet made a decision about whether to strike Iran, “I can’t in good conscience hide the fact from our best ally that we are discussing it.”[133] Barak later recalled, “Panetta realized that Israel was serious, and asked for a two-week early warning. I told him, no. Not two weeks, and not even 24 hours. However, I did tell Panetta that we would give them a sufficiently long early warning so as to not jeopardize any American soldier in the Middle East.”[134] Whereas the cancellation was likely designed to alarm Washington, an entirely different signal was conveyed to the Israeli public. Domestically, the cancellation was falsely portrayed as a joint decision resulting from U.S. budgetary constraints and a mutual desire to avoid sending a bellicose signal to Iran.[135] Two days later, Barak told IDF Radio that an Israeli decision to attack Iran was “very far off.”[136] In other words, Barak tailored different signals to different target audiences. If Israel had intended to set off alarm bells in Washington and manipulate its anticipation of violence, it succeeded. Within days, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff landed in Israel for high-level discussions,[137] and Panetta told the Washington Post that there was a “strong likelihood” of an Israeli attack on Iran before spring 2012.[138] Media Campaign Israel’s public media campaign dates to Oct. 12, 2011, a day when the entire Israeli media agenda was dominated by the dramatic announcement of a prisoner-exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas. One particular analysis stands out: In a column with the headline “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot veteran military analyst Alex Fishman argued that the main impetus behind the prisoner swap was Netanyahu’s desire to “clear the desk” and “set the stage for something different, bigger, and more important.” When one looks for signs of worry in Netanyahu and Barak, Fishman continued, “it somehow always has to do with Iran. … What is happening exactly with respect to the Iranian issue? It is unclear. But it is clear that this is going to be the next hot story.”[139] Fishman’s column was the bellwether of an official effort to spark an intense public debate about Iran.[140] An especially interesting case in point is the apparent use of the daily Yisrael Hayom, known for its intimate ties to Netanyahu, as a signaling device. In March 2012, the paper published as its banner headline a lengthy opinion column by its editor-in-chief, Amos Regev, who strongly advocated for an Israeli attack. The article concluded, “With the Americans or without them, it will be hard. It will be bold. It is doable.” A photo of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz accompanied the article.[141] Alarmed by the column, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn posted a reaction piece later that morning in which he argued that Netanyahu’s signals “are indeed preparations for war and not a bluff,” adding that Regev “is writing what Netanyahu cannot say in speeches.”[142] International media outlets also played a role in Israel’s pressure campaign. In January 2012, the New York Times Sunday supplement dedicated its cover story to the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran. The article, by well-connected Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, concluded, “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”[143] The following day, Bergman’s conclusion prompted a debate in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Asked about the article, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper commented that this “is a matter that we are very, very concerned about.”[144] Clapper, who later characterized the Israeli campaign as an “attempt to pressure the United States,” suspected the article was in some way an Israeli initiative:
When you’ve got rhetoric like that, you have to wonder how did that article get planted. The Israelis know us, they play us like a fiddle. They know how our Congress works — they play to that. They know how our media works — they influence that. So, sure, every time you have rhetoric like that, you have to be concerned. I didn’t think it was appropriate to blow it off.[145]
Public Statements Israel’s public statements regarding a possible strike on Iran, made almost exclusively by Netanyahu and Barak, featured a single recurring theme: Israel was entitled, capable, and prepared to look after its vital interests. For instance, on Nov. 1, 2011, Barak remarked that “events in the Middle East over the past year” show that “there can emerge situations in which Israel will have to protect its own interests” by itself and not rely on “other powers.”[146] Although he would later claim to have been referring to the events of the Arab Spring, Barak’s statement was widely perceived as a signal that Israel might strike Iran unilaterally.[147] The following month, speaking at the annual memorial ceremony for Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu alluded to the ongoing debate over Iran. Ben-Gurion, he said, had "a very hard time gaining support" within pre-state Israel for the declaration of independence in 1948. “Huge pressure,” he said,
was exerted on Ben-Gurion, from within and from without, not to make this move. … Everyone told him: this is not the time, not now. Among those pressuring him were important statesmen and friends. … All of us are here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right time. … I want to believe that we will always act with responsibility, courage, and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security.[148]
These remarks coincided with a statement by Barak stressing that “Israel cannot exempt itself from making decisions as a sovereign [country]. If the [Iranian] program can be stopped with diplomacy, that’s great, but all options are on the table. ... Israel is responsible for its own security, future, and existence.”[149] Clearly, Israel’s goal was to signal to the United States that it had the sovereign right to safeguard its vital interests. Lobbying U.S. Congress To impact U.S. decision-making on Iran, Israel harnessed multiple Washington-based, pro-Israel organizations.[150] But Israel also worked directly with members of Congress to influence the Obama administration. Visiting Israel in November 2011, a group of U.S. lawmakers updated their interlocutors about a new initiative — legislation urging the White House to support Israel’s “right” to employ “any means necessary” to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.[151] In February 2012, Netanyahu discussed the Iranian issue with a group of U.S. senators, headed by Sen. John McCain.[152] It was reported that Netanyahu had asked senior senators and members of Congress to exert pressure on Obama regarding the Iranian issue.[153] In early 2013, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the United States to support and “stand with Israel” if Jerusalem is “compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”[154] Congress’s role in promoting tough sanctions — and essentially forcing them upon a more reluctant White House — is discussed in more detail later in the article. Israel used the above-discussed tactics to create the perception of a potentially imminent military attack on Iran, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and push the Obama administration to adopt a tougher approach toward Iran than it would have pursued otherwise. How did this play out, and how effective was Israel’s pressure campaign? Was Israel able to get its way, despite clear U.S. superiority, or did the senior ally essentially prevail? These questions are the focus of the remainder of the article. The next section analyzes the manner in which the United States, in reaction to Israel’s pressure campaign, leveraged elements of its overwhelming influence to restrain its junior ally.

U.S. Counter-Pressure: Dissuasion, Dissociation, and Reassurance

Far from being a passive receiver and perceiver of Israeli signals and pressure tactics, the United States engaged in measures of its own to dissuade its junior ally from attacking Iran. This had become a top U.S. foreign policy priority, one that Panetta would describe as his primary task as secretary of defense.[155] Going even further, Samore claimed that “Much of U.S. strategy at that time was built around ‘how do we stop the Israelis from attacking.’ In some ways, that became the more immediate objective than stopping Iran.”[156] Some of this played out in public view as the crisis unfolded, such as when a senior administration official said, “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”[157] To resist Israeli pressure and ensure compliance, the United States utilized a variety of dissuasion instruments. What follows is a discussion of the most salient ones. Publicly Questioning the Prudence of an Israeli Attack U.S. opposition to an Israeli attack was expressed by senior officials from the outset of the Israeli campaign. With time, this sentiment grew increasingly blunt. In February 2012, the New York Times ran a front-page article citing U.S. experts as casting doubt on Israel’s military capacity to successfully attack Iran.[158] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey publicly described an Israeli attack as both “destabilizing” and “not prudent,” saying Israel would fail to achieve its “long-term objectives.”[159] Seeking to undermine the credibility of Israel’s military option, Dempsey later said that an Israeli attack would "delay but probably not destroy” the Iranian program.[160] In August 2012, an Israeli daily newspaper cited a U.S. warning to Israel to the effect that Saudi Arabia would forcefully resist any Israeli attempt to use its airspace to attack Iran.[161] Signaling Potential Dissociation from Israel In reference to a unilateral Israeli strike, Dempsey alluded to the possibility of U.S. military dissociation from Israel, saying at a press conference: “I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it."[162] Days later, Yediot Aharonot reported that the United States had informed Iran that it would not back an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities — as long as Iran steered clear of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.[163] Stalling for Time For several months, Washington kept a steady flow of senior American officials traveling to Israel in part of what U.S. officials depicted as a deliberate strategy to forestall such an attack. According to Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador, “We used all the dissuasion tactics and tools of dissuasion we could think of,” including high-level visits. “You buy yourself three weeks at a time. The week or two before the visit, the week or two after the visit. That tempo was all relevant to us. There were other factors, but it was definitely part of our strategy."[164] Samore noted in this regard that the administration was “certainly watching Israel very closely. That’s part of the reason why people went every two weeks. Because they figured that Israel couldn’t launch an attack when the vice president was on his way, or Tom Donilon was on his way, or Gen. Dempsey was on his way.” Samore described this as “a very conscious, deliberate strategy to stop the Israelis from attacking.”[165] Amplification of Domestic Opposition in Israel to a Strike The United States also worked to influence Israeli public opinion by exposing the fact that Israel’s own security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike. In July 2012, the banner headline of Yediot Aharonot cited “sources in the United States” as saying that Israel’s military and security chiefs were unanimous in their opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.[166] The Obama administration also leveraged its influence with Israel’s president and elder statesman, Shimon Peres. In June 2012, Obama honored Peres at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[167] The next month, Peres began to express scathing opposition to a unilateral attack and to underline his trust in Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear bomb.[168] In mid-August, Peres said that “after having talks with” Obama he was “convinced” that Israel could trust the U.S. president on the issue of Iran. “Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. … It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”[169]

Israel’s War Scare Ends: Assessing its Strategic Impact

These measures were designed to restrain Israel while also maintaining flexibility for Obama. To the degree that an Israeli attack was genuinely being planned, U.S. pressure ultimately prevailed without the United States having to resort to far-reaching threats or taking action. Although it is difficult to identify a specific time when Israel’s military option came off the table, one can point to September 2012 as a turning point in terms of Israel’s credibility with the United States, which practically collapsed in the wake of a reassuring message that Barak privately conveyed to Obama. According to several accounts, Barak met with Obama’s confidant Rahm Emmanuel and told him, without having updated Netanyahu, that he no longer favored a strike.[170] Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Netanyahu delivered a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in which he publicly drew a red line to Iran but also pushed the critical stage of Iran’s nuclear program to “next spring” and possibly even “next summer.”[171] It was with these last words, widely interpreted as a “nod to Obama,” that Netanyahu removed the possibility of an imminent Israeli military strike on Iran.[172] By “next summer” the United States and Iran were already deeply engaged in diplomatic talks and, for all intents and purposes, the military option was off the table. Acceleration of Crippling Economic Sanctions on Iran On the core issue of preventing an Israeli strike, especially in the critical run-up to the U.S. elections, the United States clearly got its way. The United States neither greenlighted an Israeli strike nor unleashed an attack of its own. Nor did Obama severely limit his latitude by making a binding commitment to use military force against Iran. If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. In some respects, however, Washington’s counter-campaign appears not to have been entirely successful. To forestall an Israeli attack, Obama was compelled to pursue measures he otherwise probably would not have — and at a faster pace than he otherwise would have chosen. This means Israel succeeded in influencing U.S. policy. [quote id="5"] Most notably, perhaps, the United States led an unprecedented international effort to cast Iran into economic isolation — an Israeli demand that the Obama administration initially was reluctant to pursue and had tried to keep in reserve.[173] Wary of measures that could destabilize global markets, the executive branch, in the words of senior Treasury official Zarate, sought to strike a balance between increasing economic pressure and “not spooking the oil markets and spiking prices,”[174] a sentiment expressed in real time.[175] To force the Obama administration to escalate sanctions on Iran, Israel engaged in heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill. Sanctions against Iran’s oil sector and Central Bank were passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2011. So strong was its support of Israel that the entire Senate unanimously voted in favor of sanctions.[176] Against this backdrop, Obama imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and an embargo on Iran’s oil exports.[177] David Sanger of the New York Times noted that, although “few in Washington are persuaded” that the sanctions would force Iran’s supreme leader to fold, “most go along with the assumption because the more forceful alternatives are too unpleasant to contemplate.”[178] The European Union soon imposed its own economic sanctions on Iran, including an oil embargo.[179] These sanctions would result in a 60 percent drop in Iranian crude oil exports from their pre-2011 rate.[180] And, in March 2012, in an unprecedented move enabled by the U.S. and EU sanctions, Iranian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT international financial system.[181] Netanyahu would later attribute Iran’s economic isolation to Israel’s “projection of genuine resolve.”[182] It is hard to definitively say whether Israel can claim the credit for this outcome. However, the initial impetus for the toughest of U.S. sanctions came from a Congress strongly aligned with Israel. Consider the words of Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the driving forces behind the legislation. In December 2011, he said, “The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you’re going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon?”[183] Was rigorous implementation of the economic sanctions hastened as a result of Israel’s pressure and the perceived threat of a unilateral Israeli attack? Lending credence to this argument, Dennis Ross, who served as a senior director at the National Security Council and as special assistant to Obama, has written,
Israel was very much a factor in this approach. To forestall Israeli military action against what Israel perceived as an existential threat, the president understood we needed to show we could apply meaningful pressure on the Iranians that would alter their nuclear program.[184]
For his part, Deputy Secretary of State Burns said that, although Obama would have eventually imposed sanctions regardless of Israel’s actions, Israel’s campaign “accelerated” the process. “Maybe [otherwise] it would have taken another year or so.” According to Burns, Obama “moved at a faster pace because of the concern of a potential Israeli military strike and the very real political pressure that existed in Washington in part because of the depth of the Israeli Government's concern.”[185] Making a similar argument, Shapiro said the United States “was motivated to go the extra mile in part to show the Israelis that they didn't need to do something on their own, that we were serious. … It’s fair to say that Israel probably did push us to go farther, faster on sanctions.”[186] Pointing to another important effect that Israel’s threat had on U.S. policy, senior Obama administration officials said the United States, while genuinely pressured by Israel’s signals, harnessed the perception of a credible Israeli strike in the service of persuading other actors to implement the debilitating sanctions on Iran. This included China, which had long opposed such measures.[187] Burns added,
We used it [the threat of an Israeli attack] with the Russians, we used it with the Chinese, with the Europeans, we used it with the Indians and those we were trying to persuade to curb oil purchases from Iran. It was a useful tool … to maximize the economic pressure on the Iranians and to get other countries — mostly quite grudgingly — to go along with this, because it wasn't in their economic interest in the short term in any way.[188]
According to Shapiro, the perceived Israeli threat
was also in some way a useful tool for us in our discussion with other countries. ‘Hey, you know, the last thing you want is these crazy Israelis to go and do something, so let’s show them that there’s a better way. Let’s make these sanctions stick.’ I think it definitely affected the Chinese. ... There’s no question the Chinese would sit up in their chairs and listen intently if you would present this possibility of a serious Israeli strike.[189]
In sum, according to Samore, “It sure helped to have the Israeli threat out there.”[190] This could be described as an amplification effect that may result from a relatively weak ally’s ability to establish a credible threat in the eyes of a much more powerful actor and influence its behavior. Obama Toughens Rhetoric, But Stops Short of Red Line for Iran Israel’s campaign succeeded, albeit to a lesser degree than it had hoped, in wresting a public commitment to resort to military force against Iran from the U.S. president. Most notably, in March 2012, Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, stressing that "as president of the United States, I don't bluff.” Obama added, “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”[191] Addressing AIPAC two days later, Obama said, “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, he said, “includes all elements of American power,” including “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”[192] This was the first time the United States publicly drew a distinction between prevention and containment of a nuclear Iran.[193] These two statements, directed more to Israel than to Iran, would remain Obama’s most explicit reference to the military option. Both statements were later described by Panetta as “carefully crafted” gestures to the Israelis, designed to “reinforce their confidence that we would not abandon them.”[194] While Barak was convinced that the United States possessed a credible and realistic military option to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, he remained unconvinced by Obama’s political reassurances. For instance, after Obama said that “as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” the Israeli defense minister privately wondered whether Obama’s statement was itself a bluff.[195] As Barak himself told this author, he remained “highly skeptical” about the U.S. commitment to ever pursue the military option against Iran.[196] Barak later explained, “Though the president intermittently declared that ‘all options’ remained on the table, I knew from senior administration members that it was extremely unlikely to happen.”[197] In September 2012, the clash between Israel’s desire for a clear U.S. commitment and Obama’s determination to secure his latitude entered a new stage, with Netanyahu openly urging the president to publicly draw a “red line” for Iran that, if violated, would be met with “consequences.” The administration rejected the demand on the grounds that “we need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,”[198] which was precisely what Netanyahu wanted Obama to have less of. The exchange took a fiercer turn when Panetta implicitly accused Israel of attempting to coerce the United States. “Red lines,” he asserted, “are used to try to put people in a corner.”[199] To this, Netanyahu responded, “I know that people value flexibility. … but I think that at this late stage of the game, Iran needs to see clarity.”[200] Israel’s efforts were designed to limit Obama’s freedom of action and pin him down to an explicit use-of-force commitment. Given this, Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. According to Burns, “There was certainly concern in Washington that the object of this Israeli effort was not so much to get a green light to launch a unilateral Israeli strike as it was to box Obama into launching a U.S. military strike, with the kind of second-best option being an even more intense effort to build sanctions.”[201] [quote id="8"] Israel’s pressure campaign had yet another important effect on the United States, which is that Washington, in an attempt to reassure Israel, accelerated its efforts to enhance the credibility of its own military option. In January 2012, U.S. officials said the Pentagon was ramping up its efforts to improve the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a weapon specifically designed to penetrate Iranian and North Korean fortifications.[202] In August, an Israeli daily newspaper disclosed in its lead story details of the U.S. military plan for an attack on Iran, as discussed in Panetta’s visit to Israel just days before. The report maintained that the United States would potentially launch its attack “in a year and a half.”[203] Shedding further light on Washington’s reassurance efforts, Panetta later remarked,
We in the United States were developing a weapon that could in fact be able to penetrate and do serious damage to their [Iran’s] capability, and it was in the effort to kind of show him [Barak] what we had developed and its capability that, I think, he recognized that we indeed did have a weapon that could, in fact, do some real damage to their enrichment capability.[204]
Lending credence to Panetta’s account, Barak recalled that, during the first two years in which Israel prepared its military option, the United States “was no more ready” than Israel. The existing U.S. military plan, Barak wrote, was “so obviously prone to lead to a wider conflict, that it would never have received the go-ahead from President Obama, or probably any president.” By 2012, however, “that had changed …an intensive research-and-development effort and enormously improved planning and testing had yielded results. The Americans now had high-precision heavy munitions we couldn’t dream of.”[205] Conclusion In late 2011, Israel deliberately led the United States to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program could be imminent — a scenario that deeply alarmed the Obama administration. The stakes involved one of the core issues animating asymmetric-alliance politics: the possibility that a junior ally — Israel — might present its senior strategic ally — the United States — with a fait accompli and entrap it in a military confrontation. With two military commitments already underway and a presidential election on the horizon, the United States strongly opposed an Israeli attack, which it deemed unnecessary, and had little interest in a confrontation with Iran. More importantly, Iran did not pose the same threat to the militarily superior United States as it did to Israel. It was for these reasons that a fierce intra-alliance bargaining episode occurred. As noted in the outset of this article, asymmetric alliances represent a trade-off: The weaker ally trades its autonomy for security. In essence, Israel attempted to retain its autonomy in a way that the United States deemed extremely detrimental to its own interests. Ultimately, neither Israel nor the United States attacked Iran. This implies that, at the most overarching level, the stronger ally prevailed. How can this outcome be understood? And what are its implications for international and alliance politics? Any attempt to discuss these questions must begin with the fact that, in the year under discussion, Israel purposefully created the perception of a potentially imminent military attack. This granted Israel more leverage than it otherwise would have wielded over the United States. Israel then harnessed this leverage in a calculated effort to force its senior ally to more closely align with Israeli constraints and interests. This meant influencing Washington into adopting measures it otherwise would not have — steps that nudged the United States closer to a confrontation with Iran. These measures included the economic isolation of Iran, a credible presidential commitment to prevent Iran’s nuclearization, and the development of a more effective and “realistic” U.S. military option. Israel employed this strategy as a form of extended coercion — that is, in an attempt to manipulate Iran’s strategic calculus via a powerful third party with considerable leverage over Tehran. Put differently, although the direct target of Israel’s campaign was its primary ally, its ultimate target was Iran, which Israel sought to prevent from further developing its nuclear program. At a minimum, Israel strived to keep Iran’s nuclear capabilities sufficiently vulnerable to its own military option, meaning that Israel would not have to rely on the United States for the removal of a potentially existential threat and that it would retain its autonomy despite its alliance with the United States. It may also be the case that Israel sought to influence the United States into tacit compliance with an Israeli attack or even to persuade it to unleash its own military option against Iran. It is also possible that Israel never genuinely intended to execute a unilateral attack against Iran. Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. Having instilled a sense of urgency in its major ally, Israel implicitly threatened the United States with a fait accompli, doing little to allay obvious U.S. fears of entrapment. And still, at the most overarching level, the fact that Israel’s perceived threat never materialized implies that the senior ally in this relationship got its way and that superior U.S. bargaining power overwhelmed Israeli decision-making. The United States proved capable of avoiding entrapment, of resisting its ally’s demand for an explicit commitment to attack Iran, and of restraining its ally. This outcome is perhaps not surprising given that the United States was, by far, the more powerful actor in the relationship. This structural reality becomes all the more pronounced given that, whereas Israel had reached the pinnacle of its bargaining power and exerted extraordinary pressure on its senior ally, Obama appeared to be in a particularly vulnerable situation. Especially because it was an election year, Obama sought to avoid a brutal clash with a close ally wielding considerable political influence. The balance of interests seemed to favor Israel, whose prime minister had consistently depicted Iran as an existential threat. Furthermore, the United States did not come close to exploiting the full range of dissuasion tactics at its disposal. Although Israel implicitly threatened its senior ally with entrapment, Washington neither reciprocated with a threat of abandonment nor threatened Israel with a “reassessment” of relations — steps that the administration may have dismissed as politically prohibitive. Ultimately, the United States prevailed in this atypically intense episode. The broader implications for coercive bargaining in an asymmetric relationship are that, even at the height of its bargaining power, a weaker ally will find it extremely difficult to entrap a superior ally or otherwise cause it to move in a direction it deems incompatible with its national security interests. This basic reality does not preclude the weaker ally from wielding surprising leverage or from exploiting its ally’s fear of entrapment for coercive purposes — something Israel appears to have done in this case. Indeed, to reassure Israel and forestall an attack, the Obama administration took measures it otherwise probably would not have, namely meeting Israel’s demand for unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran and tougher rhetoric from the U.S. president. In the final analysis, however, the United States proved capable of restraining its particularly influential ally. This conclusion squares with the findings of scholars such as Jeremy Pressman, Michael Beckley, and Tongfi Kim, cited in the outset of this article. One can, perhaps, draw even wider conclusions about patterns of power and influence in international politics. Scholars have suggested the current era is characterized by accelerated “power diffusion,” which ultimately favors the weak.[206] The outcome of this case study suggests that, even when the weak punch above their weight, the basic balance of power persists. In other words, the weak may be getting stronger, but the strong still get their way. [quote id="6"] This case study also lends itself to a more nuanced appreciation of the second-order effects that occur when an actor introduces a credible threat to use military force. For instance, while genuinely worried by Israel’s perceived threat, the United States, according to several Obama administration officials, harnessed Israel’s threat to persuade major actors like China to join the sanctions effort as an alternative to what appeared to be a credible scenario — a unilateral Israeli strike. This speaks to the way weak actors might be capable of amplifying their influence by impacting third parties — in this case the United States — and motivating them to use their leverage with other actors. By establishing the perception of a credible threat, Israel, in a sense, provided the United States not only with motivation but also with leverage it previously lacked, which the United States then used vis-à-vis other countries, like China. Attempting to achieve desirable outcomes in foreign affairs can, of course, have unintended consequences. While Israel’s pressure campaign produced several achievements — namely the economic isolation of Iran — it also helped to create the conditions for direct talks between its strategic ally and its archenemy. If Israel had hoped to influence Washington toward a more belligerent posture regarding Tehran, the opposite occurred, as the diplomatic channel culminated in a nuclear deal that Netanyahu denounced as a “historic mistake.”[207] Former Mossad director Meir Dagan claimed to be speaking from personal knowledge when he asserted that by “signaling to the entire world” that Israel was preparing to attack Iran, Netanyahu motivated the United States to “search for an alternative in the form of an agreement.”[208] Echoing Dagan’s assertion is this point from Burns, who, along with Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top policy adviser (and later national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden), initiated the secret talks between the United States and Iran in the wake of Israel’s pressure campaign:
The increased decibel level of the potential Israeli preparations for a strike accelerated the interest of the administration in pushing this diplomatic track simply because it certainly seemed as if we were getting closer and closer to the point of a real military conflict and that added a sense of urgency to this.[209]
And as Panetta noted,
There is no question that there’s nothing like a military attack to get your attention. So, I'm sure that it heightened activity both in terms of what we were trying to do militarily as well as what the administration was looking at diplomatically. … There was this effort to push on these other buttons to see if there might be a diplomatic solution to that threat.[210]
This article sheds important light on a key topic for the theory and practice of international relations, namely the question of credibility. In their statements, Barak and Netanyahu stopped short of explicit threats to attack Iran. When he was asked, at the height of Israel’s campaign, whether Jerusalem intended to attack Iran, Barak responded, “I think it should remain behind closed doors as part of a vague understanding that there is a big stick in the background.”[211] And, as he tellingly pointed out toward the end of the campaign, “The prime minister and myself have never come out and announced what it is we are interested in.”[212] Nonetheless, their various statements — and Israel’s calibrated signals and military moves — created a context that appeared less like a “vague understanding” and more like an alarmingly credible military threat. This was made possible by two elements, the first of which corresponds with Thomas Schelling’s assertion that, to appear credible, actors must “make it true.” Barak himself would retrospectively attribute the belief that Israel was serious to “the fact that it was all real, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we would have done it.”[213] The second, and less explored, element pertains to secrecy. If Israel’s campaign contained an element of deception, the strict secrecy and message discipline made it impossible to prove. Nowhere was this more evident than in the words of Pardo, the Mossad director, who noted that if Israel’s pressure campaign was a bluff, at most two people knew it. Asked about the painstaking efforts exerted by the United States to unveil Israel’s genuine intentions, Barak confided, “It is not as if there was some secret chamber that if only you could penetrate you would discover everything was a bluff. And if nobody can tell you it is a bluff, you have to assume it is real.”[214] While the potential costs and implications of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran seemed too immense to be credible, Israel’s preparations for such a strike seemed too real and costly to be dismissed as mere deception. The combination of Israel’s genuine military moves and strict message discipline made the incredible look credible, and the unbelievable, believable. As things stand, and in sharp contrast to the period discussed in this article, Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump appear to be tightly coordinated with respect to the Iranian nuclear issue. It is inescapable, however, that the challenge Iran poses to Israel is considerably graver than any threat it may pose to the militarily powerful and geographically distant United States. With the United States no longer part of the Iran nuclear deal, and in the absence of a new agreement, this challenge may present itself sooner than expected. Further down the line, this divergence of interests between Israel and the United States might yet again produce a political clash similar to the one explored in this article. Acknowledgements: For helpful comments and advice, the author wishes to thank Graham Allison, Oren Barak, Shai Feldman, Charles Freilich, Kelly Greenhill, Robert Jervis, Arie Kacowicz, Morgan Kaplan, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Steven Miller, Karen Motley, Michael Poznansky, Galia Press-Barnathan, Henry Rome, Amit Sheniak, Susan Rosenberg, Stephen Walt, Alec Worsnop, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the 2016–2017 International Security Program seminar at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Israel Institute during his appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. Daniel Sobelman is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => restraining-an-ally-israel-the-united-states-and-irans-nuclear-program-2011-2012 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-14 10:13:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-14 14:13:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=663 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => In asymmetric alliances, a superior state provides security to a weaker ally, who in exchange surrenders its autonomy to its stronger protector. But what happens when the weaker state’s vital interests clash with its stronger ally’s preferences? In 2011 and 2012, as Iran continued to develop and harden its nuclear program, Israel feared becoming dependent upon the United States to defend it against this potentially existential threat. To escape this scenario, and to enhance its leverage over the United States, Israel led its principal strategic ally to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran could be imminent. Israel then attempted to force the United States to realign more closely with Israel’s strategic interests and constraints. Determined not to get “chain-ganged” into a conflict, the United States increased its pressure on Iran, but also brought restraining influence to bear on Israel, thus producing one of the tensest chapters in U.S.-Israel relations. The following article explains the outcome of this strategic interaction. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences...at arm’s length. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 193 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama vowed to “use all elements of American power to pressure Iran” and to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” including through keeping “the threat of military action on the table.” See “Transcript: Obama's Speech at AIPAC,” NPR, June 4, 2008, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91150432. As president, however, Obama struck a more cautious tone, stating generally, and without explicitly invoking the threat of military action, that no option was off the table. For instance, in late 2011, he said, “I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table.” See “President Obama Holds a Press Conference at the APEC Summit,” White House, Nov. 13, 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/photos-and-video/video/2011/11/13/president-obama-holds-press-conference-apec-summit?page=12. According to former Obama adviser Dennis Ross, only in 2012 did the president state publicly that he was determined to prevent the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Until then, the United States had made do with describing Iran’s potential nuclearization as “unacceptable.” See Dennis Ross, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 369. [2] Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 12. [3] Brett Ashley Leeds, “Do Alliances Deter Aggression? The Influence of Military Alliances on the Initiation of Militarized Interstate Disputes,” American Journal of Political Science 47, no. 3 (July 2003), https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5907.00031; Brett B. Benson, “Unpacking Alliances: Deterrent and Compellent Alliances and Their Relationship with Conflict, 1816–2000,” Journal of Politics 73, no. 4 (October 2011), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381611000867. [4] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 461, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010183. [5] Paul W. Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945: Weapons of the Power and Tools of Management,” in Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, ed. Klaus Knorr (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976); Jeremy Pressman, Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); Victor D. Cha, “Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia,” International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 2010), https://doi.org/10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.158. [6] James D. Morrow, “Alliances: Why Write Them Down?” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 63, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.63; Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945,” 230. [7] Patricia A. Weitsman, Waging War: Alliances, Coalitions, and Institutions of Interstate Violence (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), chap. 2. [8] “Lord Palmerston 1784–1865 British statesman; Prime Minister, 1855–8, 1859–65,” in Oxford Essential Quotations, ed. Susan Ratcliffe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). [9] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. Stephen Walt notes that allies share only “some level of commitment.” Walt, Origins of Alliances, 1. [10] According to Thomas Schelling, “to take advantage of the usually superior credibility of the truth over a false assertion,” actors need to “make it true,” make an irrevocable, binding and “unambiguously visible” commitment. Put differently, for threats to be credible the threatener must remove all easy and cheap options from the table and visibly destroy his own escape routes. Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1981) chap. 2; and Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 99–105. Branislav L. Slantchev, Military Threats: The Costs of Coercion and the Price of Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), chap. 3. [11] James D. Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry: An Alternative to the Capability Aggregation Model of Alliances,” American Journal of Political Science 35, no. 4 (November 1991): 904, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2111499. [12] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry,” 930. [13] Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multipolarity,” International Organization 44, no. 2 (Spring 1990), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300035232. [14] Snyder, “Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics.” [15] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry.” [16] Galia Press-Barnathan, “Managing the Hegemon: NATO Under Unipolarity,” Security Studies 15, no. 2 (2006): 283–84, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636410600829554. Tongfi Kim argues that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power, as “stronger states have stronger bargaining power,” in “Why Alliances Entangle but Seldom Entrap States,” Security Studies 20, no. 3 (2011): 357, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2011.599201. [17] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121. [18] Morrow, Alliances: Why Write Them Down, 79; Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00198. [19] Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances: Reassessing the Security Risks of U.S. Defense Pacts,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 11, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00197. [20] Kim, “Why Alliances Entangle,” 357. [21] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121–22. Perhaps most strikingly, on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson minced no words when warning Israel not to initiate war with Egypt, stressing that “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.” See “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19. [22] “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, 588, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v26. [23] Robert O. Keohane, “The Big Influence of Small Allies,” Foreign Policy, no. 2 (Spring 1971): 162, 164–72, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1147864. [24] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 162. [25] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 165–66. On this, see John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), chaps. 5 and 6. [26] Christensen and Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks”: 137–68; Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. [27] Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby, 152. [28] Asked if he would have taken military action against Iran, Obama said, “I actually would have. If I saw them break out. Now, the argument that can’t be resolved, because it’s entirely situational, was what constitutes them getting [the bomb]. This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu.” See Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” Atlantic, April 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/. [29] Gary Samore, Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables (Cambridge, Mass.: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2015), 3–11. [30] Douglas Hamilton, “Israel Urges ‘Crippling’ Sanctions Now Against Iran,” Reuters, Feb. 9, 2010, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-iran-netanyahu/israel-urges-crippling-sanctions-now-against-iran-idUSTRE6181Z020100209. [31]Obama had indicated this explicitly throughout his campaign. See “Interview With Barack Obama,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/politics/02obama-transcript.html. [32] Juan C. Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 324.  It was not until July 2012, however, that a direct diplomatic back-channel would be established between Iran and the United States, in Oman. See Mark Landler, Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power (New York: Random House, 2016), 252; and Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals that Reshaped the Middle East (New York: Random House, 2016), 242–44. [33] Christiane Amanpour, “Obama Sent Letter to Iran Leader Before Election, Sources Say,” CNN, June 24, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/24/iran.obama.letter/index.html. [34] Landler, Alter Egos, chap. 10. [35] In April 2012, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot cited a senior Israeli source as saying that Israel had found out that semi-official U.S. figures had been in contact with the Iranian government in a bid to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. The official said, “The Iranians are convinced that given the secret channel and the United States’ request that Israel does not attack Iran, Israel will not dare do it, at least for the time being. The Iranians believe they’ve achieved at least a postponement of the attack, if not more than that.” Ronen Bergman, “An All-Clear Siren for Tehran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 8, 2012. [36] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [37] Landler, Alter Egos, 253–54. [38] Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shea, “U.S., Allies Say Iran Has Secret Nuclear Facility,” Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/25/AR2009092500289.html. [39] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 328. [40] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted June 6, 2010, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1929%282010%29. [41] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 6. [42] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 336–37. [43] Zarate, Treasury’s War. [44] Washington had regarded sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and oil sector as the “final bullet” in the U.S. arsenal. See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16. In the Treasury Department, such sanctions were referred to as the “nuclear option” and were thus held in reserve. See Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [45] “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” CNN, Nov. 20, 2011. Declaring that 2012 was “a very important year,” Barak argued, “After 2012 it will become difficult to achieve a meaningful delay in the Iranian nuclear project by any means.” Channel 2 TV, Feb. 23, 2012. [46] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace (New York: Penguin, 2015), 404. [47] “Netanyahu’s Speech at AIPAC (Full Text),” Times of Israel, March 6, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahus-speech-at-aipac-full-text/. [48] Channel 2, March 12, 2012. Two months later, Barak noted with respect to the Israel-U.S. debate about Iran’s nuclear program, “There are obviously differences between us — in the approach, in the speed at which our clocks are ticking. It is no secret that our clock is ticking faster.” See Institute for National Security Studies Annual Conference, Tel Aviv, May 30, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oZ1X6WspMM. [49] Dan Williams, “Israel Wants to Attack Iran Before U.S. Vote: Israeli Report,” Reuters, Aug. 10, 2012, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/israel-wants-to-attack-iran-before-us-vote-israeli-report/article4473446/. [50] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [51] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets,” New York Times, Feb. 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/world/middleeast/iran-raid-seen-as-complex-task-for-israeli-military.html. [52] Scott Wilson, “In Meeting, Obama to Warn Netanyahu Against Military Strikes on Iran,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-meeting-obama-to-warn-netanyahu-against-military-strikes-on-iran/2012/03/02/gIQA5Wf0mR_story.html. [53] “Zero Days,” directed by Alex Gibney (New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2016). [54] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [55] “Secretary Panetta All Hands Call USS Peleliu,” Department of Defense, March 30, 2012, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=5004. [56] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 435–36. In a separate interview, Barak noted, “In 2012 Netanyahu was playing around with all sorts of ideas. I was opposed to them. I reemphasized my position: we will not endanger the life of even one American soldier.” See Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. [57] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [58] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [59] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [60] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life, 433–34. [61] Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/magazine/1.1797127. [62] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [63] “Hakol Diburim,” Voice of Israel, Nov. 1, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkCwM1fG0so&feature=youtu.be. [64] Shlomo Tsezna, “Israel: The World Must Stop Tehran,” Yisrael Hayom, Nov. 10, 2011, http://digital-edition.israelhayom.co.il/Olive/APA/Israel/SharedView.Article.aspx?href=ITD%2F2011%2F11%2F10&id=Ar00700&sk=000DD7E1&viewMode=text. [65] Ron Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011, https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4143344,00.html. [66] “Ha-Nivharim with David Ben-Bassat,” Hot TV, Aug. 31, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPzaY-lduE4&feature=youtu.be. [67]Barak Ravid, “The Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1652900. [68] Jodi Rudoren, “U.S. Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran,” New York Times, May 17, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/world/middleeast/united-states-ambassador-dan-shapiro-to-israel-speaks-of-military-option-for-iran.html. [69] As Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert stressed in a 2006 interview that Israel should not stand “on the forefront of this war.” Iran, he added, was a “major threat” to “Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel.” See Romesh Ratnesar, "Israel Should Not Be on the Forefront of a War Against Iran," Time, April 9, 2006. [70] Jonathan Steele, “Israel Asked US for Green Light to Bomb Nuclear Sites in Iran,” Guardian, Sept. 25, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/sep/25/iran.israelandthepalestinians1. [71] Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 190–91. [72] Gates, Duty. [73] Gates, Duty, 192; “Israeli Air Exercise Probably Message to Iran, U.S. Official Says,” CNN, June 20, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/06/20/israel.exercise/index.html. [74] Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran,” New York Times, June 20, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/20/washington/20iran.html. [75] Gates, Duty, 192. [76] Gordon and Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran.” [77] Commenting on the report, an Israeli official urged Tehran to “read the writing on the wall … this was a dress rehearsal. … If diplomacy does not yield results, Israel will take military steps to halt Tehran's production of bomb-grade uranium.” Sheera Frenkel, “Israeli Jets in Long-Range ‘Test Mission’ for Airstrike on Iran,” Times (London), June 21, 2008. [78] Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, stated, "We are not planning any attack against Iran." See “Top US Military Officer Heads to Israel With Iran on the Agenda,” Agence France-Presse, June 25, 2008. When Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, previously the minister of defense and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, warned that if Iran continued its plans to produce a nuclear weapon, “we will attack it,” he was promptly reprimanded by Barak, who characterized his statements as “harmful.” Mofaz, Barak said, “knows there is a decision that when it comes to the Iranian issue Israel does not stand at the forefront.” Barak Ravid, Yossi Verter, and Mazal Mualem, “Defense Minister Barak: Mofaz Statements on Attack on Iran Irresponsible,” Haaretz, June 8, 2008. [79] “L’Express: IAF Held Iran Strike Drill Above Strait of Gibraltar,” Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2009; “IDF Staged Drills Over Gibraltar, in Preparation for Iran Strike,” Haaretz, May 3, 2009. [80] Sheera Frenkel, “Israel Stands Ready to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites,” Times (London), April 18, 2009. [81] Ofer Aderet, “Lieberman: Israel Will Not Attack Iran — Even if Sanctions Fail,” Haaretz, April 26, 2009. [82] David E. Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” New York Times, June 1, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/middleeast/obama-ordered-wave-of-cyberattacks-against-iran.html; and David E. Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2012), 188–225. [83] Peter Hirschberg, “Netanyahu: It’s 1938 and Iran Is Germany; Ahmadinejad Is Preparing Another Holocaust,” Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2006; and Shmuel Rosner, “Playing the Holocaust Card,” New York Times, April 25, 2012, https://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/netanyahu-cant-go-wrong-claiming-that-iran-is-planning-another-holocaust/. [84] For instance, in late July 2009, standing alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak once again reaffirmed that “at this stage, the priority should be given, still, to diplomacy and probably sanctions.” See “Defense Minister Barak meets with US Secretary of Defense Gates,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 27, 2009. Asked about a potential Israeli attack on Iran, Gates replied that, in his meetings in Israel, “I had every sense that the Israeli government is prepared to let our strategy play out in terms of trying to use a combination of diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions and other peaceful means to try to get the Iranian government to change its mind in terms of its nuclear ambitions.” See Jim Garamone, “Gates Praises U.S., Jordan Strategic Partnership,” Department of Defense, July 27, 2009, http://archive.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=55267; “Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Barak,” Ministry of Defense, April 27, 2010. In the joint press conference between Gates and Barak in March 2011, the topic of Iran was overshadowed by the events of the Arab Spring. See “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel,” Department of Defense, March 24, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4797. [85] “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 8, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/interview-president-yonit-levi-israeli-tv. [86] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [87]Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Point of No Return,” Atlantic (September 2010), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/09/the-point-of-no-return/308186/; Emily Alpert, “Will Israel Attack Iran? It's Been Asked Before,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 2012, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/02/will-israel-attack-iran-its-been-asked-before.html. [88] As Panetta noted, “Everybody understood that when you look at the history here, Israel was a nation that if it thought that its existence was threatened in any way it would take action with or without the United States.” The former defense secretary cited Israel’s attacks on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 and the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 as indicative of Israeli determination to remove potential existential threats. Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [89] “Meet the Press,” Channel 2, Dec. 3, 2011. [90] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 197–98. [91] Amos Harel and Reuters, “U.S. Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel to Discuss Iran Nuclear Program,” Haaretz, Oct. 3, 2011. [92] “Israel 'Increasingly Isolated' in Middle East: US,” Agence France-Presse, Oct. 3, 2011, https://gs.geo.tv/latest/31185-israel-increasingly-isolated-in-middle-east-us. [93] Yaakov Katz, “International Community Needs to Cooperate on Iran,” Jerusalem Post, Oct. 4, 2011. [94] Ron Ben-Yishai, “IDF Is Already Prepared to Attack in Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011; Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu and Barak Refused to Commit to Not Attacking Iran Without Coordinating with the United States,” Haaretz, Nov. 6, 2011; and author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [95] Barbara Starr, “U.S. Concerned Israel Could Strike Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Nov. 4, 2011, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/04/u-s-concerned-israel-could-strike-iran/. [96] Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon, “U.S. Warns Israel on Strike,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204409004577159202556087074. [97] Adam Entous, “Spy vs. Spy: Inside the Fraying U.S.-Israel Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/spy-vs-spy-inside-the-fraying-u-s-israel-ties-1445562074. [98] Adam Entous and Danny Yadron, “U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-spy-net-on-israel-snares-congress-1451425210; Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke, “Spies in the Skies,” Intercept, Jan. 28, 2016. [99] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. In an indication of the credibility he attributed to this scenario, Shapiro noted that he disseminated the cable to an especially broad audience so as to “protect myself” in case Israel indeed attacked Iran. [100] “Remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Saban Center,” Department of Defense, Dec. 2, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4937. [101] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [102] Thom Shanker, Helene Cooper, and Ethan Bronner, “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes,” New York Times, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/middleeast/us-sees-iran-attacks-as-likely-if-israel-strikes.html; and Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran,” New York Times, March 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/world/middleeast/united-states-war-game-sees-dire-results-of-an-israeli-attack-on-iran.html. [103]David E. Sanger, “Confronting Iran in a Year of Elections,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/sunday-review/confronting-iran-in-a-year-of-elections.html. [104]David Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-israel-preparing-to-attack-iran/2012/02/02/gIQANjfTkQ_story.html. Another U.S. official said later that month, “We believe that Israel has not yet decided whether to attack or not, but it is clear to us that the matter is being weighed seriously.” See Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya, “National Security Adviser Visiting Israel,” Haaretz, Feb. 18, 2012. [105] Dan Perry and Josef Federman “Just a Bluff? Fears Grow of Israeli Attack on Iran,” Associated Press, Feb. 5, 2012, http://www.staradvertiser.com/2012/02/05/breaking-news/just-a-bluff-fears-grow-of-israeli-attack-on-iran/. [106] Panetta said, “My conclusion, and I think the conclusion of the National Security Council and the president, was that Israel was giving serious consideration to this possibility.” Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [107] Burns added, “There was a genuine concern that the Israeli government might launch such a strike.” Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [108] Author interviews with Gary Samore, Obama’s coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, and arms control, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016 and March 9, 2017. According to Samore, with the exception of Vice President Joseph Biden, “who thought it was all a big bluff,” the most senior members of the administration, including Obama and Panetta, felt “pressured” by Israel’s signals. [109] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. According to Shapiro, “We did take it seriously; Obama took it seriously.” [110] Yossi Verter, “Iran, Who Knows,” Haaretz, Nov. 4, 2011. [111] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [112] Entous, “Spy vs. Spy.” [113] Mark Perry, “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground,” Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/28/israels-secret-staging-ground/. [114] Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life] (Tel Aviv: Kinneret Zmora-Bitan, 2015), 330. [115] Ron Ben-Yishai, “Israel Has Understood: Only the U.S. Will Stop Iran,” Ynet, Aug. 3, 2012. [116] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. According to the program, the Mossad and the IDF were ordered in 2011 to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days. Referring to this step, Pardo said when a leader orders such a move, “It can serve one of two purposes. The first is that he really means it. The other possibility is that he is signaling so that somebody out there will know about it — maybe even that someone in the United States will find out about it in one way or another — and that someone will be motivated to do something.” [117] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [118] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [119] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [120] Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. Shedding more light on this point, Shapiro noted that the United States knew that Israel’s security chiefs opposed a military attack: “Without being disloyal to their political leadership they found ways of conveying to us that they were not advocating for it and to some degree were resisting it. This was knowable.” Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. [121] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [122] Author telephone interview with Yaakov Amidror, June 9, 2016. [123] Rachel Nolan, “Behind the Cover Story: Ronen Bergman on Whether Israel Will Attack Iran,” New York Times, Jan. 30, 2012, https://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/behind-the-cover-story-ronen-bergman-on-israeli-plans-to-strike-iran/. See also Ethan Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders Make the Iran Issue Their Own,” New York Times, March 27, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/world/middleeast/netanyahu-and-barak-bond-over-israels-iran-crisis.html. [124] Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders.” [125] Author interview with Tamir Pardo, Cambridge, Mass., May 2, 2016. That the Mossad chief himself was kept at arm’s length can be inferred from his assertion that whether or not a unilateral attack was genuinely in the cards was an “irrelevant” question for him as Mossad director: “For an operational organization, it makes absolutely no difference if it is a deception or not. I have to play along to the fullest extent, because I do not know.” [126] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [127] Author telephone interview with Dan Meridor, June 7, 2016. [128] Author interview with Gen. (Ret.) Amos Gilead, Herzliya, July 29, 2018. [129] Starr, “U.S. Concerned.” [130] For instance, asked in July 2010 whether he was concerned Israel might decide to unilaterally attack Iran, Obama replied that relations were “sufficiently strong” that neither would “try to surprise each other.” He went on to say, “We try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern. And that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to.” See “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV.” [131] Phil Stewart, “U.S. Uncertain Israel Would Advise Before Iran Strike,” Reuters, Nov. 30, 2011, https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCATRE7AT2TT20111130?sp=true. [132] Kfir and Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life], 319­–20. [133] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 406. [134] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [135] Attila Somfalvi and Yoav Zitun, “Israel-U.S. Aerial Defense Exercise Postponed,” Ynet, Jan. 15, 2012; Shlomo Tsezna and Lilach Shoval, “The Exercise Was Postponed So As ‘Not to Warm Up the Region,’” Yisrael Hayom, Jan. 16, 2012. [136] “Ma Bo’er With Razi Barkai,” IDF Radio, Jan. 18, 2012. [137]Isabel Kershner, “U.S. General Urges Closer Ties With Israel,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/world/middleeast/joint-chiefs-chairman-martin-dempsey-visits-israel.html. [138] Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” [139] Alex Fishman, “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Oct. 12, 2011. [140] Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ben-Yishai would later note that the Israeli government itself had initiated this debate. See Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran.” Moreover, a Haaretz military affairs analyst later alluded to Barak as the source behind these messages. See Amos Harel, “Barak Reveals in the United States Considerations for Possible Israeli Strike on Iran,” Haaretz, Jan. 27, 2012. [141] Amos Regev, “Difficult, Courageous, Doable,” Yisrael Hayom, March 15, 2012. [142] Aluf Benn, “Netanyahu Issues Order 8 to Himself and the Public,” Haaretz, March 15, 2012. [143]Ronen Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/magazine/will-israel-attack-iran.html. [144] “Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States,” Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, 112th Congress, Second Session, Jan. 31, 2012. [145] Author telephone interview with James Clapper, May 12, 2017. Clapper recalls interpreting Israel’s signals as “a combination of genuine concern and an attempt to pressure the United States. ... I thought this had more to do with information warfare, if you will, information influence.” [146] Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011. [147] Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu Consolidating Majority in the Cabinet for Military Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities,” Haaretz, Nov. 2, 2011; Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011; “In Israel, Speculation Over Strike on Iran Grows,” Agence France-Presse, Nov. 2, 2011. [148] “Prime Minister’s Speech at the David Ben-Gurion Memorial Ceremony,” [YouTube], Dec. 4, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGyHmhkMqqg. [149] Shlomo Tsezna, “Netanyahu Drops Heavy Hints in Speech,” Yisrael Hayom, Dec. 5, 2011. [150] For example, see Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib, “How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill,” Nation, July 15, 2014. [151] Mati Tuchfeld and Boaz Bismuth, “Congressional Initiative: United States Will Support Israeli Attack on Iran,” Israel Hayom, Nov. 16, 2011. [152] Raphael Ahren, “John McCain says US and Israel Drifting Apart on Iran Issue,” Times of Israel, Feb. 21, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/john-mccain-says-us-and-israel-drifting-apart-on-iran-issue/. [153] Barak Ravid, “Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1652900. [154] “S. Res. 65 — A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation,” 113th Congress, May 22, 2013. [155] David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” New York Times, May 5, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-aspiring-novelist-who-became-obamas-foreign-policy-guru.html. [156] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [157] Wilson, “In Meeting.” [158] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [159] “US' Dempsey says Premature to Attack Iran Now,” Reuters, Feb. 19, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa/us-dempsey-says-premature-to-attack-iran-now-idUSTRE81I0K420120219. [160] Richard Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack on Iran 'Would Not Stop Nuclear Programme,’” Guardian, Aug. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/30/israeli-attack-iran-not-stop-nuclear. [161] Shimon Shiffer, “The Message Israel Received via the United States — Saudi Arabia Says: We Will Intercept Israeli Aircrafts on Way to Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 9, 2012. [162] Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack.” [163] Shimon Shiffer, “'Iran Must Steer Clear of US Interests in Gulf,'” Ynetnews, Sept. 3, 2012. [164] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [165] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [166] Shimon Shiffer, “Not to Attack in Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, July 31, 2012. [167] “Remarks by President Obama and President Peres of Israel at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 13, 2012, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/06/13/remarks-president-obama-and-president-peres-israel-presentation-medal-fr. [168]Ronen Bergman, “Shimon Peres on Obama, Iran and the Path to Peace,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/shimon-peres-on-obama-iran-and-the-path-to-peace.html. [169]Jeffrey Heller, “Israel’s Peres Against Any Solo Iran Attack, Trusts Obama,” Reuters, Aug. 16, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-iran/israels-peres-against-any-solo-iran-attack-trusts-obama-idUSBRE87F0M620120816. [170] Attila Somfalvi, “The Crisis With the U.S.: Barak Holds Secret Meeting With Rahm Emmanuel,” Ynet, Sept. 20, 2012; and Attila Somfalvi, “Netanyahu Summons Barak to Reprimand: Demands Clarifications,” Ynet, Oct. 6, 2012. [171] “PM Netanyahu’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York,” Prime Minister’s Office, Sept. 27, 2012, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA_Graphics/MFA Gallery/2012/9/TRANSCRIPT_UN270912.pdf. [172] Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger, “Nod to Obama by Netanyahu on Iran Bomb,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/28/world/middleeast/netanyahu-warns-that-iran-bombmaking-ability-is-nearer.html. [173] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16; Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [174] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314­–16. [175] In October 2011, U.S. officials expressed fear that “any crackdown on Iranian oil exports could drive up oil prices when the United States and European economies are weak.” As one senior official noted, “You don’t want to tip the U.S. into a downturn just to punish the Iranians.” See David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, “To Isolate Iran, U.S. Presses Inspectors on Nuclear Data,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/world/middleeast/white-house-says-data-shows-iran-push-on-nuclear-arms.html. The following month, the New York Times reported, “No one in the administration is willing to risk a step that could send prices soaring and, in the worst case, cause a confrontation at sea over a blockade.” David E. Sanger, “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” New York Times, Nov. 5, 2011. In January 2012, Sanger noted, “Obama has stopped short of advocating a global total embargo, which could lead to confrontations at sea.” Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [176] Jennifer Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0; Obama Objects (Really),” Washington Post Right Turn Blog, Dec. 2, 2011, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/senate-passes-iran-sanctions-100-0-obama-objects-really/2011/12/02/gIQA7yELKO_blog.html. [177] Interestingly, a pattern recurred in which, in the words of former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, “The White House pushed back on sanctions bills, and then, once they passed, took credit for them.” See Michael B. Oren, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (New York: Random House, 2015), 274. See also Josh Rogin, “White House Opposed New Iran Sanctions,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 30, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/30/white-house-opposed-new-iran-sanctions/. [178] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [179] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [180] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 15. [181] “Payments System SWIFT to Cut Off Iranian Banks,” Reuters, March 15, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-iran-sanctions/payments-system-swift-to-cut-off-iranian-banks-idUSBRE82E0VR20120315. [182] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, Nov. 5, 2012. [183] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 200; Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0,” Washington Post, Dec. 2, 2011. [184] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 366–67. Zarate made the same point, noting that in early 2012, “The talk of preemptive war by Israel — which began to impact the public debate within Israeli society and in Washington, DC — made clear that more aggressive steps were necessary to avert war. … The Israeli strategy was clear — it would use saber rattling to impel greater international economic and financial pressure. The world was moving into maximalist financial pressure mode on Iran to avoid war. Financial constriction needed to move to economic strangulation.” See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 338. [185] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [186] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [187] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [188] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [189] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [190] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [191] Jeffrey Goldberg, “Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff,’” Atlantic, March 2, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/obama-to-iran-and-israel-as-president-of-the-united-states-i-dont-bluff/253875/. [192] “Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 4, 2012, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/04/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference-0. [193] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 369. [194] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 405–7. [195] Goldberg, “Obama Doctrine.” [196] Author interview with Ehud Barak, Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 8, 2016. See also Barak, My Country, My Life, 432–33. [197] Barak, My Country, My Life, 429. [198] Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Setting Limits on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/world/middleeast/obama-rebuffs-netanyahu-on-nuclear-red-line-for-iran.html. [199] Lois Farrow Parshley, “A Whole New Era,” Foreign Policy, Sept. 17, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/17/a-whole-new-era/. [200]“Netanyahu Urges U.S. to Set ‘Red Line’ for Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Sept. 16, 2012, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/16/netanyahu-urges-u-s-to-set-red-line-for-iran/. [201] Telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. This may have been the case. In August 2012, Haaretz published an extensive interview with a “senior decision-maker” whom it indirectly identified as Barak. Linking the probability of a U.S. attack to a perceived, credible Israeli military option, the senior decision-maker — that is, Barak — added, “If Israel gives up and it becomes clear that it can no longer act, the likelihood of an American operation will decrease.” See Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012. [202] Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 28, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203363504577187420287098692. [203] Shimon Shiffer, “The Plan of Attack,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 3, 2012. [204] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [205] Barak, My Country, My Life, 433. [206] See Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008); Joseph S. Nye Jr., The Future of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011); Moises Naím, The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (New York: Basic Books, 2013). [207] Isabel Kershner, “Iran Deal Denounced by Netanyahu as ‘Historic Mistake,’” New York Times, July 14, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-deal-israel.html. [208] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, May 6, 2016. [209] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [210] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [211] “Amanpour,” With Christiane Amanpour, CNN, April 19, 2012. [212] “Hakol Diburim,” With Ayala Hasson, Voice of Israel, Aug. 9, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4RAuOR8IhU. [213] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. 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