US VP Joe Biden has created some serious buzz with his weekend comments that the US would not second-guess Israel if it decided to attack Iran.
Biden's comments sparked a diplomatic debate: Was the VP giving Israel a green light to attack Iran? Or was he telling Israeli leaders that they would be on their own if they decided to strike?
Today, President Obama finally chimed in.
When asked on CNN if Biden was giving Israel a green light for the attack, Obama said "Absolutely not."
"We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East," Obama told CNN.
Whatever Biden's intentions, the VP succeeded in focusing renewed attention on repeated Israeli threats to strike Iran if the world community doesn't contain the Persian nation's nuclear program.
At the very least, Biden's comments play into the psychological war meant to rattle Iran and remind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that, along with the internal turmoil, he's also got problems outside his borders.
"It's crazy to think the principal audience of this comment was in Jerusalem and not in Tehran," Jon Alterman, director of Middle East Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The Cable, the Foreign Policy blog. "The policy discussion [in Washington] is about changing Iranian behavior, not about fine-tuning Israeli actions that will change Iranian behavior. The focus is on Tehran. Now does this have an effect on Israel: sure. But I think the principal goal (if [Biden's statement] was intentional) is to diminish the comfort level that people in the Iranian leadership may have that their actions don't have consequences."
"When the Iranians are confident the U.S. is going to sit on the Israelis, that creates one set of plans," Alterman told The Cable. "And when they can't be sure of that," that creates another.
Some Israeli officials have no problem being seen as a proverbial "mad dog on a leash" that has to be held back by the US.
Over the weekend, the Israeli media carried reports of an Israeli submarine sailing through the Suez Canal after taking part in a military drill in the Red Sea. The submarine, believed to carry nuclear weapons, and the drill were interpreted as another warning to Iran.
On the same day that Biden spoke, The Sunday Times carried a widely-discredited story suggesting that Saudi Arabia would "turn a blind eye" and allow Israel to fly through its air space to attack Iran.
Even if the story is inaccurate, it fueled speculation about Israel's actions and almost-certainly fed suspicions in Iran over Saudi Arabia's intentions.
But it also seems unlikely that Biden was sending a message to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel would be on its own if he decided to attack Iran.
The Obama administration might criticize such an attack, but the US wouldn't stand on the sidelines if Iran launched a counter-strike.