WASHINGTON — With Israel openly debating whether to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months, the Obama administration is moving ahead with a range of steps short of war that it hopes will forestall an Israeli attack while forcing the Iranians to take negotiations more seriously.
Already planned are naval exercises and new antimissile systems in the Persian Gulf, and a more forceful clamping down on Iranian oil revenue. Later this month the United States and more than 25 other nations will hold the largest-ever minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf, in what military officials say is a defensive step to prevent Iran from attempting to block oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz.
The administration is also racing to complete, in the next several months, a new radar system in Qatar that would combine with radars already in place in Israel and Turkey to form a broad arc of antimissile coverage, according to military officials.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to criticize Obama for being too vague about how far Iran can go. ‘‘The international community is not placing a clear red line for Iran, and Iran does not see international resolve to stop its nuclear program,’’ he told his Cabinet, according to Reuters.
None of the steps being taken by the administration addresses the most immediate goal of the United States and its allies: slowing Iran’s nuclear development.
So inside the US and Israeli intelligence agencies, there is continuing debate about possible successors to ‘‘Olympic Games,’’ the covert cyberoperation that infected Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and, for a while, sent them spinning out of control.
All of these options are designed to buy time — to offer Israeli officials a credible alternative to a military strike that would almost certainly trigger an Iranian reaction and, the White House and Pentagon fear, could unleash a new conflict in the Middle East.
Other plans considered in the past, and now reportedly back under consideration, focus on other targets in the nuclear process, from making raw fuel to facilities involved in missile work.
One other proposal circulating in Washington, advocated by some former senior national security officials, is a ‘‘clandestine’’ military strike, akin to the one Israel launched against Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.