Obama and Netanyahu | Charles Duelfer

Obama and Netanyahu

In the speech President Obama gave to AIPAC on 4 March, he made a few obvious points. First and foremost, he seemed to be rather defensively arguing that no President was more supportive of Israel than he. Clearly one major (perhaps the major) audience was a powerful domestic constituency–and it is a political year. The President clearly stated that he would not accept for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. He would not rely on a policy of containment or deterrence. Of course, he also emphasized that diplomacy must be given a chance to have an effect on Tehran, but if Tehran did not make the right decision he said could be forced to use force.

However, he also said that Israel could and would make its own decisions about their security. And, he said that “… there should not be a shred of doubt by now – when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” These two combined points are important. Ehud Barak has indicated that there are three concerns for Israel in considering a military option against Iran:
1. Can the military option have a material affect?
2. Will there be support (i.e. from the US)?
3. Can Israel accept the response?

The Obama statement would seem to strongly fulfill the last two points. Thus, in essence, Israel would appear to have a green light from the US, coupled with the strong advice to wait until sanctions play out further. I would note that Israel asked the White House in 2007 if the US would deal with the Syrian nuclear site at al Kibar. According to Dick Cheney in his book, “In My Time,” the president said no (rejecting VP Cheney’s recommendation on the matter) and Israel acted on its own–with good results it would appear and little negative fallout.

It is impossible to know what Tehran will think of the President’s speech. It is impossible to know how or what will affect Tehran’s decision making on this issue. We have almost no clue, but are taking actions making some assumptions about what will shape their decisions.

We can safely assume Iran has its own domestic constituencies to worry about, but we are massively ignorant about what’s going on there. (And vice versa, I would reiterate.) Iran just had parlimentary elections. Will toughness toward the US play well in Tehran? Can Tehran really accept the Israeli conditions that they stop all enrichment and disassemble their entire program so it is not just “suspended or mothballed”? From their perspective, maybe it would be better to have Israel hit the nuclear sites rather than destroy them voluntarily.
If Israel struck, Tehran would likely enjoy substantial international support the day after…probably more than they could obtain any other way with the possible exception of complete capitulation to the UN. And prospects for liftng the sanctions would be high, particularly with support from some key countries like Russia and China. Would Tehran then risk losing that support by lashing out in various ways that might in fact be self destructive? Why close the straits of Hormuz if you need to sell oil?

And there is pride and the feeling of unequal treatment. Tehran will likely note that Obama’s strong reference to the threat to the NPT was a bit ironic. Obama stated, “A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we have done so much to build.” Well the man that President Obama announced earlier in the speech would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Shimon Peres, was a strong player (according to most accounts) in the development of Israeli nuclear program in the 1960’s when President Johnson was struggling to get agreement on the NPT. Israel was a particular problem at that time. And of course today is not an NPT member. Tehran would certainly point to the fact that there are a lot more IAEA inspectors in Iran than Israel.

I am not equating Iran and Israel, just pointing to some points that could effect Tehran’s thinking about cooperating with the UN resolutions. It is only one line of speculation, but the pressures on Tehran would seem unlikely to cause the result desired. Indeed, it is not obvious why Iran would prefer to destroy its nuclear program itself rather than have Israel do it.

But to overall point is, we are making big decisions based on big ignorance. And so are the Iranians.

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2 Responses to Obama and Netanyahu

  1. Olivia Myers says:

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  2. Alaina says:

    I’m not fooladish enough to bleveie that miladiadtant Islam is someadhow paciadfist, or even that Islam is inheradently peaceadful or freedom-loving. Without devolvading into a Dawkins-esque, equal-opportunity-offensive rant, I’ll leave the disadcusadsion of faith ata0that.I am also not fooladish enough to susadpect that the muladlahs who are adroit enough to have kept a tight lid on their sociadety for 28a0years are crazy enough to attack a nuclear-armed nation with a well-documented (and well-deserved) paraadnoia streak. The U.S. — crazy as it seems to be to me — is not crazy enough to attack a nuclear-armed North Korea, nor is India crazy enough to attack Pakistan (or visa-versa). Which brings me to a secadond point: Have you conadsidadered why we have not taken a side in the Pakistan-India tiff, when both of those counadtries are nuclear armed, run by miladliadtant nationadaladists, and have a near-constant boradder disadpute? The U.S. has peradsued a poladicy of bribading both sides, which has the side-effect of givading the U.S. a larger voice in their affairs — a voice used to keep a lid on Kashmir.Bush’s recent policy-shift in favor of “Nukular India” is widely (and coradrectly, I should add) seen as an unmitadiadgated disadasadter. It was designed to be a preadvenadtaadtive step against the radadiadcal Muslims in the Pakistani inteladliadgence seradvices — backading the other horse before a race has even been schedaduled. It’s predadiadcated (as is your view of Iran, I should add), on the notion that the radadiadcals will evenadtuadally sieze conadtrol and so it makes more sense to simadply abanaddon attempts to stop them in favor of planadning for a “favoradable” nuclear exchange. Of course, by betrayading Musharraf, it weakadens his conadtrol over his govadernadment, which makes a Muslim takeover that much easier.So far as the Holocaust, I’m obviadously not in favor of a secadond Jewish Holocaust; I’m simadply equally opposed to an Iranian Holocaust. And it is very, very well-understood that any attack by Iran on Israel would be met with nuclear aniadhiadlaadtion. The “muladlahs” may hate Israel. They may be anti-semites. But like most reliadgious leadaders, they love being in charge even more. Bloodying their noses will not calm them down and make them see reaadson, nor does the path you sugadgest have any alteradnaadtive but an evenadtual genocide.

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