By Gwynne Dyer
March 08, 2012 “SLT” — LONDON — The last time President Barack Obama met Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, it was obvious that the two men distrusted and despised each other. On Monday, their mutual dislike was better hidden, but the gulf between them remained, especially on Iran’s alleged desire for nuclear weapons.
What divides Obama and Netanyahu is a question of timing. Obama’s “red line” is the point at which Iran “possesses” a nuclear weapon, which would not arrive for a couple of years even if Iran actually intends to make one. (American and Israeli intelligence services concur that it is not working on one now.)
Netanyahu’s “red line” comes much sooner: whenever Iran has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb, whether it does so or not. It is, of course, quite legal for Iran to enrich uranium (which it says is solely for use in civilian nuclear reactors), while an unprovoked attack on Iran would be a crime under international law. But that didn’t stop former president George W. Bush from invading Iraq, and it wouldn’t stop Obama.
What worries Obama are three other things. First, the American public simply isn’t up for a third “war of choice” in 10 years in the Middle East. As retired general Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, warned three years ago: “If you liked Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.”
Secondly, this is presidential election year in the United States. If Israel attacks Iran, the oil price will soar and kill the economic recovery Obama is depending on for re-election. However, if the U.S. fails to back Israel, American Jews will turn against him and kill his re-election chances anyway.
Thirdly, the attack would not destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment plants. Israel has been threatening to attack them for years, so the Iranians have buried them deep underground. Israeli and American hawks claim that an attack could delay Iran’s capability to enrich large quantities of uranium for three years, but Meir Dagan, former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, thinks three months is optimistic.
Even if it were three years, Iran would be back to where it is now by 2015 — and an Iran that had been attacked by Israel and the United States would be determined to get nuclear weapons as fast as possible. As Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently, Israeli attacks on Iran “would be destabilizing and would not achieve their long-term objectives.”
If Netanyahu and his fellow hawks truly believed that Iranian nuclear weapons would mean the extinction of the Jewish state, then their wish to attack Iran would be defensible, but they don’t. That’s just for public consumption. What’s actually at stake here is not the survival of Israel, just the preservation of the huge strategic advantage Israel enjoys as the sole nuclear weapons state in the Middle East.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, let the cat out of the bag in a recent interview. “From our point of view, a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, (and a) nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations.”
But there is also a deeper motive. Netanyahu and his allies really think that an attack on Iran would bring the Islamic regime down. As Barak told the interviewer: “An Iranian bomb would ensure the survival of the current regime, which otherwise would not make it to its 40th anniversary in light of the admiration that the young generation in Iran has displayed for the West. With a bomb, it would be very hard to budge the administration.”
- Playing for time. War with Iran is not inevitable, says Netanyahu Israeli PM warns Iran has ‘bamboozled the west’ and that only military threat will deter Tehran from developing nuclear weapon (ikners.com)
- Israel cautiously welcomes big-power talks with Iran (ikners.com)
- Israel asks US for arms that could aid Iran strike – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Israel asks U.S. for ‘bunker-buster’ bombs that could improve Iran strike(news.nationalpost.com)
- | Say No to AIPAC, No to Israel, and No to War! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- War with Iran is not inevitable, says Netanyahu (guardian.co.uk)
- US to Israel Don’t attack Iran, we’ll give you latest weapon (disclose.tv)
- Israeli premier will not allow a nuclear Iran (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- For America, it’s all about timing. Can Israel afford it? (thejc.com)
- The case for war with Iran is unreasonable (examiner.com)