During his first four months in office, President Barack Obama has demonstrated remarkably little leadership on Iran. This has significantly undermined our position in the Middle East, where states have lost confidence in the Obama administration and – as a consequence – are formulating new, unilateral strategies in anticipation of continued Iranian uranium enrichment.
In this vein, Israel has issued the latest signal that it is serious about executing a preemptive strike on Iran – with or without U.S. support. Yesterday, it launched the biggest civilian defense drill in its history, with police, local authorities, emergency services, and civilians engaging in a series of exercises to plan for a variety of attack scenarios – including non-conventional missile strikes. The signal that Israel is trying to send to Iran – and the U.S. – is very obvious: “We are prepared for any counterstrike that might follow our own attack on Iranian nuclear sites, and therefore possess ample freedom of action for hitting Iran if we deem it necessary.” Remember: the current Israeli government already has significant public support for attacking Iran – public support that remains quite strong even if the Obama administration maintains its opposition to such an attack.
Egypt is also planning for the likelihood that the administration won’t inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In a statement released on Sunday, a spokesperson for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that, “With regard to attempts to say Iran is a common danger, President Mubarak’s and Egypt’s priority is on the Palestinian issue.” Egypt’s strategic thinking is clear: if Iran is to become a nuclear state, its best option is to ensure that Israel is significantly weakened via the peace process, and thereby prevented from engaging Iran in armed (and perhaps nuclear) conflict. Or, to put it another way, Egypt is shrewdly calculating that its interests are better protected with one regional power than with two – and it has noticed that the Obama administration is more eager to take a hard line with Israel than with Iran, despite Cairo’s own distaste for the latter.
Of course, if the Obama administration actually believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more destabilizing than a nuclear Iran, it will embrace Cairo’s sudden priority on the peace process. However, it will then have to contend with the increasing possibility that a well-prepared and determined Israel will take matters vis-à-vis Tehran into its own hands. For this reason, the Obama administration’s lack of resolve on Iran is paving the road towards utter disaster.