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Lieberman’s Bluff

What Israel’s foreign minister is trying to do is quite interesting. Not that I expect him to succeed, but he deserves credit for the creativity of this stylish attempt.

Avigdor Lieberman, while visiting Moscow, spoke about the danger of Iran’s military nuclear program. But while most news sources naturally focused on the headline — Israel will not bomb Iran — the more interesting part of what Lieberman said is the explanation:

“We do not intend to bomb Iran, and nobody will solve their problems with our hands,” he told reporters. “We don’t need that. Israel is a strong country, we can protect ourselves.”

“But the world should understand that Iran’s entrance into the nuclear club would prompt a whole arms race, a crazy race of unconventional weaponry across the Mideast that is a threat to the entire world order, a challenge to the whole international community,” he said. “So we do not want a global problem to be solved with our hands.”

What the foreign minister is trying to do here is cunning and counterintuitive. Lieberman is saying Israel won’t be doing the world’s dirty work. Iran is everyone’s problem as much as it is Israel’s. Moreover, he makes it sound as if it’s not Israel sitting and waiting for the world to take action, but rather the world waiting for Israel to find a solution to this nagging problem.

By doing this, Lieberman not only pulls the rug out from under Israel’s enemies, but also confuses its friends for a calculated effect. His promise neutralizes the argument of all those screaming that the U.S. (not to mention other countries) should not go to war with Iran “over Israel.” But it also defuses the argument that bombing Iran — or using coercive measures against it — is crucially necessary for those wanting to save Israel.

Is it a sign of strength? Of weakness?

I think it’s a sign of despair. Maybe we are witnessing Israel’s last attempt to convince the world that it has a real problem to deal with. A problem that will not go away even if Israel doesn’t wave the red flag of warnings. A problem that will not go away even if Israel weren’t there at all.



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