Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel-Iran conflict

Obama Needs Israel to Rattle Its Saber

The Obama administration may be acting as if its rift with Russia won’t affect the attempt to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. It can hope against hope that Russia will forget its quarrel with the Americans and maintain solidarity with the U.S. and the European Union in the Iran talks and continue as if nothing has changed. But there’s little doubt that the open hostility between Washington and Moscow has reduced the already slim chances for a satisfactory P5+1 agreement with Iran. Since the diplomatic option that the president has defended so vigorously in recent months depends entirely on Russian cooperation including the enforcement of sanctions that Putin never really supported, the aftermath of the Crimea conflict has left the administration with little diplomatic leverage.

If so, where does that leave Israel?

The obvious answer to that question is that it is left in a highly precarious situation. Even if one discounts the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to make good on its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability would transform the strategic balance in the region in a manner that would drastically affect Israel’s security. That means Israel must either learn to live with a nuclear Iran or ponder the possibility of striking the Islamist regime on its own. While it’s not clear whether Iran or anyone else takes this seriously, Jerusalem is nonetheless acting as if they should. So should President Obama.

Read More

The Obama administration may be acting as if its rift with Russia won’t affect the attempt to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. It can hope against hope that Russia will forget its quarrel with the Americans and maintain solidarity with the U.S. and the European Union in the Iran talks and continue as if nothing has changed. But there’s little doubt that the open hostility between Washington and Moscow has reduced the already slim chances for a satisfactory P5+1 agreement with Iran. Since the diplomatic option that the president has defended so vigorously in recent months depends entirely on Russian cooperation including the enforcement of sanctions that Putin never really supported, the aftermath of the Crimea conflict has left the administration with little diplomatic leverage.

If so, where does that leave Israel?

The obvious answer to that question is that it is left in a highly precarious situation. Even if one discounts the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to make good on its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability would transform the strategic balance in the region in a manner that would drastically affect Israel’s security. That means Israel must either learn to live with a nuclear Iran or ponder the possibility of striking the Islamist regime on its own. While it’s not clear whether Iran or anyone else takes this seriously, Jerusalem is nonetheless acting as if they should. So should President Obama.

As Haaretz reported today,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers.

Three Knesset members who were present at Knesset joint committee hearings on Israel Defense Forces plans that were held in January and February say they learned during the hearings that 10 billion shekels to 12 billion shekels of the defense budget would be allocated this year for preparations for a strike on Iran, approximately the same amount that was allocated in 2013.

The leaking of this information this week makes it clear that Netanyahu would like both the Iranians and his American ally to think that he is still actively considering a unilateral strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities. The same interpretation might be put on statements from Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who boasted yesterday that the IDF has the ability to carry out military operations anywhere on the globe, including Iran.

Opposition to a solo Israeli attack on Iran has been stiff within the country’s military and security establishment. This reluctance has been rooted not so much in a belief that Israel was incapable of dealing Iran a devastating blow but that the blowback from such an operation might be almost as bad as the scenario that it would be intended to avert. Even assuming Israeli forces could make enough sorties into Iranian airspace to knock out Tehran’s nuclear facilities without unacceptable losses, it might set off a regional conflict. Iran’s Hezbollah allies on Israel’s northern border and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the south in Gaza might launch their own strikes at Israeli cities and embroil the country in a costly three-front war.

Just as important, many Israeli security officials have always felt that dealing with Iran was primarily America’s responsibility. If push came to shove, the far more numerous American air and naval forces in the region would also be in a much better position to do the job. Moreover, they also know that if it did act on its own, Israel risks deepening its diplomatic isolation and creating more problems with the Obama administration.

But if, thanks to Russia, America’s diplomatic option to stop Iran is no longer viable and few take seriously the notion that President Obama would use force against Tehran under any circumstances, that would put Netanyahu in a position where he might think the IDF was the last and perhaps only hope of preventing an Iranian bomb.

While Netanyahu has said he won’t be deterred from acting by American diplomacy, anyone who thinks he will order an attack on Iran while the P5+1 talks are ongoing is not thinking clearly. An Israeli attack under those circumstances would create a quarrel with Washington that the prime minister rightly wishes to avoid at all costs. Force only becomes a possibility once those talks are seen to have failed and even then both Obama and the Iranians may think the Israelis wouldn’t dare act on their own. Only time will tell if they are right.

Nevertheless, Obama should be encouraging Netanyahu to rattle his saber as loudly and as much as possible. With Russia determined to thwart any U.S. foreign-policy initiative, the only possible hope for a P5+1 deal is for Iran to believe that the alternative is an Israeli attack that, however costly, would inflict a decisive blow to their nuclear ambitions.

Read Less

Stopping Iran is America’s Responsibility

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Israel this week, and the man who was opposed by many friends of the Jewish state when he was nominated seems determined to make a good impression. Hagel came bearing “gifts” in that he brought the official permissions for $10 billion in arms sales to Israel including vital anti-radar missiles, aircraft for mid-air refueling as well as other planes that can rapidly transport troops and firepower. Just as important, he said all the right things in public including the reaffirmation of Israel’s right to decide how to defend itself, and he seemed on his best behavior as he met with his counterpart Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of defense.

No one should doubt these arms sales greatly strengthen Israel’s defenses as well as its ability to project air power if it should prove necessary. President Obama has made good on his promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and it is incumbent on those of us who have criticized him for his predilection for picking pointless fights with the Jewish state over the peace process throughout his first term to acknowledge that. Nor can one point to the other pieces of the arms package that included sales of missiles to Saudi Arabia and F-16 jets to the United Arab Emirates as proof of bad will since it is obvious those weapons are intended to strengthen the ability of those monarchies to defend themselves against Iran, not to attack Israel.

But, as an article in today’s New York Times made clear, there are still grounds for concern about the U.S.-Israel relationship. Although the administration is helping maintain Israel’s defense deterrent, they did not grant everything on Jerusalem’s wish list. The most prominent item missing from the weapons that are to be delivered is a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a giant bunker-busting bomb that is exactly what is needed to take out Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Fordow. That and the “fundamental difference of views” between the two countries about the level of risk that Iran’s program poses are complicating the Hagel visit.

Read More

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Israel this week, and the man who was opposed by many friends of the Jewish state when he was nominated seems determined to make a good impression. Hagel came bearing “gifts” in that he brought the official permissions for $10 billion in arms sales to Israel including vital anti-radar missiles, aircraft for mid-air refueling as well as other planes that can rapidly transport troops and firepower. Just as important, he said all the right things in public including the reaffirmation of Israel’s right to decide how to defend itself, and he seemed on his best behavior as he met with his counterpart Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of defense.

No one should doubt these arms sales greatly strengthen Israel’s defenses as well as its ability to project air power if it should prove necessary. President Obama has made good on his promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and it is incumbent on those of us who have criticized him for his predilection for picking pointless fights with the Jewish state over the peace process throughout his first term to acknowledge that. Nor can one point to the other pieces of the arms package that included sales of missiles to Saudi Arabia and F-16 jets to the United Arab Emirates as proof of bad will since it is obvious those weapons are intended to strengthen the ability of those monarchies to defend themselves against Iran, not to attack Israel.

But, as an article in today’s New York Times made clear, there are still grounds for concern about the U.S.-Israel relationship. Although the administration is helping maintain Israel’s defense deterrent, they did not grant everything on Jerusalem’s wish list. The most prominent item missing from the weapons that are to be delivered is a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a giant bunker-busting bomb that is exactly what is needed to take out Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Fordow. That and the “fundamental difference of views” between the two countries about the level of risk that Iran’s program poses are complicating the Hagel visit.

The nature of the weapons the U.S. is selling the Israelis might lead one to think that what Hagel is bringing to the Jewish state is some kind of conditional green light to take out Iran’s nuclear plants. But the absence of the big bunker buster makes it unlikely that what is happening is the U.S. granting permission to the Israelis to act on their own.

On the contrary, the arms sales seem to be an attempt to placate the Israelis while making any attack on Iran highly unlikely. While Israel could certainly gravely damage Iran’s nuclear program without the ability to penetrate the 200 feet of mountain rock at Fordow, the Islamist regime’s all-important stockpile of enriched uranium will be safe. If the centrifuges spinning away at Fordow are spared, an Iran strike can’t be said to have achieved success.

What the Americans seem to be telling Israel is that the reported diversion of some of Iran’s uranium to a research reactor rather than to the store of fuel that would create a bomb gives the West more time to achieve a diplomatic solution. But with former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin saying Iran will probably cross a “red line” in terms of its nuclear stockpile this summer, time is running short for a non-military solution. And with the Iranians continuing to use the P5+1 nuclear talks with the West to keep stalling, there seems little doubt that a decision will have to be made sometime in the next year about ending this threat.

While part of the U.S. message to Israel is just about giving the diplomats more time, the other aspect of the administration’s stance might be more troubling. If they are saying that action must wait until the Iranians weaponize, rather than when their nuclear stockpile reaches the level when a bomb becomes possible, they are asking the Israelis to live with a nuclear-capable Iran. That’s not quite the same as the containment policy Hagel endorsed before joining the administration and which Obama has disavowed, but it is close enough to scare both the Israelis and the rest of a region that rightly fears a radical Islamist bomb.

But by refusing to transfer the big bunker buster the U.S. is saying that it is reserving for itself the option to use force against Iran. That makes sense, since America’s capability to project the airpower against Iran needed for such a strike far exceeds that of Israel. After all, the bunker buster needed to take out Fordow is too big to be used by any of the planes in Israel’s possession.

Iran is a threat to more than Israel, and it is entirely right that the responsibility for stopping them belongs to the U.S. and not the Jewish state. But its still not clear if the U.S. is prepared to use force.

The Iranians again made a mockery of the diplomatic process last month in Kazakhstan. While the talks continue Tehran’s hoard of enriched uranium continues to grow and will almost certainly cross the red line Netanyahu drew at the United Nations last year before the end of 2013. But so long as the U.S. is still acting as if it is more concerned about stopping Israel from attacking Iran than in the nuclear threat itself, the ayatollahs are bound to take that as a sign they have nothing to worry about.

Read Less

Iran Genocide Threat Shows Danger Is Downplayed, Not Overhyped

President Obama reaffirmed his pledge never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon today in Israel while also urging his listeners to give diplomacy more time to succeed. But the one person in the world whom the president needs to persuade to listen to reason on the issue apparently has other ideas.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in a message aired on Iranian TV that if the West attacked Iran, it would violently retaliate against Israel:

“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.

Iran’s threats can be dismissed as mere boasting intended for a domestic audience. The Iranians aren’t believed to have the capability of attacking Israel in this manner, let alone leveling cities. But the willingness of the ayatollah to speak openly about an act that could only be described as genocide only makes the argument for the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities all the more defensible, if not necessary.

Read More

President Obama reaffirmed his pledge never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon today in Israel while also urging his listeners to give diplomacy more time to succeed. But the one person in the world whom the president needs to persuade to listen to reason on the issue apparently has other ideas.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in a message aired on Iranian TV that if the West attacked Iran, it would violently retaliate against Israel:

“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.

Iran’s threats can be dismissed as mere boasting intended for a domestic audience. The Iranians aren’t believed to have the capability of attacking Israel in this manner, let alone leveling cities. But the willingness of the ayatollah to speak openly about an act that could only be described as genocide only makes the argument for the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities all the more defensible, if not necessary.

The statement is clearly intended as a riposte to Obama, who said both yesterday and today that the U.S. would do whatever was necessary to stop Iran, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who said yesterday that Israel reserved the right to “defend itself, by itself.” Khamenei is prepared to continue to negotiate with the West on the nuclear question. But he is counting on the president and his negotiating partners in the P5+1 group backing down about Iran’s continuing nuclear development, which makes the prospect of a diplomatic solution seem highly unlikely.

The concessions made by Western negotiators in the last round of talks with Iran about allowing Tehran to keep its nuclear toys and to drop sanctions appears to be encouraging the Islamist regime to dig in its heels even further, certain in the knowledge that President Obama is all talk and no action. After more than four years of feckless attempts at engagement and dead-end diplomacy, convincing the Iranians this is mistake is a formidable task. But if the president means what he says, the escalating threats from Iran make it easier for Americans to understand what the stakes are in this conflict.

Khamenei’s talk of destroying cities makes the notion of containing a nuclear Iran—a policy that President Obama has explicitly rejected but which continues to draw support from foreign policy “realists” who support him—indefensible. For all of the common ground on the issue between Israel and the United States that has been on display this week, the question of how long the West has until it will be too late to take military action to forestall the threat is one that remains unresolved. If, as the president said last week, Iran had a year or more before a weapon could be produced, his caveat that he didn’t want to “cut it too close” with that margin should be taken to heart.

For years, apologists of Iran and critics of Israel have portrayed this issue as one that Jerusalem has blown out of proportion. But the blithe threat of annihilation of cities by the fanatic religious leader of a country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons illustrates the reality that, if anything, advocates of action on Iran have soft-pedaled rather than over-hyped the danger.

Read Less

Is it Already Too Late to Stop Iran?

A report published today in Britain’s Sunday Times says that the ability of Iran to move much of its nuclear program into hardened mountainside bunkers has already rendered it invulnerable to conventional air attack. This account relies on western intelligence and defense sources that may be intent on deterring an Israeli attempt to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But given the obvious difficulties involved in any such attack, especially with the more slender military resources available to Israel than the United States, it could be correct. According to the story, that leaves Israel with only two options: use its own nukes to destroy the site or deploy ground troops to Iran. Needless to say, neither is a realistic option for Israel.

While skepticism about any such story is in order, it does raise a couple of important questions. One is whether the reason for these Western intelligence leaks is behind an effort not so much to stop an Israeli strike as to prevent action by the West should President Obama need to use force to make good on his promise not to allow an Iranian nuke on his watch. It also places speculation about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged order in 2010 to raise its alert level in preparation for a possible attack on Iran is a slightly different context. While that action has been depicted as reckless by some and even interpreted as a cynical attempt to provoke an Iranian attack on Israel or the West, if it is now too late to stop Iran perhaps Netanyahu’s concern was well placed. Just as important, it could be that the complacence exhibited by those in the security establishment in Israel that opposed any thought of action was far from wise. The same could be said about the conviction that still prevails in Washington that takes it as a given that there is still plenty of time to wait until decisions have to be made about the threat.

Read More

A report published today in Britain’s Sunday Times says that the ability of Iran to move much of its nuclear program into hardened mountainside bunkers has already rendered it invulnerable to conventional air attack. This account relies on western intelligence and defense sources that may be intent on deterring an Israeli attempt to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But given the obvious difficulties involved in any such attack, especially with the more slender military resources available to Israel than the United States, it could be correct. According to the story, that leaves Israel with only two options: use its own nukes to destroy the site or deploy ground troops to Iran. Needless to say, neither is a realistic option for Israel.

While skepticism about any such story is in order, it does raise a couple of important questions. One is whether the reason for these Western intelligence leaks is behind an effort not so much to stop an Israeli strike as to prevent action by the West should President Obama need to use force to make good on his promise not to allow an Iranian nuke on his watch. It also places speculation about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s alleged order in 2010 to raise its alert level in preparation for a possible attack on Iran is a slightly different context. While that action has been depicted as reckless by some and even interpreted as a cynical attempt to provoke an Iranian attack on Israel or the West, if it is now too late to stop Iran perhaps Netanyahu’s concern was well placed. Just as important, it could be that the complacence exhibited by those in the security establishment in Israel that opposed any thought of action was far from wise. The same could be said about the conviction that still prevails in Washington that takes it as a given that there is still plenty of time to wait until decisions have to be made about the threat.

The American defense establishment has been eager to spread the idea that a strike on Iran is a bad idea because it would only delay rather than completely end the Iranian nuclear program. That is a foolish argument, since even a few years’ delay could buy Israel and the West the time it needs to pursue other options. It also fails to take into account the fact that an Iran that is devastated by effective economic sanctions that amount to a complete embargo (as opposed to the loosely enforced sanctions that are currently failing to persuade Tehran that it is in its interests to give up its nuclear ambitions) would probably not be able to afford to reconstruct its nuclear facilities.

Yet if it is now too late for Israel to stop Iran from the air, it is also entirely possible that the same will eventually be true for the United States, which is no more willing to launch a ground operation in Iran than is Israel (the nuclear option mentioned by the Sunday Times is one that neither country could choose so it is not even worth discussing). That means even in the unlikely event that the Obama administration or its European partners were ever to declare that diplomacy with Iran had definitively failed, there may be no path available to make good on President Obama’s promise to stop Iran from going nuclear on his watch.

Even if it really is too late for Israel to strike, given the strength of American air and naval aviation resources available to use against Iran in the region that may not be true of a U.S.-led effort. But the troubling aspect of these leaks is the impression it gives of a Western military and security establishment that is determined at all costs to influence its own political leadership to back away from confrontation with Iran.

President Obama has specifically and repeatedly disavowed any intention of being willing to “contain” a nuclear Iran. He also pledged in the last of the presidential debates that any possible compromise with Tehran must involve that country giving up its “nuclear program” and not just agreeing to a compromise about the storage of enriched uranium that might enable them to evade the restrictions and, like North Korea, obtain a weapon. But unless he sets some red lines about diplomacy, there is no chance to convince the Iranians that he is serious or that there will be any consequences for them in continuing to prevaricate with the West.

Many in Washington and the capitals of Europe seem to agree with French President Hollande, who is reported to have described Netanyahu as “obsessed with Iran.” That’s an odd way to describe the leader of a country whose existence is threatened by the possibility of an Islamist dictatorship getting the ability to make good on their threats. But given the Iranian success in making fools of Western diplomats and the eagerness with which the Western defense establishment seeks to downplay the chances of doing something about the problem, it’s hard to blame Netanyahu for being obsessed.

Read Less

Iran Sends a Message. Is Obama Listening?

Many in the West interpreted the unrest in the streets of Tehran last week in the wake of the collapse the rial as a sign that the Islamist regime was shaken by the sanctions that have been imposed on its economy. The assumption is that the ayatollahs are chastened by the hardships that their people labor under and that it won’t be too long before they are ready to return to the negotiating table and make the concessions needed to craft a deal that will end the standoff over their drive for nuclear capability. But the Iranians and their terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon (some of who are currently deployed in Syria defending their ally Bashar Assad) have other ideas about the outcome of this confrontation.

Iran’s leadership cannot be completely sanguine about the willingness of their people to go on putting up with Islamist extremism at home and endless conflict abroad. But they also have no intention of being influenced by domestic public opinion or intimidated by Western leaders who are still foolish enough to believe that diplomacy can solve the problem. To the contrary, they believe that it is Israel and the West that can be intimidated and it is in that context that we should interpret the puzzling appearance of the Hezbollah drone aircraft that was shot down over the Negev desert this weekend. Instead of the Iranians receiving the memo the West wants them to read about the futility of further resistance to demands to end the enrichment of uranium that will make a nuclear bomb possible, they have just sent their own message. The drone is more than an indication that Iran will seek to retaliate against any strike on their nuclear facilities with one on Israel. It’s also a sign that the terrorists in Lebanon can strike anywhere in Europe as well as the Middle East. Rather than this drone being a reason for Israel and the West to stand down from a policy of pressing Iran to give up their nuclear dream, it is a warning that ought to reinforce the imperative need to stop them.

Read More

Many in the West interpreted the unrest in the streets of Tehran last week in the wake of the collapse the rial as a sign that the Islamist regime was shaken by the sanctions that have been imposed on its economy. The assumption is that the ayatollahs are chastened by the hardships that their people labor under and that it won’t be too long before they are ready to return to the negotiating table and make the concessions needed to craft a deal that will end the standoff over their drive for nuclear capability. But the Iranians and their terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon (some of who are currently deployed in Syria defending their ally Bashar Assad) have other ideas about the outcome of this confrontation.

Iran’s leadership cannot be completely sanguine about the willingness of their people to go on putting up with Islamist extremism at home and endless conflict abroad. But they also have no intention of being influenced by domestic public opinion or intimidated by Western leaders who are still foolish enough to believe that diplomacy can solve the problem. To the contrary, they believe that it is Israel and the West that can be intimidated and it is in that context that we should interpret the puzzling appearance of the Hezbollah drone aircraft that was shot down over the Negev desert this weekend. Instead of the Iranians receiving the memo the West wants them to read about the futility of further resistance to demands to end the enrichment of uranium that will make a nuclear bomb possible, they have just sent their own message. The drone is more than an indication that Iran will seek to retaliate against any strike on their nuclear facilities with one on Israel. It’s also a sign that the terrorists in Lebanon can strike anywhere in Europe as well as the Middle East. Rather than this drone being a reason for Israel and the West to stand down from a policy of pressing Iran to give up their nuclear dream, it is a warning that ought to reinforce the imperative need to stop them.

As Haaretz reports, the drone is not the first Hezbollah attempt to penetrate Israeli airspace in this manner. Nor is it the only provocation they have delivered in recent months:

Israel .. believes Hezbollah, with Iranian backing, is behind a string of attempted attacks on Israeli diplomatic targets in India, Thailand and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, plus a deadly bombing earlier this year that killed five Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort. Last week, Israel announced the arrest of an Arab citizen it accused of spying for Hezbollah, the latest in a string of such cases.

Many speculated that the aircraft was trying to gather intelligence on Israel’s secretive nuclear reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona.

Iran’s terrorist network is part of the regime’s security blanket which it thinks guarantees that it can never be forced to do give up its nuclear dream. Far from being on their last legs or being weakened, Tehran thinks it can intimidate the Europeans and Americans into thinking the attempt to muscle them on the nuclear question is hopeless. They long ago concluded that President Obama doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to them and think all they need to do to win is to hold on while sending messages about their willingness to start a fire no one in the West is interested in putting out.

Instead of seeing Hezbollah’s drone as an indication of the folly of threatening the use of force, this should be a warning of the necessity of setting red lines that will make it clear that diplomacy will go out the window unless they stop enriching uranium. Without them, Tehran will continue to believe they need not fear American resolve on the issue and that they can, in turn, act with impunity. If President Obama is serious about his promise to stop the Iranians he will understand that a passive reaction to this provocation will produce the opposite of what he wants: an emboldened Iranian government that will see no point in bowing to the West on the nuclear issue.

Read Less

Will the World Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today centered on trying to convince the world that a red line needs to be drawn to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. To do that he literally drew a red line on a cartoon picture of a bomb. To the chattering classes following the speech on Twitter, this was a joke. But the reaction to the simplistic bomb diagram illustrated Netanyahu’s problem perfectly. Iran is getting closer every day to achieving its nuclear ambition. In response, world leaders, like President Obama, talk about the need to stop Tehran and even pledge not to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran. But unless they make it as clear as that red marker line on the diagram, they will fail.

That is the key issue. Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his promises on Iran, but pointed out that without a red line that will make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to accumulate enough uranium to build a bomb, such pledges are meaningless. The Israeli’s frustration stems from the fact that an international consensus about an Iranian bomb being a bad thing won’t stop it from happening. The complacent attitude that always thinks failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can be given more time is a guarantee of such failure.

Read More

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today centered on trying to convince the world that a red line needs to be drawn to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. To do that he literally drew a red line on a cartoon picture of a bomb. To the chattering classes following the speech on Twitter, this was a joke. But the reaction to the simplistic bomb diagram illustrated Netanyahu’s problem perfectly. Iran is getting closer every day to achieving its nuclear ambition. In response, world leaders, like President Obama, talk about the need to stop Tehran and even pledge not to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran. But unless they make it as clear as that red marker line on the diagram, they will fail.

That is the key issue. Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his promises on Iran, but pointed out that without a red line that will make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to accumulate enough uranium to build a bomb, such pledges are meaningless. The Israeli’s frustration stems from the fact that an international consensus about an Iranian bomb being a bad thing won’t stop it from happening. The complacent attitude that always thinks failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can be given more time is a guarantee of such failure.

Critics will claim that Netanyahu’s description of Iran’s enrichment process doesn’t tell the whole truth because they believe that the uranium accumulated so far isn’t of weapons grade material. But, as the UN’s own investigative body, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the progress made in the last year makes the advances Netanyahu discussed quite realistic.

The wiseacres can laugh all they like about Netanyahu’s cartoon. But the facts that it represents cannot be dismissed with witticisms. Talk about Iran not backed up with clear warnings is exactly what the ayatollahs are counting on.

Read Less

Ahmadinejad’s Circus Act Is No Joke

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual United Nations freak show has commenced, and the press is eating it up. The Iranian leader held forth for a group of journalists this morning and didn’t disappoint. He claimed Jews have no historical roots in the Middle East and said Israel would disappear. He attacked Western freedom of speech and alluded to his past practice of denying the Holocaust while bragging that Western opposition to its nuclear program wouldn’t intimidate Iran. He will, no doubt, repeat and embellish these insults and threats as he has in the past when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, which just happens to be Yom Kippur. But the problem with Ahmadinejad is not just that he says terrible things and revels in the attention he gets like any other foreign enfant terrible who shows up to speak at the circus-like atmosphere of the world body’s annual jamboree. It’s that not enough people take him seriously.

It’s true that, as Seth wrote earlier, Ahmadinejad has been subjected to probing questions by some of our top foreign policy writers such as David Ignatius, but even those efforts are more focused on the chimera of outreach to Iran than on a clear-headed exploration of the nature of the regime. But on the whole, the main reaction to him is to act as if what he says is meaningless. Granted, it’s not easy for the sophisticated national press corps and the rest of our chattering classes to take seriously a person who looks, sounds and acts as if he is performing a satire on tyrants in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Sacha Baron Cohen. Indeed, the nastier and the crazier he gets, the harder it is for the journalistic world to treat him as anything other than a clown act. But he isn’t. His threats and insults must be listened to and taken seriously. The fact that they are not is no small measure why it has been so difficult to get much of the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the Obama administration, to treat Iran’s nuclear threat as something that requires urgent action rather than just more talk.

Read More

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual United Nations freak show has commenced, and the press is eating it up. The Iranian leader held forth for a group of journalists this morning and didn’t disappoint. He claimed Jews have no historical roots in the Middle East and said Israel would disappear. He attacked Western freedom of speech and alluded to his past practice of denying the Holocaust while bragging that Western opposition to its nuclear program wouldn’t intimidate Iran. He will, no doubt, repeat and embellish these insults and threats as he has in the past when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, which just happens to be Yom Kippur. But the problem with Ahmadinejad is not just that he says terrible things and revels in the attention he gets like any other foreign enfant terrible who shows up to speak at the circus-like atmosphere of the world body’s annual jamboree. It’s that not enough people take him seriously.

It’s true that, as Seth wrote earlier, Ahmadinejad has been subjected to probing questions by some of our top foreign policy writers such as David Ignatius, but even those efforts are more focused on the chimera of outreach to Iran than on a clear-headed exploration of the nature of the regime. But on the whole, the main reaction to him is to act as if what he says is meaningless. Granted, it’s not easy for the sophisticated national press corps and the rest of our chattering classes to take seriously a person who looks, sounds and acts as if he is performing a satire on tyrants in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Sacha Baron Cohen. Indeed, the nastier and the crazier he gets, the harder it is for the journalistic world to treat him as anything other than a clown act. But he isn’t. His threats and insults must be listened to and taken seriously. The fact that they are not is no small measure why it has been so difficult to get much of the American foreign policy establishment, as well as the Obama administration, to treat Iran’s nuclear threat as something that requires urgent action rather than just more talk.

It is true, as we hear from those who often urge us not to bother listening to what Ahmadinejad says, that he is not the supreme leader of his country. That is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds his post for life. but he is an important enough player in Iran that the regime felt it necessary to ensure his re-election in 2009 by cooking the books and then violently suppressing the protests that ensued.

Ahmadinejad will, we are told, leave his office at the end of his second term. But while he has become the poster child for Islamist extremism, those journalists who will mourn what is supposed to be the end of his international career need to understand that far from being exceptional, his views perfectly reflect the political culture of the regime.

The inciting of hatred against Jews and other religious minorities in Iran is, after all, not the work of one individual. It is the product of the ayatollah’s religious and political philosophy. The vast terrorist network that starts in Tehran and stretches to Damascus, Beirut, Gaza and anywhere else where Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries can reach (such as Bulgaria, where Israeli tourists were murdered this past summer) is not a figment of Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical flights of fancy. It is a real and deadly threat to the world.

It is natural for even those who are genuinely outraged by Ahmadinejad to make a joke of his New York visit. We can all get a good laugh from the New York Post’s stunt in which they sent a Jewish-themed gift basket to his hotel including gefilte fish, bagels, and a brochure from a Holocaust museum and a free ticket to the show “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”

But the day Iran gets its bomb because the United States spent years pretending that diplomacy would work, instead of setting red lines that might convince the regime the administration meant business, won’t be very funny. Perhaps then those Americans who treated Iran as merely an extension of Ahmadinejad’s comedy act will realize that his anti-Semitism and bluster was no joke.

Read Less

Obama Blocks Out Israeli “Noise” on Iran

In separate interviews broadcast last night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Obama and Mitt Romney aired their differences on a host of issues. While much of the exchange consisted of the usual talking points on the economy from the two candidates, perhaps the most significant statement uttered (the complete transcript can be read here) was when the president was asked about the calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state specific red lines about Iran’s nuclear threat that would trigger U.S. action:

When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

While the second half of that answer sought to paper over the differences between his administration and Israel, there can be no doubt about the import of the first half. It was not only a clear statement from the president that he will not allow himself to be influenced by Netanyahu’s sense of urgency about Iran, but a not-so-subtle attempt to play the “Israel Lobby” card by asserting that he would do “what’s right for the American people.” The implication of this is that what’s good for America is not what’s good for Israel and if Netanyahu doesn’t like it, he can lump it.

Read More

In separate interviews broadcast last night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Obama and Mitt Romney aired their differences on a host of issues. While much of the exchange consisted of the usual talking points on the economy from the two candidates, perhaps the most significant statement uttered (the complete transcript can be read here) was when the president was asked about the calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state specific red lines about Iran’s nuclear threat that would trigger U.S. action:

When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

While the second half of that answer sought to paper over the differences between his administration and Israel, there can be no doubt about the import of the first half. It was not only a clear statement from the president that he will not allow himself to be influenced by Netanyahu’s sense of urgency about Iran, but a not-so-subtle attempt to play the “Israel Lobby” card by asserting that he would do “what’s right for the American people.” The implication of this is that what’s good for America is not what’s good for Israel and if Netanyahu doesn’t like it, he can lump it.

Of course, even the closest of allies do have separate interests. But on Iran, as even the president has admitted, there is no real difference since a bomb in the hands of the ayatollahs is a threat to both the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” as the Islamist regime’s leadership refers to the United States and Israel.

The issue at hand is not Obama standing up for the American people against “the noise” coming from Israel but whether the president is actually defending those interests by a policy of failed diplomacy combined with belated and ineffective sanctions that no serious person believes can convince Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

While Netanyahu’s statements have been interpreted as an attempt to intervene in American politics, the difference between the two countries centers on the administration’s refusal to concede that its policies have failed. For four years, Obama has tried a strategy of “engagement” and endless negotiations with Iran that flopped badly. The Iranians have used these years to get closer to their nuclear goal.

As the most recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed, the Iranians have doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium and stored them in underground bunkers that may be invulnerable to air attack. That means that more rounds of futile negotiations in which Iran’s representative can stall the West are likely to mean it will be too late to use force even if the president ever really decides that the game is up.

By refusing to meet with Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in New York this month (though he will make time to chat with Whoopi Goldberg and the other yentas on “The View” while there), Obama is sending a pointed message to the Israelis that he will kick the can down the road on Iran for as long as he likes. The implication is that once re-elected, it is entirely likely that he will reverse course on containment of a nuclear Iran.

While most observers are blaming the trouble on Netanyahu, the problem remains Obama’s feckless Iran policy. More to the point, if the president considers the plea of Israel’s prime minister to get serious about Iran mere “noise” that is attempting to divert him from defending American interests while he is running for re-election, it isn’t hard to imagine how hostile he will be to the Jewish state during a second term.

Read Less

Critique of Romney is “Israel Lobby” Rerun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to cajole or shame the United States into adopting a more realistic strategy on Iran have earned him some poor reviews in the American press. The very idea that an Israeli leader should publicly seek to influence U.S. policy strikes some people as shocking. That he would do so in the midst of an election campaign has opened him up to criticism that he is seeking to influence the choice of the voters. The election tampering charge isn’t very plausible. Netanyahu knows America well enough to understand that any perceived intervention on his part would be a disaster and wouldn’t help Mitt Romney beat Obama. If anything, as Jeffrey Goldberg, a supporter of the president and critic of the prime minister, wrote on Friday in the Atlantic, Netanyahu seems sure Obama will beat Romney so he isn’t trying to change anyone’s vote so much as attempting to pressure the president into a policy shift.

But this argument isn’t so much about what will happen in November, as it is a not-so-subtle effort to silence a reasonable critique of American foreign policy by both Israelis and their American supporters. In doing so, some on the left are seeking not so much to bolster President Obama as they are to delegitimize the notion that the United States ought to be listening to Israel’s warnings about Iran in a manner highly reminiscent of the “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theories.

Read More

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to cajole or shame the United States into adopting a more realistic strategy on Iran have earned him some poor reviews in the American press. The very idea that an Israeli leader should publicly seek to influence U.S. policy strikes some people as shocking. That he would do so in the midst of an election campaign has opened him up to criticism that he is seeking to influence the choice of the voters. The election tampering charge isn’t very plausible. Netanyahu knows America well enough to understand that any perceived intervention on his part would be a disaster and wouldn’t help Mitt Romney beat Obama. If anything, as Jeffrey Goldberg, a supporter of the president and critic of the prime minister, wrote on Friday in the Atlantic, Netanyahu seems sure Obama will beat Romney so he isn’t trying to change anyone’s vote so much as attempting to pressure the president into a policy shift.

But this argument isn’t so much about what will happen in November, as it is a not-so-subtle effort to silence a reasonable critique of American foreign policy by both Israelis and their American supporters. In doing so, some on the left are seeking not so much to bolster President Obama as they are to delegitimize the notion that the United States ought to be listening to Israel’s warnings about Iran in a manner highly reminiscent of the “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theories.

That was the point of Eric Lewis’ opinion piece published in the New York Times this past week that accused Romney of “outsourcing” decision making about making war to the Israelis. Lewis did not merely assert an absolute right of veto on the part of the United States over Israeli measures of self-defense against the Iranian nuclear threat. He also disparaged Romney’s criticism of Obama’s disdain for Israeli views as marking him as being somehow in thrall to Netanyahu or pro-Israel Americans. From this point of view, it isn’t just that Israel should shut up about a U.S. policy that seems guaranteed to result in a nuclear Iran. It’s that Americans who share Netanyahu’s belief that Obama’s continued reliance on failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions are, in effect, manipulating U.S. policy to suit Israeli rather than American interests.

The conceit of The Israel Lobby by academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer was an attempt to label the vast bipartisan pro-Israel coalition in this country as a conspiracy. It traded on traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews manipulating the great powers from behind the scenes and ignored the basic fact that Americans back the Jewish state not because of any lobby but because they are deeply sympathetic to the country and believe its battle against deadly enemies is one in which the United States must take a side.

By pointing out Obama’s mistakes, such as the years wasted on engagement with Tehran, the delay in enforcing sanctions as well as the president’s seeming to have a greater interest in restraining Israel than in pressuring Iran, Romney isn’t undermining U.S. sovereignty. Nor is his willingness to allow Israel the right to defend itself a case of the tail wagging the dog.

In doing so, Romney is merely reasserting a traditional American position. Israel has, after all, often ignored American requests to adopt a passive stance toward its enemies. Rather than waiting for Arab armies to attack in June 1967, Israel struck first and prevented a catastrophe. The Israelis didn’t get American permission to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 nor did it do so in 2007 when it took out Bashar Assad’s nuclear project. Though some American leaders didn’t understand it at the time, those decisions enhanced rather than diminished America’s security. While Iran is a much bigger and more dangerous target, does any serious person really expect Israel to stand by and merely wait passively for the ayatollahs to reach their nuclear goal while President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to pretend that diplomacy has a chance?

The U.S.-Israel alliance is strong enough to withstand such disagreements. But that is because most Americans understand that contrary to Lewis’s formulation or the assumptions of Walt and Mearsheimer, Israel is itself a sovereign power and not an American protectorate solely dependent for its life on the whims of an indifferent president.

Iran is just as much of a threat to the U.S. as it is to Israel. Americans who respect Israel’s right of self-defense, as well who think that our president ought not to be snubbing our sole democratic Middle East ally the way Obama has done, are not doing Netanyahu’s bidding so much as they are standing up for a more rational U.S. foreign policy.

President Obama came into office proclaiming that the closeness with Israel that hallmarked the Bush administration’s attitudes in the Middle East was a mistake. He has carried out his promise to create more distance between the two countries on a host of issues and the result has been the utter collapse of the peace process and no progress toward stopping Iran. The current breach with Israel is a result of the breakdown in trust that Obama has caused. Romney is right to assert that we need to return to greater cooperation with Israel and restore that trust. Pointing this out doesn’t show his weakness but common sense that the president clearly lacks.

Read Less

Confirmed: Obama Stiffed Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stepped back a bit from the confrontational tone he had taken earlier this week when he characterized his phone call with President Obama on Tuesday night as a “good conversation.” But lest anyone construe that as the administration giving the Israeli the assurances about Iran that he was looking for, the White House dispatched a “senior administration official” to their favorite newspaper to spill the beans about how not “good” the talk was for the Jewish state.

According to the leak published in the New York Times, Obama did repeat his promise about not letting Iran produce a nuclear weapon. But over the course of what must have been a tense hour on the phone, it appears that the president stiffed Netanyahu on every aspect of the issue. He absolutely refused to set any red lines about Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material. Nor would he set any limits on the amount of time an already failed diplomatic track would be allowed to linger before action was taken.

Read More

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stepped back a bit from the confrontational tone he had taken earlier this week when he characterized his phone call with President Obama on Tuesday night as a “good conversation.” But lest anyone construe that as the administration giving the Israeli the assurances about Iran that he was looking for, the White House dispatched a “senior administration official” to their favorite newspaper to spill the beans about how not “good” the talk was for the Jewish state.

According to the leak published in the New York Times, Obama did repeat his promise about not letting Iran produce a nuclear weapon. But over the course of what must have been a tense hour on the phone, it appears that the president stiffed Netanyahu on every aspect of the issue. He absolutely refused to set any red lines about Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material. Nor would he set any limits on the amount of time an already failed diplomatic track would be allowed to linger before action was taken.

All of which is to say that the president has outlined a policy goal without giving himself — or Israel — any reasonable means for achieving it. If the position of the United States is that it will do nothing about Iran until the moment when the ayatollahs order their technicians to assemble a weapon from all of the enriched uranium that they have been amassing in the months and years that Obama has wasted on feckless diplomacy and weak, unenforced sanctions, then that is the equivalent of saying that the administration has no interest in actually stopping the threat.

The lengthy ordeal on the phone was necessitated by the outrage in Israel about the president’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu later this month when both men will be in New York for the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The fact that Obama will meet with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi but not Netanyahu speaks volumes about the current state of relations between two nations that even the president is willing to describe as “allies.” Many in Israel had assumed that this meeting would be the occasion of some sort of gesture on Obama’s part to reassure Netanyahu that there was reason to believe that at some point the Americans would concede that diplomacy and sanctions were getting them nowhere and that action of some sort would follow.

But not only was Obama not interested in any such gesture, he was not prepared to tell him this to his face. This snub may stem from the open dislike the two men have for each other, but as I wrote earlier this week, this is about more than personalities. The message from Washington was clear: Israel has no leverage over Obama on this issue even during the presidential campaign and will have even less in a second term.

Netanyahu has been accused of trying to play politics with Obama during the last months of the presidential campaign or of favoring Mitt Romney. But whatever Netanyahu thinks privately, it should be understood that his concern transcends any misgivings about Obama’s penchant for picking fights with Israel during the past four years. If he really thought Romney might win, he would be showing more, not less patience with Obama since presumably Israel would only have a few months to wait before getting a different answer from a more sympathetic White House.

With the most recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency showing that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges enriching its uranium and that they are now operating in bunkers that are invulnerable to air attack, the Israelis know that there may be very little time before it is too late to do anything about the problem.

President Obama specifically pledged earlier this year during his speech to the annual AIPAC conference that the United States would not seek to contain a nuclear Iran but would prevent it from ever getting that capability. But the longer the president sticks with his current policy of reliance on dead-end diplomacy and sanctions that are doing nothing to halt Iran, it’s becoming clear that sooner or later he will change his mind about containment.

The phone call on Tuesday was intended to calm the storm that had arisen over the New York snub, but the leak to the Times is also a message that no one should mistake. While his surrogates are still trying to reassure wavering Jewish voters that he backs Israel, the administration isn’t interested in doing anything about Iran and the president doesn’t care who knows it.

Read Less

More to this Feud Than Personalities

How bad have things gotten between Israel and the United States? Yesterday’s nasty exchange between the two countries in which President Obama turned down a request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showed that the problem has now escalated from a simmering, longstanding argument about the peace process to a full-blown feud. The White House did some damage control and reportedly the two men spoke at length last night. But anyone who thinks that will resolve their differences hasn’t been paying attention to the unhealthy dynamic that has been festering since the two both came into office in early 2009.

The two have sniped and carped at each other for most of the past four years. But the decision of much of the mainstream media, including some journalists in Israel, to characterize this as being a personal dispute is a mistake. Though there’s no question that the two don’t like each other, what is at play here isn’t merely a brawl between two overachieving powerful men who like to have their own way and don’t care much for those who contradict them. Their quarrel is primarily about serious policy differences that represent a fundamental disagreement about the alliance between the two nations and Israel’s place in the world. Obama’s stubborn refusal to treat the nuclear peril from Iran as an existential threat that must be met expeditiously can’t be put down to personal antipathy. Nor is Netanyahu’s refusal to accept Obama’s lip service to the question as an adequate response a function of his surly temperament. Though the personality conflict has aggravated the squabble, it would exist and probably be just as dangerous even if the two were thoroughly compatible.

Read More

How bad have things gotten between Israel and the United States? Yesterday’s nasty exchange between the two countries in which President Obama turned down a request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showed that the problem has now escalated from a simmering, longstanding argument about the peace process to a full-blown feud. The White House did some damage control and reportedly the two men spoke at length last night. But anyone who thinks that will resolve their differences hasn’t been paying attention to the unhealthy dynamic that has been festering since the two both came into office in early 2009.

The two have sniped and carped at each other for most of the past four years. But the decision of much of the mainstream media, including some journalists in Israel, to characterize this as being a personal dispute is a mistake. Though there’s no question that the two don’t like each other, what is at play here isn’t merely a brawl between two overachieving powerful men who like to have their own way and don’t care much for those who contradict them. Their quarrel is primarily about serious policy differences that represent a fundamental disagreement about the alliance between the two nations and Israel’s place in the world. Obama’s stubborn refusal to treat the nuclear peril from Iran as an existential threat that must be met expeditiously can’t be put down to personal antipathy. Nor is Netanyahu’s refusal to accept Obama’s lip service to the question as an adequate response a function of his surly temperament. Though the personality conflict has aggravated the squabble, it would exist and probably be just as dangerous even if the two were thoroughly compatible.

That Obama can’t stand Netanyahu is not in dispute. We didn’t really need the president’s “hot mic” moment last year, in which Obama sympathized and agreed with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy about his distaste for the Israeli, to know the two weren’t buddies. But that placed it on the record.

Obama came into office saying that any good feelings about Israel were not extended to Netanyahu’s Likud Party and quickly demonstrated that he meant what he said when he resolved to distance the U.S. from Israel as part of his campaign to show that the closeness between the two nations that had grown up during the Bush administration was at an end. In each of his first three years in office, Obama picked fights with Israel over settlements, Jerusalem and the 1967 borders. What’s more, he personalized the argument by repeatedly showing disrespect to Netanyahu on his visits to the U.S. and pointedly refusing to make a courtesy call to Israel when he made his outreach speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009.

Netanyahu held his fire and took the abuse without saying much the first two times, but when the president ambushed him with a speech on the peace process that tilted the diplomatic field in favor of the Palestinians, Netanyahu had enough. He lectured Obama publicly about the dangers facing Israel and then received the cheers of a bipartisan pro-Israel majority at a joint meeting of Congress. The president made no secret about the fact that he was ticked off about the reception Netanyahu was given. But since the Palestinians’ disinterest in making peace even on Obama’s terms rendered the arguments moot, nothing came of any of this.

However, the issue which the two countries are currently arguing about can’t be pigeonholed in this manner.

Netanyahu is not mad at Obama because of a snub or hurt feelings about what the president said to Sarkozy or any of the other slights he has received or given. What he wants from the president is a commitment to do something about the Iranian nuclear threat. The American pretense that failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can still resolve the problem cannot be sustained. Netanyahu wants the United States to pledge to establish some red lines about Iran that would at the very least make it clear that at some point action rather than further talk would be contemplated. Were Netanyahu to gain such a pledge there’s little doubt he would gladly put up with all manner of personal indignities from the president. But that is something the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firmly refuse to do.

If Netanyahu is frustrated and angry, it is not out of pique but the result of a growing conviction that the administration is not serious about making good on its pledges about Iran. You don’t have to be a mind reader to see that the Israeli fears the president is considering a course change should he receive a second term. Such a switch might lead him to push for a nuclear deal with Iran that would compromise Israel’s security.

This distrust is exacerbated by the fact that both men consider each other obnoxious and arrogant. They are both probably right about that, but that would mean nothing were they in agreement about the need to act in such a manner as to convince the Iranians that the only alternative to surrender at the negotiating table was the application of force. It is this profound difference on a question that is a matter of life and death to Israel that is at the heart of the row, not that the two get on each other’s nerves.

The personality story line serves Obama’s interests, since it provides him with a ready excuse for his shabby treatment of the Israelis and distracts us from the key foreign policy issue facing the United States. Though it is undoubtedly true that the quarrel has gotten personal, were it not so it would still be just as bitter.

Read Less

Has Netanyahu’s Iran Bluff Been Called?

Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.

The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.

Read More

Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.

The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.

That leaves the Israeli stuck with a grim choice between ordering an attack or to simply accept the American decision and wait until the inevitable moment when the Iranians announce their success.

The divisive debate about a unilateral attack that has gone on in Israel in recent months has obviously undermined Netanyahu’s position with the Americans. Whereas earlier in the year, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak seemed to have their country with them as they blustered about the nuclear peril from Iran. Their saber rattling was credible enough to force a reluctant Obama administration as well as the Europeans to finally enforce tough sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. The P5+1 talks would never have happened had the Western powers and the Russians and Chinese not feared that Israel would act on its own if they didn’t get serious about pressuring Iran. But the abject failure of those talks and Iran’s ability to continue to generate oil revenue despite the sanctions allowed Tehran to escalate its drive to enrich enough uranium for a bomb. And the Americans and the international coalition they assembled weren’t interested in pushing the issue beyond the show of diplomacy.

In essence, Netanyahu is back where he was a year ago with the only difference being that Iran is one year closer to a nuke and President Obama seems to think he need no longer fear Israel’s threats. As John rightly predicts, that sets the stage for Obama to demonstrate the sort of “flexibility” on Iran that he has promised to show to Russia if re-elected. That will leave Israel not only facing the peril of a nuclear Iran but also having lost the help of its sole ally on the issue.

That leaves us wondering not so much what Obama or Netanyahu is thinking right now but what American Jewish supporters of the president are making of this dispiriting display of pique from the White House. Over the last year the president has embarked on a charm offensive intended to minimize the decline in his share of the Jewish vote. But by choosing to avoid an opportunity to reassure them and Israel of his intentions on the existential threat from Iran, Jewish voters have just been given another reason to abandon the president.

Read Less

No U.S. Red Lines Equals Iranian Nuke

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is bubbling over with frustration at U.S. policy toward Iran. While President Obama has continued to reiterate his pledge not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, this concern was shown once again to be an empty boast by Secretary of State Clinton’s statement on Sunday that the United States was not “setting any deadlines” to make Iran stop enriching uranium. That was reinforced on Monday when State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “It is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines.” Far from responding to Israeli requests for a firm statement of an intent to set some red lines beyond which Tehran dare not cross, Washington has sent a clear signal to Iran that the U.S. was content to sit back and watch events as they unfolded.

The subtext to this exchange is that the hints coming out of Jerusalem about a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran to forestall the nuclear threat may very well turn out to have been a bluff. The United States remains firmly focused on preventing any such attempt to resolve this problem and the Israeli PM knows that he would be risking a confrontation with his country’s main ally should it decide to strike on its own. Netanyahu is a cautious man and those who have been predicting all along that he would back down if President Obama remained obdurate may be right. If true, this would be a tactical triumph for the president but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to its ultimate meaning. In the absence of the sort of deadline that Clinton dismissed, time may soon run out on any chance for the West to stop Iran.

Read More

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is bubbling over with frustration at U.S. policy toward Iran. While President Obama has continued to reiterate his pledge not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, this concern was shown once again to be an empty boast by Secretary of State Clinton’s statement on Sunday that the United States was not “setting any deadlines” to make Iran stop enriching uranium. That was reinforced on Monday when State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “It is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines.” Far from responding to Israeli requests for a firm statement of an intent to set some red lines beyond which Tehran dare not cross, Washington has sent a clear signal to Iran that the U.S. was content to sit back and watch events as they unfolded.

The subtext to this exchange is that the hints coming out of Jerusalem about a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran to forestall the nuclear threat may very well turn out to have been a bluff. The United States remains firmly focused on preventing any such attempt to resolve this problem and the Israeli PM knows that he would be risking a confrontation with his country’s main ally should it decide to strike on its own. Netanyahu is a cautious man and those who have been predicting all along that he would back down if President Obama remained obdurate may be right. If true, this would be a tactical triumph for the president but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to its ultimate meaning. In the absence of the sort of deadline that Clinton dismissed, time may soon run out on any chance for the West to stop Iran.

The most recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency should have been enough to concentrate the minds of the president and secretary of state. The IAEA report underlined the fears being expressed in Israel about Iran moving inevitably into a zone of “immunity” beyond which attacks on their nuclear facilities might be futile. It stated that Iran had doubled the number of its centrifuges enriching the uranium needed for a bomb and is now housing them in a secure underground bunker. Yet the news left Clinton unmoved even though her boss and his re-election campaign continued to issue boilerplate statements about his promise to prevent an Iranian bomb.

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s outburst is entirely understandable:

 “The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

The United States may not have a moral right to prevent Israel from defending itself but it can make it difficult and expensive for it do so. The question for Netanyahu is whether he is sure that waiting another few months will render any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — even a theoretical assault by the far more powerful U.S. forces in the region — too little and too late.

The idea that Israel must have a green light from the United States before it attacks Iran is not backed up by history. The Jewish state has pre-empted threats throughout its history and rarely has it gotten permission in advance from the United States for doing so. Netanyahu knows the costs of inaction could be incalculable. But an Iran attack against a hardened diversified target that is so widely anticipated and against a powerful country with terrorist auxiliaries is not analogous to previous strikes on Syria or even the one on the nuclear reactor at Osirak, Iraq.

Moreover, Netanyahu also knows that an attack on Iran, especially one that takes place during an American presidential campaign, will be viewed as a transparent tactic aimed at forcing Washington’s hands and might not play well even among some supporters of Israel. Given the fact that there is at least a 50-50 chance that Barack Obama will be re-elected, the prime minister may reason that alienating a re-elected American incumbent in this manner is not an acceptable risk. What we don’t know is whether Netanyahu is sufficiently alarmed about the time frame of the Iranian program that he will be willing to hazard such a confrontation in order to save his country.

But no matter what Netanyahu’s calculations may turn out to be, there should be no mistaking the fact that by digging in and refusing to offer red lines or deadlines to the regime in Tehran, the United States is making a conscious decision to accept an Iranian nuke. Though President Obama has vowed he opposes containment of Iran, his continued reliance on failed diplomacy and belated and loosely enforced sanctions is a guarantee that containment may be America’s policy destination in a second term.

If so, it will not just be a betrayal of every promise President Obama has made on the issue since he was elected. It will be an act of moral cowardice that will, at the very least, ensure a less stable and more violent Middle East in his second term.

Read Less

Will Israel Attack? It’s Up to Obama

Speculation about whether Israel will decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities continues to build, but the latest report out of Jerusalem confirms that the answer to the question is still to be found in Washington. The Times of Israel reports that Israel’s Channel 10 has quoted sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu that claim the chances of a strike on Iran are declining. What’s more, they say that if President Obama gives Netanyahu assurances that the United States has firm “red lines” that will trigger action against Iran, there will be no need for Israel to act on its own.

The two men are scheduled to meet later this month on September 27 while Netanyahu is in New York to address the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. But the question hanging over this meeting is whether the White House will interpret Netanyahu’s attitude as an opportunity to call his bluff or a challenge that requires the president to start taking the issue seriously.

Read More

Speculation about whether Israel will decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities continues to build, but the latest report out of Jerusalem confirms that the answer to the question is still to be found in Washington. The Times of Israel reports that Israel’s Channel 10 has quoted sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu that claim the chances of a strike on Iran are declining. What’s more, they say that if President Obama gives Netanyahu assurances that the United States has firm “red lines” that will trigger action against Iran, there will be no need for Israel to act on its own.

The two men are scheduled to meet later this month on September 27 while Netanyahu is in New York to address the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. But the question hanging over this meeting is whether the White House will interpret Netanyahu’s attitude as an opportunity to call his bluff or a challenge that requires the president to start taking the issue seriously.

What the Israelis want is clear enough. They need the United States to stop acting as if they can kick the can down the road indefinitely on this issue. The administration line that a policy of diplomacy and sanctions needs more time to work has no credibility. Iran has already made it clear for years that they have no intention of backing away from their nuclear goal. The sanctions that were belatedly adopted by President Obama are just as unlikely to bring Tehran to its knees even if they were rigidly enforced rather than being routinely flouted.

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency is eroding any lingering doubts about Iran’s intentions or the progress it has made toward realizing its dangerous ambition. But with the number of centrifuges being doubled and now stored in a possibly invulnerable underground facility, the Israelis are rightly worried that time is running out fast before it will be too late to stop Iran.

Unfortunately, the administration has spent most of this year worrying more about Israel acting on its own than about the fact that the Iranian peril may no longer be manageable. But the Israeli preference has always been to act in concert with the United States. The problem is their lack of trust in Obama. They know he has been dragged reluctantly toward confrontation with Iran every step of the way and rightly worry that he will refuse to act if he is re-elected.

Should Obama give a concrete, public promise that action will be taken, Israel’s concerns will be answered and the U.S.-Israel argument will be put to rest. However, if the president interprets this report as Netanyahu weakening his stand and fails to deliver the assurances that are needed, he will squander a chance to end this argument.

As his intervention in the Democrats’ platform fiasco showed, the president is aware that he has a problem with pro-Israel voters. But what is needed now from him is not the traditional boilerplate political rhetoric he has used in the past but a genuine vow to avert a danger to American security as well as an existential threat to Israel.

Read Less

Obama’s Plans Won’t Soothe Israel’s Fears

As Seth wrote earlier today, Israeli distrust of President Obama’s intentions on Iran is the product of nearly four years of policies designed to create more distance between the two allies on this and other issues. But since the president wants to stop an Israeli attack on Iran (and worries that some pro-Israel voters will hold his inaction against him in November, the administration used its favorite media mouthpiece — the New York Timesto float a raft a proposals that are intended to calm Jerusalem and its overseas friends. But the problem with these ideas is that they are focused more on stopping Israel than Iran.

Today’s front-page story in the Times states that the administration is considering the following: Naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to intimidate the Iranians; efforts to clamp down on Iran’s still-booming sources of oil revenue despite the supposedly “crippling” sanctions belatedly imposed on the country by the West; more covert activities aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear facilities; the construction of a radar facility in Qatar and a clear statement by the president as to the circumstances under which the United States will use force to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The last point is the one the Israelis have been begging Washington for but it is also apparently the one that the president is least interested in carrying out.

As for the other ideas, they have all been tried and failed. Under these circumstances, can anyone wonder why the Israelis fear they are on their own and the Iranians are confident they can defy the United States?

Read More

As Seth wrote earlier today, Israeli distrust of President Obama’s intentions on Iran is the product of nearly four years of policies designed to create more distance between the two allies on this and other issues. But since the president wants to stop an Israeli attack on Iran (and worries that some pro-Israel voters will hold his inaction against him in November, the administration used its favorite media mouthpiece — the New York Timesto float a raft a proposals that are intended to calm Jerusalem and its overseas friends. But the problem with these ideas is that they are focused more on stopping Israel than Iran.

Today’s front-page story in the Times states that the administration is considering the following: Naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to intimidate the Iranians; efforts to clamp down on Iran’s still-booming sources of oil revenue despite the supposedly “crippling” sanctions belatedly imposed on the country by the West; more covert activities aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear facilities; the construction of a radar facility in Qatar and a clear statement by the president as to the circumstances under which the United States will use force to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The last point is the one the Israelis have been begging Washington for but it is also apparently the one that the president is least interested in carrying out.

As for the other ideas, they have all been tried and failed. Under these circumstances, can anyone wonder why the Israelis fear they are on their own and the Iranians are confident they can defy the United States?

As to the administration’s ideas for mollifying the Israelis, they are not terribly impressive. There’s nothing wrong with conducting Naval exercises in the Gulf. But unless President Obama can convince the ayatollahs that their belief he is too weak to challenge them is wrong, little good will come of such activities.

Obama administration rhetoric about toughening the sanctions is about as credible as politicians promising to cut the budget via eliminating waste and corruption. The sanctions have been undermined by the more than 10,000 exemptions handed out by the Treasury Department to businesses to maintain ties to Iran as well as the president’s pass given to China to keep importing Iranian oil. That’s not counting the various measures the Iranians have come up with to evade the sanctions via smuggling and financial sleight-of-hand. Nothing short of a full economic boycott and blockade of Iran is called for, but we all know that isn’t happening. So any further discussion of sanctions is merely a diversion intended to distract us from the fact that the current policy has failed.

As for more covert activities directed at Iran, I might be more impressed with the prospect if I didn’t read about it first on the front page of the New York Times along with the Iranians whose responsibility it is to stop the West’s efforts. For the same administration that illegally leaked information about cyber-warfare to the Times earlier this year to go back to the same newspaper to publicly threaten a new round of attacks demonstrates astonishing chutzpah as well as incompetence.

But far worse than that is the talk of a new radar system to be installed in Qatar that would serve, along with other facilities in Turkey and Israel, to create an arc of anti-missile coverage. As much as such a system would be useful to defend the region against Iranian attacks, it is also a sign that, contrary to the president’s pledge, the administration is contemplating “containment” of a nuclear Iran rather than preventing them from obtaining such a capability.

That this is being publicly mooted makes sense, since everything the administration has done is leading to the inevitable conclusion that it will not undertake any concrete action to stop Iran. Under the best circumstances, containment would greatly empower Iran and allow it to intimidate its rivals in the region and strengthen its allies such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Iran. But the notion of deterrence of a fanatical, anti-Semitic regime determined to eliminate the Jewish state is probably a fantasy and that is why Israel’s leaders are determined to act to prevent their acquiring nukes before it is too late.

President Obama might avoid such an eventuality if he were to make firm public promises about the use of force and state that he would do so before Iran’s program got close to completion rather than afterward. But that is something he seems most reluctant to do. With reassurances like these, the Israelis are being brutally reminded that they must depend on no one but themselves.

Read Less

Obama Doesn’t Care He’s Been Proven Wrong About Iran

The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.

Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

Read More

The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.

Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

The Times is right about that. Being proven right about the failure of Obama’s policy is cold comfort for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu since the administration refuses to recognize the failure, either publicly or privately. The Times of Israel reports that a meeting last week between Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro resulted in hostile exchanges with the diplomat “breaking protocol” and angrily scolding the prime minister for pushing too hard for U.S. action.

Israel’s problem is that the Obama administration doesn’t care that it has been proven wrong and feels no inclination to engage in a conversation with the leaders of the Jewish state about taking action to either reverse course or head off a catastrophe. Instead, it just sticks to its line about giving more time for diplomacy even though no one in Washington, let alone anywhere else, believes that it is possible to talk the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions. The president wants no back talk from the Israelis about this. But even more than that, he desires no trouble in the Middle East in the next two months as he fights for re-election.

That leaves the Israelis with a difficult choice. It can, as most foreign policy mavens keep telling them to, simply shut up and hope that either a re-elected Obama will keep all the promises he’s made on the subject or that a President Romney will make good on the tough statements he’s made about the peril from an Iranian nuke. But given the speed of the Iranians’ progress and the possibility that by next year it could already be too late for an attack on their nuclear facilities to do much good, waiting may not be an option consistent with Netanyahu’s responsibility to spike any existential threat to his nation’s future.

The administration’s silence about the latest troubling IAEA report, as well as the insolent attitude of its envoy to Israel, seems to indicate the president thinks the Israelis are bluffing about acting on their own. He has good reason to think so.

Despite the assertions that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are alone in their convictions about the Iranian threat, there’s a consensus in the Israeli defense and intelligence establishment that Iran must be stopped. But many there fear the consequences of a unilateral Israeli military campaign. They are right that only the United States has sufficient resources to do the job right. Moreover, the consequences of launching a strike and the inevitable retaliation from Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries are extremely grave. If the United States does not back up Israel in the aftermath of such a strike, it could materially damage the country’s security as well as leading to its complete diplomatic isolation.

On the other hand, if Israel meekly accepts Obama’s dictat to stand down, it may lead to a nuclear Iran, which is something that may be far worse than the blowback from an attack. It would place the security and the future of the Jewish state solely in the hands of a president who has shown little interest in the country’s welfare.

President Obama clearly seems to think there is no pressure Israel could put on him short of an actual attack on Iran that can move him to do something about the situation. And he believes, not without reason, that even if his Republican opponent steps up his criticism of the administration on Iran — a topic that rated a strong mention in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech last night — he is not politically vulnerable on the issue.

In other words, Netanyahu has no good options available to him. No matter which way he goes on Iran in the coming weeks, thanks to President Obama’s complacent stand, danger lurks.

Read Less

IAEA Evidence Shows Israel, Not Obama, Talking Sense About Iran

The latest report being prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran appears to be a sobering retort to those who have spent the summer trying to claim that Israel’s warnings about the need to act should be ignored. The report, which has not yet been released but whose contents have been leaked, says that Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges in recent months and is devoting its efforts to refining uranium to a level of greater than 20 percent, a sign that it is working on a nuclear bomb and not, as it disingenuously contends, on medical research. Of equal concern is that all of this new equipment has been installed in facilities near the holy city of Qum and buried so far under underground that they may be invulnerable to attack.

This evidence would mean the alarms being sounded in Israel in recent months were entirely justified. If the Iranians have dramatically increased their stockpile of refined uranium and are now transferring more of their work into hardened bunkers, they may be close to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have called a “zone of immunity”: the point at which their program can no longer be halted by force. But rather than taking this as a sign that their complacent attitude toward Iran needs to be revised, the Obama administration remains in denial. Despite the obvious failure of the P5+1 talks and Iran’s determination to run out the clock on its nuclear program before the West acts, a White House spokesman said Friday there is still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, the administration seemed more intent on trying to undermine Israel’s stance on the nuclear peril than it was on actually doing anything about the problem.

Read More

The latest report being prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran appears to be a sobering retort to those who have spent the summer trying to claim that Israel’s warnings about the need to act should be ignored. The report, which has not yet been released but whose contents have been leaked, says that Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges in recent months and is devoting its efforts to refining uranium to a level of greater than 20 percent, a sign that it is working on a nuclear bomb and not, as it disingenuously contends, on medical research. Of equal concern is that all of this new equipment has been installed in facilities near the holy city of Qum and buried so far under underground that they may be invulnerable to attack.

This evidence would mean the alarms being sounded in Israel in recent months were entirely justified. If the Iranians have dramatically increased their stockpile of refined uranium and are now transferring more of their work into hardened bunkers, they may be close to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have called a “zone of immunity”: the point at which their program can no longer be halted by force. But rather than taking this as a sign that their complacent attitude toward Iran needs to be revised, the Obama administration remains in denial. Despite the obvious failure of the P5+1 talks and Iran’s determination to run out the clock on its nuclear program before the West acts, a White House spokesman said Friday there is still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, the administration seemed more intent on trying to undermine Israel’s stance on the nuclear peril than it was on actually doing anything about the problem.

President Obama has pledged to stop Iran from going nuclear, but his priority throughout the last year has been to stop Israel from acting on its own to deal with the problem. No serious observer has any confidence that the sanctions on Iran that were belatedly adopted (and loosely enforced) by Washington will force the ayatollahs to back off on their nuclear plans. The P5+1 talks led by the European Union’s Catherine Ashton got nowhere despite several tries. Any revival of these negotiations would only serve Iran’s purposes as they string Western diplomats along while their centrifuges keep spinning.

But despite the evidence of Iran’s progress, the administration is doing its best to downplay the crisis. An “administration official” speaking without attribution to the New York Times  — the White House’s favorite outlet for leaks — confirmed the latest intelligence gleaned from the IAEA report but pooh-poohed it as “not a game changer.” The argument from the source was that a “breakout” that could convert the existing Iranian stockpile to weapons grade could be rapidly accomplished. But the source said the U.S. would find out about it and still have time to deal with it. The upshot of this statement was that the world should ignore Israel’s fears and trust President Obama to deal with the problem in his own good time.

Yet how can the president be trusted on the issue if his whole focus seems to be on kicking the can down road until after the presidential election in November? It is one thing to accuse the Israelis of alarmism or of trying to exert pressure on Obama to pledge to act. But if the Iranians are able to compile enough refined uranium and store it in places that can’t be attacked, a U.S. policy rooted in a predisposition to delay action is a formula that is certain to fail.

Time is running out not only on the countdown to the day when Iran will be able to quickly assemble a bomb but until the point where it will no longer be possible to use force to prevent them from doing so. Four years of Obama policies toward Iran have shown the administration to be willing to do nothing but talk about the need to avert this danger. The latest information from the IAEA is more proof that despite the media campaign orchestrated from the White House intended to undermine Israel’s appeals, it is Jerusalem, and not Washington, that is talking sense about Iran.

Read Less

Ban Snubs Obama, Embraces Iran

As I wrote yesterday, a lot was hanging on whether United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would decide to ignore the urging of President Obama and go to Iran for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Doing so would make a mockery of the administration’s claim that they had successfully isolated the Islamist regime as part of a campaign to force it to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. But when faced with a choice of offending the Non-Aligned Movement and its Iranian host or President Obama and Israel, Secretary General Ban picked the lesser of two evils from his point of view and affirmed today that he was heading to Tehran.

There are those who will say with justice that nobody has cared about the Non-Aligned Movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall rendered this Third World strategy of playing the West against the former Soviet Union moot. However, Ban’s visit puts the icing on the cake for the ayatollah’s effort to show how the world is refusing to shun them the way other rogue regimes have been treated. That Ban would decide to go to Iran only a week after its leaders issued a new round of statements calling for the elimination of fellow UN member Israel is an outrage in itself. But by hosting the representatives of 120 countries with the head of the world body along with them, the Iranians have good reason to argue that this demonstrates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she has successfully isolated Iran is a joke.

Read More

As I wrote yesterday, a lot was hanging on whether United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would decide to ignore the urging of President Obama and go to Iran for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Doing so would make a mockery of the administration’s claim that they had successfully isolated the Islamist regime as part of a campaign to force it to give up its quest for nuclear weapons. But when faced with a choice of offending the Non-Aligned Movement and its Iranian host or President Obama and Israel, Secretary General Ban picked the lesser of two evils from his point of view and affirmed today that he was heading to Tehran.

There are those who will say with justice that nobody has cared about the Non-Aligned Movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall rendered this Third World strategy of playing the West against the former Soviet Union moot. However, Ban’s visit puts the icing on the cake for the ayatollah’s effort to show how the world is refusing to shun them the way other rogue regimes have been treated. That Ban would decide to go to Iran only a week after its leaders issued a new round of statements calling for the elimination of fellow UN member Israel is an outrage in itself. But by hosting the representatives of 120 countries with the head of the world body along with them, the Iranians have good reason to argue that this demonstrates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s claim that she has successfully isolated Iran is a joke.

With the sanctions that the administration belatedly imposed on Iran not being strictly enforced and the P5+1 diplomatic process having completely collapsed, the president’s strategy for dealing with the Iranian threat is a shambles.

Ban’s visit merely illustrates what the Israeli government has been pointing out in recent weeks as it stepped up a campaign to get Washington to declare whether it would make good on President Obama’s pledge to stop the Iranian threat. Iran isn’t isolated. Nor has it been brought to its knees by sanctions. In fact, there is no prospect of either U.S. goal being reached in the foreseeable future.

As much as Israel’s critics may deplore what they see as unwarranted pressure on the president to declare his intentions during his re-election campaign, his strategy has failed. With time running out before Iran’s nuclear progress renders a strike impossible, the president must state his intention to act or admit that he has no intention of doing so even after November.

Read Less

Iran Isolated? Tell it to the UN

The Obama administration is still asserting that diplomacy and sanctions will halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons without the need for either Israel or the United States to resort to force. At the core of this argument is the assertion that the effort to squeeze Tehran led by Secretary of State Clinton has been largely successful with tough sanctions strangling Iran’s economy. But no one in Washington really believes that the P5+1 talks will ever be successfully revived and the methods by which the Iranians are getting around the loosely enforced sanctions are making a joke out of Clinton’s boast that her efforts would be “crippling.”

Far from being isolated, the Iranians are still enjoying the support of much of the world, something that will be made all too clear next week when the so-called Non-Aligned Movement convenes its annual meeting in Tehran. It’s bad enough that 120-member states of the group will send representatives to the gathering that will undermine any thought that the Islamist regime has no friends. But if United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon goes to the meeting too it will put a fork in the notion that the Iranians have much to worry about. That worries left-wing columnist Chemi Shalev, who writes in Haaretz that the symbolism of the UN chief arriving in the Iranian capital will be used by both Israeli and American critics of Obama’s feckless policy. He’s right.

Read More

The Obama administration is still asserting that diplomacy and sanctions will halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons without the need for either Israel or the United States to resort to force. At the core of this argument is the assertion that the effort to squeeze Tehran led by Secretary of State Clinton has been largely successful with tough sanctions strangling Iran’s economy. But no one in Washington really believes that the P5+1 talks will ever be successfully revived and the methods by which the Iranians are getting around the loosely enforced sanctions are making a joke out of Clinton’s boast that her efforts would be “crippling.”

Far from being isolated, the Iranians are still enjoying the support of much of the world, something that will be made all too clear next week when the so-called Non-Aligned Movement convenes its annual meeting in Tehran. It’s bad enough that 120-member states of the group will send representatives to the gathering that will undermine any thought that the Islamist regime has no friends. But if United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon goes to the meeting too it will put a fork in the notion that the Iranians have much to worry about. That worries left-wing columnist Chemi Shalev, who writes in Haaretz that the symbolism of the UN chief arriving in the Iranian capital will be used by both Israeli and American critics of Obama’s feckless policy. He’s right.

Shalev ruefully notes that even if Ban listens to his critics and avoids the Tehran conference, the Non-Aligned Movement event will mark a watershed in the failing effort to bring the ayatollahs to heel. It will not only embarrass President Obama but also make it all too clear that those who believe the bulk of the world is against Israel are right. Since he is opposed to a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, that appalls him.

Shalev would much prefer that Ban and the rest of the world’s leaders start acting as if a regime that spouts anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and pledges to eliminate a member state of the UN — Israel — should be isolated, not honored. So would those who disagree with his views about both Iran and the peace process. But the fact remains that it is democratic Israel that is isolated. Not Iran.

This meeting will occur only a week after Iran held its annual Israel hate fest where the country’s governmental, religious and military leaders vied with each other for the honor of saying the most extreme things about the Jewish state and their ideas about wiping it off the map. That Ban would choose this particularly sensitive time to go to Tehran is a terrible miscalculation even if the non-aligned nations make up the bulk of the UN’s membership.

But whether he goes or not the non-aligned circus will just be one more piece of evidence showing the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s belief that further reliance on diplomacy with Iran is futile. Ban’s presence will make it clear that the institution that President Obama values so highly is on record showing that his Iran policy has collapsed.

Read Less

Why Obama Still Won’t Go to Israel

The disagreement between Israel and the Obama administration over whether it’s time to acknowledge that diplomacy has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program is starting to make a lot of people nervous. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be interpreting the administration’s staunch refusal to abandon a diplomatic track that has already clearly failed as meaning that the president won’t make good on his promise to stop Iran from going nuclear. That has led to talk that Israel will strike Iran without U.S. assistance or permission and that it may do so even before the November presidential election.

The Americans are doing everything they can to persuade the Israelis to stand down but in the absence of trust in the president, mere words may not be enough. That’s why one of Obama’s leading Jewish supporters, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, believes it’s time for some symbolism. Goldberg writes today in Bloomberg that a long sought presidential visit to Israel before the election would do the trick. He’s right. If President Obama were to take time out from the campaign for a stop in Israel some time in the next few weeks, Netanyahu would have no choice but to postpone any attack plans. Though it is possible that Obama will listen to Goldberg, such a visit with less than 90 days before the election is a long shot. It is far more likely that the president will rely on his usual mode of communication with the Israelis: pressure and threats. But since that has never worked in the past, Obama’s supporters ought to be asking themselves what’s behind the president’s reluctance to act in a manner that might convince both Israelis and their Iranian foes that he isn’t fibbing about being prepared to act on the issue during his second term.

Read More

The disagreement between Israel and the Obama administration over whether it’s time to acknowledge that diplomacy has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program is starting to make a lot of people nervous. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem to be interpreting the administration’s staunch refusal to abandon a diplomatic track that has already clearly failed as meaning that the president won’t make good on his promise to stop Iran from going nuclear. That has led to talk that Israel will strike Iran without U.S. assistance or permission and that it may do so even before the November presidential election.

The Americans are doing everything they can to persuade the Israelis to stand down but in the absence of trust in the president, mere words may not be enough. That’s why one of Obama’s leading Jewish supporters, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, believes it’s time for some symbolism. Goldberg writes today in Bloomberg that a long sought presidential visit to Israel before the election would do the trick. He’s right. If President Obama were to take time out from the campaign for a stop in Israel some time in the next few weeks, Netanyahu would have no choice but to postpone any attack plans. Though it is possible that Obama will listen to Goldberg, such a visit with less than 90 days before the election is a long shot. It is far more likely that the president will rely on his usual mode of communication with the Israelis: pressure and threats. But since that has never worked in the past, Obama’s supporters ought to be asking themselves what’s behind the president’s reluctance to act in a manner that might convince both Israelis and their Iranian foes that he isn’t fibbing about being prepared to act on the issue during his second term.

Though the Democrat’s campaign staff may think any time not spent in a swing state is a bad idea, an Obama visit to Israel now would be a coup for the president. It would monopolize media attention during the trip and thus hurt Mitt Romney. It would also bolster the president’s sagging Jewish support.

Even more important, such a dramatic gesture accompanied by a presidential speech in which he warned Iran that they must halt their nuclear program or face the consequences would convince the Israeli public that he could be relied upon to keep the promise he first made about stopping Tehran during the 2008 campaign. Under those circumstances, there would be no possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack since Netanyahu could not then justify such a move by pointing to distrust of Washington.

It would all be so easy but the question to ask about this scenario is why the president has always been so reluctant to show the Israelis some love when it would cost him so little and bring such a great reward?

The only possible answer is the one we always are forced to return to when discussing the problematic relationship between the Obama administration and Israel: the president’s equivocal feelings about the Jewish state. As veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller memorably put it a few weeks ago, Barack Obama is the first president in a generation “not in love with the idea of Israel.” That’s compounded by his open and very public dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Obama’s defenders are right to note that there’s nothing all that unusual about the lack of a visit to Israel during a first term, this is a president who has gone out of his way to pick fights with Jerusalem and to avoid the country during trips to the region. It appears that if Obama is to go to Israel, as his campaign hinted earlier during this summer, it would only be as a re-elected president with the whip hand over Netanyahu and not as a candidate who has to show some deference to his ally.

One imagines that Obama is recoiling at the very idea of being forced to pretend to be friendly with Netanyahu even if it meant avoiding an attack on Iran that he opposes or helping his re-election. Given the stakes involved, his refusal to take some good advice from a supporter tells us all we need to know about the president’s attitude toward Israel.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.