The wise heads at the New York Times and other bastions of liberalism are increasingly frightened by the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. But, like the Obama administration, what really scares them is the prospect Israel might strike on its own to avert the peril of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the ayatollahs. In an editorial published yesterday, the Times reverted to treating Israel’s warnings to the West about the need to act as morally equivalent to Iran’s genocidal threats against the life of the Jewish state. The Times put down put Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s assertion that Israel was a “cancer” they would eradicate as mere “saber rattling” to be pigeonholed alongside Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s prescient comment that anyone who “says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” to deal with Iran.
The Times believes Israel’s government must be forced to wait patiently until the Obama administration’s cautious program of sanctions directed at Iran can work. But the problem with that advice is the three years that Obama has invested in rallying international support for sanctions have not worked for two reasons.
The first is the Iranians believe that in the end, Obama will, as the Times advises him to do, break down and accept a negotiated settlement of the issue that will allow the Iranians to run out the clock the way North Korea did when they bluffed the U.S. on the same issue. The chances of any such deal being observed are virtually nonexistent. Negotiations at this point would be an admission the United States is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran.
The second is the United States cannot count on the international support that would make sanctions work even if Obama had the will to enforce them. The diplomatic wild cards of Russia and China can always be counted on to spike any American initiative when they please. The evidence for this assertion was on display at the United Nations yesterday when both Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that was aimed at ending the slaughter in that country and forcing dictator Bashar Assad out in Damascus. The administration thought it had forged a consensus on Syria, but in the end, they were thwarted by the desire of Russia and China to not let the West prevail. That will embolden Assad to hang on longer and kill more of his people, leaving those well-meaning pundits who keep predicting his fall disappointed again.
But it also ought to disillusion those observers who are similarly counting on an American-led sanctions plan to force Iran’s leaders to give up their nuclear ambitions. Obama’s patient approach on Iran is flawed in many respects, principally because the Iranians have good reason to doubt the president’s willingness to go to the mat with them. But Washington is also handicapped by the fact that it cannot count on either Russia or China to stand by and let Tehran be isolated or to have its fuel exports embargoed. If Obama can’t rely on them to play along on Syria where the international stakes are smaller, how can it possibly assume they will do the right thing on Iran?
These calculations are exactly why Israel’s leaders are contemplating acting on their own to stop Iran. Though the Israelis cannot hope to do as thorough a job on Iran’s nuclear facilities as the United States could, those, like the Times editorialists, who claim an Israeli attack would “make things worse” are wrong. Even a delay of a few years in Iran’s timetable might be decisive in averting the danger. And the assumption that an attack would strengthen the Islamist regime is probably mistaken. Faced with the alternative of waiting for Obama’s feckless and unreliable diplomacy to work, it’s no wonder that Jerusalem may believe there is no choice but to strike and to strike soon.