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Unfortunately, the Obama administration holds the upper hand. The current draft of the bill says the president shall impose sanctions–and that provision is non-binding. Thousands of waivers have already been issued by the Treasury Department, and the president has granted both China and India permission to continue importing Iranian oil. Furthermore, the Washington Free Beacon reports that the Obama administration is attempting to water down the sanctions even more as a sop to the insurance industry that underwrites shipping companies, cargo carriers, or airlines that have been subject to sanctions. If Congress were to pass the harsher restrictions outlined above, it would force the president to reveal whether he is genuinely interested in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon–or simply paying lip service to the idea.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is seemingly betting on lip service. On Wednesday, he contended that sanctions against Iran were largely useless, and that the “time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.” The New York Times reported that “public statements and private communications from the Israeli leadership” have renewed concerns that Israel may attempt a unilateral strike on Iran as early as this fall. That sent several administration officials hightailing it to Israel, including Defense Secretary Panetta. According the to the Times, “a number of administration officials say they remain hopeful that Israel has no imminent plans to attack and may be willing to let the United States take the lead in any future military strike, which they say would not occur until next year at the earliest.”
In other words, the administration is doing everything it can to persuade the Jewish State not to roil the American presidential election by forcing Obama to reveal where he really stands regarding the prospect of renewed war in the Middle East. The Times dances around this reality, noting that one of the reasons Israel “may act in September or early October” is that “Mr. Netanyahu feels that he will have less leverage if President Obama is re-elected…” (Or maybe no leverage at all if the president wins another four years). It is also worth remembering that Obama is in the midst of an unprecedented courtship of the Muslim Brotherhood, highlighted by his invitation to newly-elected Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to visit the White House in September. It is virtually certain that an attack on Iran led or assisted by the United States would put a huge dent in the president’s Muslim “outreach” efforts.
Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Israel’s intelligence agency and national security adviser, made it clear that some officials in Israel are running out of patience. “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” he said. That sentiment was echoed by Amos Harel, defense correspondent for Haaretz. He estimated that the chance of an attack before November was 50 percent. “It’s probably a more crucial junction than it was ever before,” he contended. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev, who noted Ahmadinejad’s “extreme, poisonous language is unfortunately par for the course for the Iranian leadership,” called upon the international community to “prevent the Iranian regime–with its fanatical and hate filled agenda–from obtaining nuclear capability.”
Whether the international community–or the Obama administration–is up to the task is deeply uncertain.
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