The Israeli Dilemma is a painful one.
Barring unforeseen and unlikely circumstances—the bite of economic sanctions, another popular revolt, a change of heart on the part of the mullahs, a weakening of Western and especially Israeli resolve—it is at least imaginable that Iran will be attacked before the American election in November of this year. The on again, off again talks between the Iranian leadership and the P5 + 1 nations, aimed at arriving at a modus vivendi, are clearly nothing more than a reciprocal stalling tactic. The West wishes to defer military intervention, China and Russia wish to prevent it, while Iran continues to enrich uranium, add centrifuges to its nuclear facilities, and steadily progresses toward the acquisition of a thermonuclear weapon.
Further, given its declared purpose to incinerate the Jewish state, its possession of advanced delivery systems, and the belief of its leaders in the radical, Twelver version of Shi’a theology which envisions the return of the “Hidden Imam” in a millenarian conflagration, the bruited American policy of “containment” is doomed to failure. In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on March 3, 2012, President Obama rejected the principle of containment of a nuclear-armed Iran, but did not rule out containment of a nuclear-capable Iran—a sly distinction that does not inspire confidence. Who is to judge precisely when capability morphs into capacity?
Joseph Puder, who heads the Philadelphia-based Interfaith Taskforce, puts little credence in Obama’s putative resolution. In an article titled “Obama, Like Carter, Will Not Act Against Iran,” Puder writes: “Obama much like Jimmy Carter is proving to the Iranians and to the Islamic world in general, that America is on the decline, and lacks the will to fight for its global security interests. The Obama administration has already invoked containment of a nuclear Iran as a default option for the U.S.” The fact is that Iran cannot be “contained.” A nuclear Iran is a game-changer, both politically and militarily, able to exert its will at the world’s expense by threatening nuclear blackmail. At the very least, it will change the face of the Middle East for the worst, as if things were not already bad enough.
The odds are, then, despite the current round of talks and the evident desire to avoid or delay military action, that Iran will not be allowed to “go nuclear” and will be attacked before the year is out. The only question that remains open is: by whom? Certainly not the feckless and appeasing European nations. As everybody knows, the only two candidates adequate to the task are the U.S. and Israel.
With respect to the U.S., the signals are mixed. On the one hand, we are witnessing the gradual buildup of American naval forces in the Persian Gulf; on the other, the obvious reluctance of the president to confront an Iranian enemy with whom he has whimsically committed to unconditional dialogue. As for Israel, which is in the immediate line of fire, there is little maneuvering room. It cannot afford to tolerate a nuclear Iran sworn to its destruction and only nine ballistic minutes away.
This is precisely where political calculations enter into the equation. It is conceivable that a gaffe-prone, feeble, polarizing and increasingly vulnerable Obama will not be re-elected. If by October he has come to the conclusion that his election chances are fading or problematical, there is only one action that may yet save him from humiliation, namely, a massive air and naval attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, minus boots on the ground. He would then, in the guise of a strong, wise and pro-active president, mobilize much of the electorate behind him while conscripting the Republican Party into his policy camp. (As Daniel Greenfield points out with regard to Obama’s shady Libyan adventure, “When given the opportunity to take a stand, nearly 40 percent of congressional Republicans lacked the courage to oppose even an unpopular war begun without congressional consent.”) This cynical strategy would represent Obama’s ticket back into the White House.
The Israelis are no doubt aware of Obama’s plausible electoral calculus, which creates a serious problem for their decision making process. As the nuclear point of no return approaches, should they wait in order to gauge the president’s analysis of his electoral prospects? The so-called window of opportunity is closing rapidly and political ambiguity cannot be prolonged indefinitely.
At the same time, an aggressive and determined Obama entering upon a second term—when he will enjoy “more flexibility,” as he told Russian president Dimitri Medvedev—may be disastrous for the Jewish state, since it will have to deal for another four years with an adversarial president who does not hide his antipathy for Israel and wishes to shrink its borders to indefensible proportions, who patently favors the Palestinians, and who is busy consolidating a de facto alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Israeli dilemma is a painful one and not easily unriddled. Should Israel pre-empt the president’s possible initiative by striking first, thus creating a policy quandary for him as well as reducing his chances of a second term by stealing his thunder? Or should it continue to bide its time, hoping that Obama will act to rescue a potentially sinking candidacy, and in this way to benefit from the greater effectiveness of a far more powerful military while limiting its own casualty count? These issues would remain moot were Obama to surge in the polls; Israel’s choice would then have been made for it. But Obama’s popularity is by no means assured and grievances against his stewardship of the nation seem to be mounting. Indeed, a recent USAToday/Gallup poll shows significant slippage in Democratic voter enthusiasm.
Four more months of Ayatollah Khamenei is a lethal scenario for Israel. But four more years of President Obama may be tantamount to a deadly wasting disease. The country is now navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of conflicting alternatives. May it make the right decision.
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