05.04.09

The Coming U.S.-Israel Fight Over Iran

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House on May 18, and analysts are predicting a serious argument with Obama about Iran. While the U.S. pushes for diplomacy, Israel is gearing up for a fight to prevent a nuclear Iran—at any cost.

While the big annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has brought to Washington 6,000 supporters of the Jewish state fully committed to cementing the U.S.-Israel alliance, many at the bustling convention fear that a major clash is brewing between President Obama and Israel’s new prime minster, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S. and other nations will act on Iran “only if they believe Israel’s about to go nuts.”

Netanyahu, who addresses the crowd by satellite link on Monday night, seems to be belittling Obama’s contention that a full-court press is needed to establish an independent Arab nation of Palestine. Israel’s government wants to put the focus, instead, on dangers posed by Iran.

The prime minister is due to fly in for a chat at the White House on May 18, and analysts predicting strife are making a persuasive case.

One of the academics who spoke at an AIPAC seminar, Jerusalem-based professor Martin Kramer, who writes at www.ShalemCenter.com, framed the problem as two sets of competing “analogies.”

Kramer said senior U.S. government analysts, based on our recent history, believe Iran can be dealt with in the same way we handled the Soviet Union and China. For many years, the Russians were “contained” and “deterred,” so that they would never dare to use their nuclear weapons. In the end, the communist regime in Moscow collapsed.

American policy toward China has focused on “engagement,” and the U.S. feels that doing business with China has buried the threat of war between the two countries. U.S. policymakers even believe that China won’t pull all of its billionsof dollars out of the U.S., as the Chinese would be damaging their own investments.

Thus there are policymakers in Washington who speak of “living with the Iranian bomb,” if sanctions and threats do not prevent the Islamic Republic from building nuclear weapons.

Israelis make two very different analogies. With the painful memory of 6 million Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust ever present, Israel takes very seriously the suggestion by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the Jewish state is illegitimate and should be wiped off the map. Israelis see Iran’s radical ideology as akin to the Nazi creed that mandated mass murder.

And Israelis point out that most foreign governments condemned the 1981 Israeli air force attack on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Baghdad—but years later, they grudgingly thanked Israel for doing it. Meanwhile, the Iraqis did not retaliate.

The two analogies—to the Nazis and to Iraq—help support an Israeli belief that whatever the risks, a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities may be necessary within a year or less.

America’s two analogies—to Russia and to China—will strengthen Obama’s desire to reach out to Iran and respond to any willingness from Tehran to talk.

Ephraim Sneh, a former Israeli government minister with decades of experience as an army general and c abinet member, told one of the AIPAC sessions on Sunday that the world has t o understand that Israel is serious about preventing Iran’s nuclearization—at any cost.

“They must be aware of the option we have to act alone, or they’ll do nothing,” said Sneh. He contended that much stronger economic sanctions against Iran are needed, and that the U.S. and other nations will act—as another conference attendee put it—“only if they believe Israel’s about to go nuts.”

Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent, is co-author of Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israeli Intelligence and Friends in Deed: Inside the Israel-U.S. Alliance.