Mac Deford: Netanyahu and the (Trumped-Up) Iranian Nuclear Threat
by Thomas McAdams Deford
Thursday, April 08, 2010
It makes sense, for at least a month or so, to have a time out, as the administration seems to be doing, to try to repair the personal damage as a result of the public spat between Israel and the US. The underlying problems between us should not of course be papered over despite protestations of our "strong, binding, and permanent ties with Israel" - or whatever boilerplate the administration is currently employing.
But let the emotions be drained - the "insult" the Israeli press has termed Obama's treatment of Netanyahu in Washington last month, clear compensation for the insult Netanyahu dished out to Biden a week earlier. And let the focus return to substance, the key component of which for now must remain the continued building in East Jerusalem, and beyond, that makes the two-state solution - that the Israelis claim they want and that the Palestinians and their Arab friends claim they want - less and less likely.
The decades-long drive by Israel to "create facts on the grounds" has worked all too well. And one of the facts they seem to be on the verge of creating is the death of a viable Palestinian state.
So, it's appropriate, for both US strategic interests as well as long-term Israeli interests, that Obama focus on East Jerusalem and make, as it were, his stand there.
And it's inevitable that the Netanyahu government - more interested in keeping its ultra-Orthodox, extreme right-wing parties happy and thus his coalition intact than pursuing a serious deal with the Palestinians - would try to change the subject.
Flynt Leverett, a former CIA senior analyst and subsequently senior director for Middle Eastern affairs at the National Security Council, and his wife, with similar government experience in the area, who have offered in the past convincing in-depth analyses as to why Iran's nuclear ambitions are less threatening to US interests than Israel would have us believe, wrote a prescient piece right after Netanyahu's US visit, providing insights into Israel's current motivations.
New York's Senator Chuck Schumer is pushing for the Obama administration to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran, which demonstrably won't work, and which Schumer and other Congressional mouthpieces for Netanyahu, hope will then open the way to direct military action against Iran.
As the Leveretts point out, "From an Israeli perspective, keeping America focused on Iran as an urgent threat is useful in distracting Washington from working too seriously on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking."
One of Iran's great strengths throughout the Middle East, where as Shiite Persians they are outsiders in a Sunni Arab landscape, is the support it gets from the Arab man in the street for its consistent and vocal focus on their Palestinian brethren, a far cry from the lukewarm nod in the direction of Palestinians granted by the Arab governments in Cairo, Amman and Riyadh.
Iranian influence is additionally strengthened by its active support for Hezbollah and Hamas. A solution to the Palestinian problem would weaken both extremist groups and quickly deflate Iran's pro-Arab posturing.
But when the Obama administration suggests to Israel that resolving the Palestinian problem will marginalize Iranian influence, they miss the point. The Israeli government is purposely, write the Leveretts, "exaggerating the Iranian threat as a way of fending off pressure to do more on the Palestinian issue."
And, as if on cue, while the US moves to downplay the personal confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu, the Wall Street Journal, Israel's closest ally in what's left of the mainstream media, pushes the Iranian nuclear issue front and center: "The president's two-week public attempt to humiliate Benjamin Netanyahu has also considerably lessened" the likelihood of an Israeli air strike.
That, I would have thought, would be considered good news. But no, an Iran with nuclear weapons capability would be a "major diplomatic defeat" for the US, directly damaging our credibility in the eyes of friend and foe alike. The first argument brings back all those nice memories of the WMD rationale for invading Iraq; and the second, of course, was used for years to keep us in South Vietnam (whose collapse occurred 35 years ago this month without much visible effect on US credibility around the world).
You don't have to read between the lines on this one: forget about pushing a two-state solution; forget about a full peace between the Arab World and Israel. The only thing that matters now is Iran's nuclear desires and the effect they have on Israel.
If you want to get a different view, a balanced one, skip the hardline, knee-jerk pro-Israeli media in the US and read what Israel's most prominent liberal paper chooses to highlight. Writing in Ha'aretz the day before the WSJ's diatribe, Avner Cohen, one of the leading Israeli experts on nuclear weapons and author of Israel and the Bomb, pointed out that it is "almost impossible for Iran to be a nuclear state in the full sense of the word without withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And even [then], it will take Iran years, many years, to make the transition from a threshold state to a mature nuclear state. Such a transition is not trivial; certainly it is not inevitable."
And then, in a fine example of the law of unintended consequences, Cohen concludes, "It's ironic that an Iran under attack would probably become more determined and purposeful in its nuclear ambitions. After an attack, Iran would abandon the treaty in protest, declare its right to nuclear arms and almost certainly succeed in implementing it."
Mouthing Netanyahu's Iranian nuclear threat scenario to help him avoid making peace with the Palestinians and reaching a final accord with the Arab World is not the way to go about protecting Israel.