(photo credit: Amir Kholousi\AP)
When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits the White House in early July, the
Iranian nuclear file is sure to be discussed.
And he is bound to be
disappointed with what he hears from Barack Obama. That is because there are
profound differences between the Obama administration and Israel when it comes
to the perception of the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as their
estimation of the consequences of preventative military action.
there are analytical problems stemming from the White House’s belief
would be willing to strike a “grand bargain” if an American president
who threw cold water on the US-Israeli relationship. Netanyahu suffers
illusion that Iran would reorient itself toward the West. After all, one
pillars of the Iranian revolution is to despise big and little Satan
and Israel, respectively), and it has long been embodied in Iran’s
foreign-policy slogan: “Neither East nor West.”
Then there is the problem
of effective sanctions. Israel believes time is running out and
not alter the regime’s behavior. But the Obama administration is proud
new toothless sanctions passed by the UN Security Council. Indeed,
1929 fails to target Iran’s energy sector and safeguards Russia and
economic interests. Moreover, while the US Congress wants to punish
that sell refined petroleum products to Iran, team Obama prefers a
approach. This fourth round of sanctions is being billed as proof
American foreign policy toward Russia and China is a smashing success.
Bush administration managed to gain their support for three separate
sanctions from 2006-2008. It is difficult, then, to see how Obama’s
policy outreach has paid dividends, and equally hard to conclude that
UN sanctions will affect Iranian behavior. For Netanyahu, the idea that
through the UN could effectively solve such a time-sensitive problem is
Yet the analytical problem goes even further when contemplating a
preemptive strike and the resulting fallout. The Israeli view is that
would be hit with rockets from Hamas and Hizbullah, and Jewish sites
globe would be attacked. There would probably be attacks against the US
and the global economy would take a dive. But in the end, Iran would be
to face Israel’s counterdeterrent.
The Iranian people may even turn
against their leadership and say, “look at the mess you have brought
In the Israeli view, maybe their preemptive strike only sets the
program back a year – but that is what Israel thought after bombing
nuclear reactor in 1981 and today, some 30 years later, Iraq’s nuclear
was never reconstituted. Accordingly, buying a year in the Middle East
actually be quite significant. In this view, the morning after does not
bad for Israel; it is something the Jewish state can weather.
administration’s view is very different. The result of an Israeli raid
mean that American soldiers – 150,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan – would be
exposed than ever. The global war on terrorism would become even more
to prosecute. The regime in Teheran that today is weak and divided will
united along with its people. It will redouble its efforts to get a
weapon and there would be precious little international support to
Those weapons would be delivered to its terrorist proxies. In the White
estimation, an Israeli preemptive strike would be catastrophic.
disparity between Israel and the US is more than analytical. There is a
analogical difference as well.
Israel views Iran like Europe in the
1930s, with a country openly determined to eliminate all the Jews. It
very real existential threat.
On the other hand, Obama sees Russia and
China during the Cold War where a combination of containment and
prevented nuclear hostilities.
Yet given the ideological-messianic fervor
of many in the Iranian leadership, Israelis rightfully question whether
regime can be deterred.
Moreover, there is no hot line between Jerusalem
and Teheran such as existed between Washington and Moscow during the
Any diplomatic incident would run the risk of snowballing toward a
clash. Indeed, the possibilities for conflict are endless in a region
long been a tinderbox.
These two strikingly different analytical and
analogical frameworks are mutually exclusive and are bound to lead the
Israel in very different directions. The past year and a half has been a
of missed American opportunities to pressure the Iranian
Moreover, Obama’s “charm offensive” in the Muslim world has
displayed American weakness rather than strength.
Today, Iran can proudly
add Turkey and Brazil to its resistance camp. By way of contrast,
allies wonder if the Obama administration has the ability to bring about
through strength. Given the current American trend, the answer firmly
be no, and Iran has certainly taken notice.
The writer is director of
policy at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC.
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