Switching the subject

Israel isn't trying to switch the discussion away from the Palestinians to Iran.

Asif Ali Zardari 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Asif Ali Zardari 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, will be in Washington this week to reassure President Barack Obama that, contrary to appearances, his nuclear-armed country isn't really unraveling. The Pakistani army is killing increasing numbers of "militants" and there is no real danger of a creeping Taliban takeover, Zardari will assert. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, perhaps sitting in on the meeting, might opine that putting too much pressure on the Pakistani army to crush the Islamists could destroy the country's "nascent democracy." Indeed, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Washington Post's David Ignatius: "My experience is that knocking [the Pakistani government and military] hard isn't going to work. The harder we push, the further away they get." For the Taliban to be defeated, Mullen argues, the Pakistanis have to see their interests in the struggle. Of course, as Mullen well knows, there are elements in Pakistan's intelligence community that even today provide support to the Taliban. At this point, neither Mullen nor Gates knows where all of Pakistan's nuclear sites are located. That's awkward considering that the Bush administration invested $100 million into helping Islamabad protect these nukes from falling into the hands of Muslim extremists. No one knows where the money really went. Crisis or not, Pakistan continues to produce weapons-grade plutonium. CLEARLY, Pakistan-Afghanistan presents American decision-makers with a conundrum. Israelis could, perhaps, commiserate if the Americans threw up their hands and said: "Sorry, we just can't deal with an Iranian bomb because Pakistan is unraveling, Afghanistan looks set to again become a base for al-Qaida attacks on the West and, to boot, the prognosis in Iraq looks even worse than we thought." But that's not what Washington is saying. What they may be saying is, "Better a bomb than a bombing," as an Israel Television news report claimed Sunday, citing unnamed European and Israeli sources - meaning the administration has become reconciled to a nuclear-armed Iran. If true, that would go counter to everything the administration is saying publicly, and every solemn personal commitment Barack Obama has made. At the same time, the Iranians are talking straight about their plans. Following a report in the French magazine L'Express that the Israel Air Force staged exercises near Gibraltar, training for a possible attack on Iran, Maj.-Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian chief of staff, announced that he needs just 11 days to "destroy" Israel. Analysts here are still scratching their heads over the significance of the 11-day figure. ADMINISTRATION officials are reportedly insinuating that the US will only act - in some unspecified fashion - on Iran if Washington can muster an alliance of European and Arab countries. For that to happen, as The New York Times put it Monday, Israel - if it wants the world to "confront" Iran - needs to "work toward" an end to the "occupation," halt settlement construction and foster the creation of a Palestinian state. If this truly is Obama's position, frankly, we don't get it. Does America really feel hamstrung in "confronting" Iran without Arab and European support? Aren't the Arabs privately - and insistently - telling American envoys that they are as worried about Iran as Israel is? Moreover, if, for argument's sake, Israel tomorrow - in the depths of existential despair - pulled back to the 1949 Armistice Lines, abruptly ending the "occupation" and uprooting every "settlement," does anyone this side of la-la land think such a withdrawal would constrain Iranian imperialism? Encourage Teheran to end its quest for nuclear weapons? Satiate Palestinian demands? Israel isn't arbitrarily trying to "switch" the discussion away from the Palestinians to Iran. It is warning that a nuclear-armed Iran is the overriding threat - to Israel, the Arabs and the West. We are saying that the reason there is no Palestinian state is principally attributable to the intransigent, unrealistic and self-defeating Palestinian negotiating position which, if anything, will become less malleable should the mullahs get the bomb. Iran's proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, would become even more puffed-up. Someone is trying to "switch the subject" all right - but it isn't Israel.