The entire rightwing blogsphere is going into apoplexy today at the news that President Obama has refused to meet Israel PM Netanyahu (and thereby appear to lend tacit approval of Israel's increasing militancy with respect to Iran). The neocons, who last promised us a democratic Iraq and dragged us into two endless, bankrupting wars, have now moved to Romney's campaign and we are beginning to hear voices (did someone say "John McCain"?) that decry Obama's foreign policy stance on Iran.
I, for one, am extremely happy that Obama is showing a backbone (AGAIN!!!) and, very much the US President and Commander in Chief, is keeping US policy options open as opposed to writing the extremists in Tel Aviv a blank check and hoping for the best.
Follow me below the pretzel for some observations.
1. The entire premise of the current craze is flawed... It is flawed firstly because the reason radical Islamists want to destroy the State of Israel is so they can presumably give the territory back to the Palestinians. But a nuclear strike by Iran will make that territory uninhabitable thus dispossessing the Palestinians again, this time permanently. Secondly, given the close proximity in which Jews and Arabs live, would Iran use nuclear weapons, knowing full well that the end result will be the death of tens - if not hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Finally, would Iran dare use nuclear weapons on a territory that still contains Islam's third holiest site (the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem)?
But, secondly, let's assume all this is not enough to stop a nuclearly armed Iran. Would Iran dare face an Israeli retaliatory strike? For the fact that Israel possesses nuclear weapons is not an especially big secret. How big a confidence will Iran have in the precision of its weapons? Suppose they detonated over the territory of Syria or Jordan? But even if they more or less hit their targets (and by the way, there is no way Syria, or Jordan or Saudi Arabia or Egypt will emerge unscathed)... will Iran be willing to absorb Israel's precise retaliatory strike, obliterating its cities and its oil fields? For Israels nukes will arrive on Western-issue guided missiles.
Thirdly, though, Israel's attempt to orchestrate a war against Iran is counterproductive if the purpose is to slow down or stop its nuclear program. In an intriguing counterintuitive essay in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs (pp. 44-53), titled "Botching the Bomb," Jacques Hymans has argued that dictatorships do not have a good track record when it comes to managing the tricky and complex process of constructing a nuclear weapon. The caveat? Don't make them more efficient and patriotic by threatening them with war.
2. Because of the context of the Cold War and Israel's status as a lone ally in a see of Soviet-sponsored Arab regimes, Israel has always perceived itself and its interests somewhat unrealistically. Therefore, the Middle East has come closest to peace precisely when the United States (under the presidencies of Carter and Clinton) put pressure on Israel and forced it to - you know - realize that the other side has interests as well. It always came as a surprise that when you compromise a little, the other side appears willing to give you something in exchange. Conversely, after 8 years of Bush when the US engaged in an Iraq war, to the delight of Israel and when Israel's atrocious treatment of the Arabs was ignored and in some ways tacitly encouraged perhaps -- think of the all those UN resolutions condemning Israel's behavior that were blocked by the US veto in the Security Council -- peace in the Middle East has become more difficult to achieve.
3. Finally. What has the politics of blank checks done to Israel? Jimmy Carter, that favorite pinata for the right wing, has earned the rabid hatred of "conservatives" both in Israel and the US for daring to publicize the plight of the Palestinians. His book, "Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid" paints a truly devastating picture of Israel as a society at war with itself. In inflicting such untold suffering on the Palestinians, Israeli democracy itself is corrupting its very soul... being to others a power of evil, of apartheid and fanaticism is truly shameful given the Jewish people's suffering at the hands of others all through the medieval darkness of Europe and the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust.
Inducing Israel to stop pretending it is a great power and encouraging it to find accommodation with the Palestinians and its neighbors is, in the end, the best guarantee for the long-term survival of the Jewish State.