Josh Klemons – Foreign Policy Association March 6, 2012
Anyone casually following the news of Israel recently would assume that the question is not if, but when, Israel will attack Iran. No Israeli leader seems to be able to speak publicly without mentioning the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and Israel’s need to prevent it from moving forward.
President Obama just gave an exclusive interview to Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the book (well, article) on Israel invading Iran, seemingly to convince him, Israel, and the American Jewish voters that he will stand up to Iran. His most memorable quote from the article was the simple warning to Iran that he “doesn’t bluff.”
The U.S., along with long-coveted international support, has only recently upped the ante when it comes to biting economic sanctions being levied against Iran. President Obama is asking for time to gauge their effectiveness. Prime Minister Netanyahu is not sure that there is enough time left.
It is clear that the two states, for similar and deviating rationales, do not want to see a nuclear armed Iran. Bibi believes, or deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of someone who believes, that a nuclear armed Iran is a guarantee of a second Holocaust. He has made it clear that this will not happen on his watch.
President Obama, despite what some of his critics currently duking it out for the GOP nomination claim, also does not want to see the annihilation of Israel. This much he has made clear, not only in words, but in deeds. But his fears of a nuclear armed Iran go beyond that. President Obama has staked out a platform of non-proliferation. While his policy has stalled significantly to date, a nuclear armed Iran all but ensures a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region on the planet.
If Iran becomes a nuclear power, there is every reason to think that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and potentially Jordan and/or Egypt will believe it necessary to follow suit. This is not good for Iran, this is not good for Israel, this is not good for the region, and this is certainly not good for the U.S. Non-proliferation concerns aside (in other words, forget the philosophical concept of less nukes good, more nukes bad), a nuclear armed Middle East is a sure to push that Doomsday Clock forward by a couple of minutes. If it strikes midnight, we are all toast, and it’s currently at 11:55pm. Presumably that midnight hour is something that most rational people might want to prevent.
The major difference between Obama and Netanyahu when it comes to a nuclear armed Iran is where they draw their line in the sand. Netanyahu draws his line at nuclear capable, while the U.S. feels there is slightly more breathing room. There is a firm, blinking and alarming red line hovering definitely before nuclear armed, but how much before is slightly more opaque.
Several prominent Israeli leaders, including a number of past heads of Israeli intelligence agencies, have come out against attacking Iran. But Israel as a state has been very clear on their commitment to using military force to prevent the nuclear arming of Iran should it come to that.
A new poll came out this week however, that had some surprising findings on the subject. While Israel as a state may be prepared to attack Iran, Israel as a people are decisively not, at least not without American support. Despite years of saber rattling on the part of the Netanyahu government in the hopes of convincing the world that this needs to happen without haste, he has apparently not convinced anywhere near a plurality of Israelis on the subject. According to the poll, a whopping 81% of Israelis do not favor invading Iran without American consent and support. Pretty decisive numbers to say the least. And it is worth mentioning that the Israelis are not a people prone to worrying what others think about them. They have typically acted in their own best interests without spending too much time worrying about international public opinion. If America were to approve the strike, two thirds of Israelis would support moving forward.
The Jewish state was created to protect the Jewish people from a world that had failed it (depending of course on who you ask). The very fact that Israelis are willing to put such a massive decision on any other country, even such a tested and true ally, says a lot about the actual risk that most Israelis feel from Iran. If they honestly believed that Iran was seeking a nuclear weapon and that once they had achieved said nuclear weapon, they would immediately strap in onto the nearest warhead and send it off towards Tel Aviv, they would probably be a lot less concerned with what anyone, allies or otherwise, thought of their plans. A more in-depth study would have to be done to fully understand the psyche of the Israeli people on the issue, but it is clear that a nuclear armed Iran is not keeping them up nights the way that some in the Israeli government would have the world believe.
With that in mind, maybe Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet should spend less time trying to convince the world that Iran must be attacked immediately to ward off imminent genocide, and more time taking the pulse of their constituents. Sometimes a leader speaks for his people. And sometimes he needs to stop speaking, and start listening.