Kicking the Iranian Can Down the Road

The likes of Peter Beinart and James Traub are disingenuous and dangerous — their caricatures of Netanyahu and Barak do not conform to reality.

Published in Israel Hayom, August 22, 2012  Click here for a printer-friendly version.

As the debate intensifies regarding unilateral Israeli action against Iran, everybody seems to be playing kick the can down the road. Blame the other. A very dangerous game.

In attempt to arrest Israeli action, many figures are calling upon the Obama administration to make its commitment clearer than ever to stop Iran from going nuclear. This makes good strategic sense. But those calls are already being spurned in Washington.

Former IDF military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin wrote in The Washington Post and told The Times of Israel that the U.S. should take immediate steps to convince allies and adversaries alike that military action is real, imminent and doable. He said that Obama should notify the U.S. Congress in writing that if the steps the administration is relying upon today, like negotiations and sanctions, do not achieve success by the summer of 2013, then the Americans “will deal with the problem via military intervention.” Obama should also signal his intentions via a heightened U.S. military presence in the gulf, and more. “Time is running out to make this commitment credible to the people of the U.S., Israel and Iran. If you want peace, prepare (credibly) for war.” Former Bush administration NSC official Elliot Abrams wrote the same thing yesterday in The Weekly Standard: “It is time to authorize the use of force against Iran,” he said.

Similarly, former deputy foreign minister and Oslo architect Yossi Beilin told Haaretz that “What is needed is public diplomacy. The Americans need to take it up an octave and use words that haven’t been spoken yet in addressing the Israeli public. They need to be clearer and sound more steadfast than they have up to now. Since the United States fears an imminent Israeli operation, it must make a statement that commits it to taking action against Iran when the time comes and leaves no room for doubt.”

Ehud Barak’s longtime aide, Brig. Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog, wrote in a Washington Institute article that if the US wants to influence Israeli decision-making, “it must reach out to its ally at the highest level both publicly and privately, presenting a clearer roadmap that seriously addresses Israel’s concerns. Such a dialogue cannot wait until after the U.S. election.”

But Obama shill Peter Beinart was quick to angrily dismiss these calls. Calling efforts to elicit an unambiguous US stance “nuts,” Beinart intimates that Israel is overstepping the bounds of good taste by asking the President “to promise to launch war(s) in backroom negotiations with foreign leaders.” Instead, he calls for “debate” in Congress and the American public about American interests vis. Iran – before any promises are made to Israel. “Has either Congress or the media done detailed investigations into how exactly a nuclear Iran would threaten the United States? Or into how American military action might affect the safety of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the Gulf? Or into what kind of anti-American terrorism an attack might spark? Or into what impact a strike would have on relations with key U.S. allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt? Or into how military action would influence global oil prices and the world economy?,” asks Beinart.

Of course, Beinart’s blather backs up Obama’s desire to keep kicking the Iranian can down the road until after the November election. As Jonathan Tobin has written “Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly-enacted sanctions that are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. His assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an ‘American interest’ is simply untrue.”

It gets worse. Writing in the establishment Foreign Policy magazine, veteran correspondent and analyst James Traub mocks Ehud Barak’s zone of immunity argument, calling it the “zone of insanity.” He repeatedly calls Netanyahu “crazy” and frenzied,” and accuses him of trying to “bully” Obama “into making some sort of ironclad promise to launch airstrikes if diplomacy fails to deter the Iranians by a stipulated date.” Traub warns Obama not to “become hostage to Netanyhau’s increasingly swift timetable for action.” Obama should not “back himself into a corner by making his red lines public.”

Traub goes on to mock those who have written about the depth of the anti-Semitism of the Iranian regime and singgers about Netanyahu’s penchant for flagging such Iranian statements.

Beinart, Traub and their ilk are disingenuous and dangerous in so many ways, primarily in their creation of a caricature of Netanyahu and Barak that does not conform to reality. Despite their insinuations, neither Israeli leader has called upon Obama to commit the US to war at some defined red line in the future. As the unnamed senior Israeli “decision-maker” (obviously Ehud Barak) told Ari Shavit of Haaretz ten days ago “The Americans could say clearly that if by next spring the Iranians still have a nuclear program, they will destroy it. But the Americans are not making this simple statement because countries don’t make these kinds of statements to each other. In statesmanship there are no future contracts. The American president cannot commit now to a decision that he will or will not make six months from now. So the expectation of such a binding American assurance now is not serious.….”

The real danger, I think, in the undercurrent of Administration thought that Beinart and Traub represent lies in the second half of Traub’s column. He calls for another P5+1 attempt to cut a comprehensive deal with the Iranians that would allow Iran “what it claims it wants” – the right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, along with retainment of its nuclear facilities (in exchange for what Iranian commitment – that’s not clear).

Herein lies the rub. Obama claims that his policy is prevention of an Iranian bomb, but it smells like he is moving (in a second term) towards containment of an Iranian bomb. He certainly seems to have backed away from the commitment to stop Iran from gaining the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Basically, Obama seems prepared to let Iran get one turn of the screwdriver away from the assembly of an actual bomb. Israel, of course, is not prepared to live with that. Our red lines are indeed different.

In sum, many private agendas are impacting on the Iran debate and not enough people are taking the Iranian threat seriously. Left-wing Israelis eager to isolate Netanyahu and Barak beg to be reassured by the US. Some American Jews seek to distance themselves from Netanyahu and Barak – for fear of being accused again of dragging the US (or of Israel dragging the US) to war, as was the case with Iraq – so they mock Israeli leadership as nuts. Conservatives seek to portray Obama as a weakling for electoral purposes. Obama seeks to deflect attention from the fact that his ineffective diplomacy let the issue slide for the past four years. His defenders are preparing public opinion for a sell-out deal with the Iranians in 2013 that ignores Israel. As I said, everybody is playing kick the can. Meanwhile, the Iranian centrifuges keep spinning…

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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