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February 12, 2012 2:39 pm

Divided We Stand: On Iran, Obama and Israel are Worlds Apart

avatar by Arik Elman

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Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo: Wiki Commons

Nowadays, when President Obama can’t seem to find his way around a condom and a few bishops, it is rather hilarious to entertain a serious discussion about his plans to prevent Iran from going nuclear. On the other hand, was it ever serious?

I know, I know. The President has told us in no uncertain terms that he has not removed “any option from consideration” with regard to Iran – that, before dedicating the rest of this part of his pre-Superbowl interview to trying to alarm the pro-Israeli American public with imagined consequences of any use of force against the ayatollahs. A few days later, an “Obama administration official” was busy reporting to the New York Times that Obama has managed to convince the Israeli Prime Minister to give more time for economic sanctions to work. On the way, this official dismissed the whole Israeli perception of the Iranian threat as “too narrow”, since all that Israelis apparently care about is whether or not the Iranian nuclear facilities are vulnerable to attack from above, and they don’t give much attention to reports about the impact of the international sanctions on the Iranian economy.

The reason for this frustration in the White House is simple. Despite the highfalutin statements to the contrary (which are going to increase in volume as elections approach) since its very inception the Obama administration operates on an assumption that Israeli and American security interests are NOT the same. This is why, while acknowledging the tremendous difference between the threats that a nuclear Iran will pose for Israel and the US, American officials keep insisting that Israel adopts the American view and confirm itself to it. This is logical – after all, if the President himself approaches the Israeli issue without any love or ideological commitment (as even the Democrats freely acknowledge) then Israel is just another client state that must bow before the will of the sponsor, and that’s all there is to it.

Until the American public soundly rebuked the President and his party for this attitude towards Israel at the midterm elections and beyond, this spirit of “you-do-what-I-say-or-else” permeated the whole fabric of Obama’s policy towards the Jewish state. Today, when the Middle East is burning with Obama-induced Islamic fever, and the prospective partner for peace is busy signing unity agreements with Hamas, the administration prefers to dump this recent history into a memory hole. Nevertheless, on Iran, this attitude is still showing.

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What else can prompt “two senior US officials” to confirm to NBC News claims that Israel is cooperating with People’s Mujahedin of Iran to kill Iranian scientists – claims made by a senior aide to the Iranian Inquisitor-In-Chief? Besides the cowardly attempt to distance the American superpower from the unfortunate events that befell Iranian bomb-builders and to buy immunity from possible retribution at Israel’s expense, the purpose of the leak was more nefarious – to besmirch Israel in the eyes of the American public by linking the Jewish state to the group that has been accused of killing Americans.

In fact, a dispassionate look at the statements made by both the anonymous “officials” and the party-line commentators leads to a conclusion that the real question for Washington right now isn’t how to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power but how to prevent Israel from acting in its self-defense and to convince the Americans that the Jewish state is being lead towards an unnecessary confrontation by a bunch of irresponsible, borderline psychotic scoundrels who are completely oblivious to reality. If this is glaringly similar to the picture that the opinion page of “Haaretz” regularly presents to its readers, it’s because on both sides of the ocean those voices come from the same background. They are a product of a fervent belief that the removal of the Jewish presence from Judea and Samaria is an instant cure for Israel’s security problems and that Netanyahu’s “obsession” with Iran is nothing but a clever distraction from the real issue – freedom for Palestine.

For a good example, look no further than this article by president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb, written as if he addresses a not particularly intelligent student, not the elected leader of the sovereign state who (it so happens) was right on Iran all along. In one not particularly long piece Gelb, a former NYT columnist (that explains a lot) has managed to portray Israeli leaders as liars, to lecture the Israeli Defense Minister – a decorated veteran of many battles – about the possible casualties from an attack on Iran, and to demand from Israel – here it is – to surrender its military strategy and threat assessment to the American judgment. While the Iranian leaders were busy producing new and interesting quotes about their unwavering commitment to the cause of eradication of Israel, talking heads and writing hands representing the “Obama base” deplored… “the Israeli saber-rattling”.

Despite the presidential assurances about being “in a lockstep” with Israel on Iran, right now the only conclusion the rational observer in Jerusalem (and in Tehran) can arrive at is of extreme discord between the Israeli and American perception of the Iran threat, desirable ways to confront it and the time-frame for a military action. Such is the gap between Jerusalem and Washington, that while ordinary Israelis upload videos like this to YouTube, graphically explaining what lies in Israel’s future if Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Dianne Feinstein calls on Obama to prove to Iran that “we are serious about a deal”. Instead of keeping up the pressure on Iran, American foreign policy mandarins recommend that “covert operations and public pressure be demonstrably reduced” to create a right atmosphere for a fruitful dialog. Meanwhile, in Iran centrifuges are spinning, fast.

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