I have no doubt that Israel is–legitimately–freaked out by Iran, although not so much by the prospect of an Iranian bomb as by Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas. (The only plausible use of an Iranian bomb would be as a deterrent against Israel’s own nuclear weapons.) But it seems clear that the Netanyahu government’s wild overstatement of the Iranian threat, and its linkage to progress on the Palestinian issue, is a subterfuge to allow the continued illegal Israeli settlement of Palestinian areas on the West Bank, which will ultimately subvert a two-state solution.
It’s time for President Obama to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that the U.S. favors a Middle East peace settlement similar to the one proposed by Bill Clinton in 2000: no right of return for Palestinians, Jerusalem as a shared capital, the restoration (more or less) of the 1967 borders and an American peacekeeping force in the Jordan River Valley. The idea that Israel can continue to slow-walk the process and, by continuing to seize Palestinian lands, create a new reality on the ground, needs to be vehemently opposed by the U.S. government. A quiet message also needs to be sent to Netanyahu that the U.S. will not be pressured into rushing negotiations with the Iranians, or taking military action against them, and that we will continue the Bush policy of actively opposing any Israeli military strikes against Iran.
As for Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest anti-Israel rant seems to have increased the possibility that the Europeans will join us in raising economic sanctions if Iran doesn’t fully comply with the IAEA non-proliferation regime. Obama’s quiet diplomacy with the Russians and Chinese has increased the possibility that those countries will also send the message to Iran that a bomb-making program will have negative consequences. I’m not sure that any of this stop the Iranians form developing a bomb, but I remain convinced that if Iran does go ahead, a policy of strict deterrence and containment–perhaps including the Arab states threatened by Iran’s aggressive posture–is far preferable to any sort of military action.