Does the road to Tehran run through Jerusalem?
By Dov Zakheim Press reports this past week indicate that the Western powers’ discussions with Iran appear to have mollified the Israelis, at least to the extent that Jerusalem has toned down jeremiad-like rhetoric regarding the Iranian nuclear program. How long Israel will be prepared literally to hold its fire while Iran transfers some, but ...
By Dov Zakheim
By Dov Zakheim
Press reports this past week indicate that the Western powers’ discussions with Iran appear to have mollified the Israelis, at least to the extent that Jerusalem has toned down jeremiad-like rhetoric regarding the Iranian nuclear program. How long Israel will be prepared literally to hold its fire while Iran transfers some, but by no means all, of its enriched uranium for processing in Russia, and opens its facility in Qom for IAEA inspections, very much remains to be seen.
Clearly, with the West talking tough, Israel does not want to be viewed as carping on the sidelines. But the Israelis recognize that the so-called secret facility at Qom was not so secret at all; the United States and others were aware of its existence for some time. The Israelis also harbor grave doubts about the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iranian activity that Tehran prefers it not monitor. And Jerusalem knows full well that sanctions have a mixed record of successfully obtaining whatever objective motivated their imposition.
At the same time, however, Israel recognizes that Washington is now increasingly positioning itself to take military action against Iran if the talks, transfers to Russia, and sanctions fail to halt the momentum of the Iranian program. In particular, the Obama administration’s announcement that it will reposition its missile-defense forces so as better to protect Europe against an Iranian strike has the direct effect of supplementing Israel’s missile defenses. In fact, the American military deterrent has far greater significance than the talks, sanctions, or reprocessing deal. By committing Aegis ships to the eastern Mediterranean, the administration is also putting its forces in harm’s way: There is no way that ships off Israel could avoid the effects of an Iranian nuclear strike on that country.
Israelis have long recognized — though rarely acknowledged — that there is an additional factor that would give Iranians pause before they launched a nuclear attack. Even one successful detonation would likely have devastating effects not just on Israeli Jews, but on Palestinian Arabs (thereby offering one way, perhaps, to conclude the peace process, namely, by wiping out both sides), and, indeed, on neighboring Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, and even Saudis. And while a cynic might point out that Persians have as much contempt for Arabs as they do for Jews, the fact that Jerusalem might not survive may be the greatest of all deterrents for an Iranian leadership that views itself at the vanguard of Islam.
On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the Obama administration’s tough talk will translate into action; tough talk has accomplished little to move Pyongyang, for example. There is considerable uncertainty as to how exactly the administration will deploy naval forces to the Mediterranean: the Navy’s force levels are dropping below 300, and the demand for Aegis ships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans has not diminished. Moreover, the fact that, in a remarkable exercise in role-switching, European leaders and intelligence analysts are more pessimistic about the progress of the Iranian nuclear program than their American counterparts, inspires little confidence in Washington’s ultimate intentions.
The Israelis are prepared to give their closest ally the benefit of the doubt for the time being. And "the time being" may not be that long. In the end, however, unless they are absolutely certain that, as several senators proposed on Sunday, the United States commits itself to a military strike on Iran if the negotiations fail, they will act on their own. "Sinn Fein," ourselves alone, may be the name of an Irish movement, but it embodies the very essence of Israeli policy in the face of what it continues to view as a threat to its very existence.
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