It is quite clear that US President Barack Obama will do what it takes to delay, if not prevent, an attack on Iran by the US or Israel. The quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan have once again shown that it is easy to declare war, but much harder to know when or how to end it, even if the first and only campaign is an air strike.
Obama also knows that within minutes of bombs penetrating the first bunkers at Iran's nuclear facilities outside Qom, the countdown will start on a global economic crisis. The price of oil will soar, driving up the price of gasoline in the US to over the frightening $5 per gallon threshold, stock markets will tumble, taking down US economic growth, and with it, almost certainly, his chances for reelection in November.
Obama also knows that Iranian Pandora's box opened by a US and/or Israeli attack will include a wide-ranging campaign of vengeance. Mines will block the Straits of Hormuz, explosive boats will attack US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, Hizbullah and Hamas will rain missiles onto Israel, US forces in Afghanistan will be hit, car bombs will explode in Europe, if not in New York or Washington. Above all, Obama is convinced that an attack will only delay Iran's nuclear ambitions, but won't end them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expects to hear these bleak forecasts from Obama when they meet Monday in the White House. Netanyahu's aides undoubtedly tell him remarks by an administration official, quoted anonymously by the "Washington Post" as saying, "We're trying to make the decision to attack as difficult as possible for Israel."
Netanyahu also expects to hear what alternatives Obama is offering to an Israeli strike: a US strike on Iran? When? What will be its parameters? What will Obama's red line be?
Obama's biggest problem is that the prophesies of doom are liable to impress Netanyahu more than the alternatives offered. Netanyahu is liable to conclude - and may have already concluded - that the White House has no intention of launching a military strike on Iran, and that a new economic crisis worries the administration more than a nuclear Iran.
Netanyahu is liable to conclude that combative American declarations against Teheran are just an attempt to gain time and to block Israel, and that Obama prefers restraining Iran after it gets the Bomb rather than attack it now, to prevent it getting the Bomb. Israel must therefore fend for itself. If I am not for myself, who will be for me - and better sooner than later.
"Obama will never allow a second Holocaust"
This interpretation could be wrong. A wealthy Jewish Democratic donor who knows Obama told "Globes" that his statements should be taken as stated: all options are on the table, including the military option. The administration has no intention of letting Iran build a nuclear bomb, and if military action is necessary to prevent this, it will be taken.
Asked why Netanyahu ought to rely on Obama's promise, the donor said, "There are a lot of reasons, but the main one, which lets me sleep at night, is that a nuclear attack by Iran on Israel, God forbid, would be an indelible stain on Obama's place in history that will dwarf all his accomplishments. He will go down in history as the president who allowed a second Holocaust, and he'll never let that happen."
Nonetheless, there are reports that the White House has rejected Israel's demand that Iran immediately halt all uranium enrichment, which will be verified by UN inspectors, before the start of talks between Iran and the West. The administration says that Teheran will never accept the complete halt of uranium enrichment, and insisting on it as a condition for talks means that they will never begin. Administration officials say that the White House will adhere to its current policy of sanctions, keeping the military option as a last resort.
Israel's terror threshold
Does reliance on Obama conscience fit in with his decision to reject Israel's demand? The discordance sheds light on the US administration's difficulty in synchronizing the US and Israeli positions on Iran.
Assuming that Obama is not bluffing (his own word) about the military option, the two countries' strategic objective is the same: eliminating Iran's ability to make even one nuclear bomb. The tactics and timetables differ.
Israel's clock ticks faster than the US's clock. Israel's threshold of terror - the result of pogroms, killings, and the Holocaust - is far lower than that of the sheltered Americans. For Israel, the point of no return on Iran will be its entry into the zone of immunity, where it is safe from attack and can develop the Bomb undisturbed.
For the US, the red line would be the decision by the ayatollahs to actually build the Bomb.
Obama has to walk a very fine line in his talks with Netanyahu. On one hand, he will stress the economic consequences, which would rouse international fury against Israel, of a reckless attack on Iran before sanctions have had time to do their work and would strengthen the ayatollah's regime internally. Obama also believes, unlike Netanyahu, that Iran's decision-makers are rational men.
But Obama will have to persuade his guest that, when the test comes, if an when the Iranians cross the Americans' red line, the US is ready to take military action, despite the president's known antipathy of war, despite the ensuing severe economic consequences, and despite the possibility of complications - such as loss of US planes or the capture of pilots - that could affect Obama in the upcoming elections. Obama will widen the discussion to his commitment to Israel's security, and he has recruited at least two prominent US Jewish activists to try and persuade Netanyahu that he means what he says.
The question is whether Netanyahu will buy it. Whether he will place Israel's fate in the hands of the US president, whose intellect Netanyahu admires, but whose spine and world view he doubts. The most up-to-date assessment is that the meeting will end with no agreement. Netanyahu draws encouragement by united bipartisan Congressional support for him. Netanyahu will use such support in an election year, when Israel-US relations are a stick for Republicans to beat Obama with, to tell Obama that only Israel is responsible for its survival.
A top Congressional aide, knowledgeable about Israeli affairs, told "Globes", "Expect horse trading at the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, but your prime minister will not buy any horse from our president."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 4, 2012
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012