Diary

Israel's sovereign right to defend itself

07 March, 2012

Obama and Netanyahu's pronouncements on Iran would appear to indicate that these leaders are singing from the same hymn sheet. Obama declared that he would never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear capability and that "containment" was not an option. He made it clear that when it came to stopping the mullahs, "all options were on the table". He told the Atlantic that “when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say". He stressed the unyielding bond of friendship between the US and Israel.

That Obama was seeking to ratchet up his pro Israel credentials during election year in order to gain significant electoral advantage is a point too obvious to need stating. That he is viscerally hostile to the current Israeli government is also too well established to be denied. What matters is whether the positions of Obama and Netanyahu are really identical. The crux of the matter is that they are not.

While understanding Israel's sovereign right to act in its own interests, Obama still believes that diplomacy and sanctions are the preferred route for tackling the Iranian mullahs. He spoke yesterday of the need for a 'careful, sober and thoughtful approach' in dealing with this issue. A decision to use force with the next few weeks, he added, was 'not borne out by facts'. In other words, he was not about to commit US forces into action against Tehran.

The Israeli view is that time is a luxury and that the window of opportunity for stopping an Iranian nuke is narrowing daily. This is because Jerusalem is aware that Iran is hiding nuclear material underground at Fordow and that the site is much harder to attack with Israeli than American weaponry. America has bunker busting equipment that Israel lacks, meaning that once the material is fully hidden underground, Israel would have to rely on an American decision to attack once all other options had been exhausted.

Obama wants Israel to desist from taking precipitate action, certainly until after the Presidential election. In effect he is saying: Trust me, I will ensure your country's security even after your red lines are crossed. Your existential anxieties are best entrusted to my government, not your own.

But trust is a commodity in rather short measure after more than 3 years in which Obama has undermined Israel's diplomatic standing, empowered the PA through a misguided emphasis on settlements and inadvertently given a massive fillip to the Muslim Brotherhood. And as Netanyahu pointed out so clearly in his latest masterful display at the AIPAC conference, Israel needs the permission of no other state to act decisively in its own defence.

The net result is that within a few months, perhaps even a matter of weeks, Israel's government will decide that it can no longer afford to give Iran time to complete its nuclear project. When and if Israel does launch pre-emptive action against Tehran, it is not clear what America's response will be. But no one could blame Netanyahu and his Cabinet for making such an existentially important position. For as he stated so powerfully at AIPAC, Israel is "master of its fate" and never again would he let his nation "live in the shadow of annihilation". As the drumbeats of war grow louder, that message should not be lost on anyone.

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