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Netanyahu and the Iran War Option

Posted: 03/ 4/2012 9:45 am

Ever since the early 1980s Israeli leaders have been warning the world, and the United States in particular, about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Time and again successive Israeli leaders have traveled to Washington to raise the issue of the rising danger of Iran and the need for a regime change in Tehran with the incumbent U.S. president. However, none have been as adamant as Prime Minister Netanyahu in his insistence and perseverance about the need for a military solution to the Iran problem.

Rebuffed by the hawkish President George W. Bush and feeling even less loved by the more moderate President Obama, Mr. Netanyahu has been doggedly beating the drums of war at home, seeing to it that it is loudly broadcast across the world. However, a number of Iran analysts have dismissed the talk war originating in Israel as a tactical ploy by Mr. Netanyahu to force the U.S. and its European partners to ratchet up sanctions on the Iranian regime.

A closer examination of Mr. Netanyahu's record and his philosophical approach to the problems of Middle East leads us to conclude that the talk of war is more than rhetoric and, indeed, indicative of his intent.

Most mainstream Israeli analysts, as well as their U.S. counterparts, agree that a bombing of the Iranian nuclear facilities will have three significant consequences.

First, it will drive the disenchanted Iranian population into the arms of a brutal regime they now despise. Second, it will make the Iranian policy makers more determined to weaponize their nuclear program, if they have already made such a determination. Third, the ensuing oil market disruptions could devastate the world's equity markets and be another blow to the fragile U.S. economic recovery. Evidence from the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, and the well-documented nationalist attitude of the Iranians, leaves no doubt regarding the first consequence.

The second is also supported by many analysts on the ground that although enrichment facilities can be bombed the know-how cannot. The argument is further reinforced by the observation that a humiliated regime, with no place to flee to, will become more determined to stay in power and to acquire the bomb as an insurance policy against future attacks.

It is these consequences that most analysts point to, when argue that Israelis are simply bluffing. However, this overlooks the fact that Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies in both Israel and the U.S. have a need for the continued reference to a deadly adversary. As long as the world remains convinced that Israel faces an existential threat from Iran, the resolution of the Palestinian problem will not become a top priority. Meanwhile, bulldozers will continue to destroy Palestinian homes and cranes remain busy constructing Israeli homes in their places, further changing creating new "facts on the ground." On the other hand, a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will force the Israeli government to solve the Palestinian problem sooner, depriving it of this valuable option. From Mr. Netanyahu's perspective, the bogeyman's presence is an indispensable part of his tool kit to postpone solving the solution of an "invented" people.

For their part, Iranian policy makers have figured out the nature of the problems they face. The millions of Iranian citizens who poured onto the streets of Tehran in the aftermath of fraudulent 2009 provided the country's leadership the unambiguous signal that their days would be numbered unless they find a way to unite the citizenry. Realizing that an accommodation with the U.S. and its allies will only buy them a short-lived reprieve, they rejected Obama's offer of engagement and ratcheted their bellicose rhetoric. That was a gift eagerly awaited for in Tel Aviv.

In essence, Tehran and Tel Aviv have come to an agreement for a path to the future; a bloody war intended to strengthen their own positions.

For Netanyahu, an added dividend of conflict with Iran would be that a prolonged oil price spike would almost certainly have adverse economic consequences, significantly reducing Obama's reelection chances. In an election year, it could be very difficult for Obama to stand up to Tel Aviv. Israel has powerful allies in this country who are willing to put its interests ahead of those of the United States, and its leaders would not be averse to present the U.S. with a fait accompli during an election campaign. President Obama might be dragged into war that neither he nor the country needs nor wants.