In light of the damning IAEA report released in November, showing no equivocation regarding Iranian intentions for producing nuclear weapons, it is high time that the United States and Israel abandon their current policies and adopt a new joint strategy.
Since 1993 I have been calling attention to the potential of a nuclear Iran, perhaps the most dangerous development in our region. Today we all understand that if Iran achieves nuclear military power, it is only a matter of time, a few years, before Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will reach nuclear capacity as well.
For Israel, that scenario is nothing short of a strategic nightmare. We will be surrounded not only by a nuclear Iran and the long-range missiles of its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza; but by three new nuclear states as well. What they have in common is an authoritarian regime, overwhelmingly influenced by radical Islamist movements.
As tough as this neighborhood has been, Israel has survived due to its military superiority. Should the region go nuclear, that superiority will be lost and Israel's disappearance is a matter of time. No government in Jerusalem can afford to neglect this disturbing reality; no government has the moral authority to allow this fate for our children.
The current Israeli government desperately needs support of friends in the international arena, and support of countries in the region which share the fear of Iran. Sadly, its political behavior, the courting and appeasing of extremist, violent settlers in the West Bank, has succeeded in isolating Israel at a time when collaboration and coordination of the highest order is called for.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who takes great pride in securing the future of the Jewish people, is playing high stakes political games that are leaving Israel almost alone in confronting the Iranian threat. His "success" in turning the U.S. President into a hostage of cynical political maneuvers in an election year will, sadly, be proven to not only be counterproductive but as undermining our security well into the future.
The unprecedented record of support of President Obama to Israel's defense capabilities is well known in security circles, and undoubtedly by Netanyahu as well. The president has enabled the deployment of special early-warning radar in the Negev; the generous support for Israel's anti-missile defense projects ("Iron Dome", "David's Slinge", "Arrow-3") which dramatically helps the build-up of our anti-rocket, anti-missile shield; quick assistance during the attack on our Embassy in Egypt, are a just a few examples.
In the war against Islamist terrorism, Obama expended the use of precision-guided ammunition in a way no previous administration has before it. He didn't lecture us about punishing the arch-terrorists, he simply did it. These actions turned the world into a less dangerous place, for Israel as well.
These two achievements unquestionably upend the rightwing accusations that the US President "threw Israel under the bus".
But, unfortunately, Obama has adopted an approach of near total passivity on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, he went out of his way to punish the Palestinian Authority for the "unpardonable sin" of trying to obtain UN recognition. This misguided policy will not encourage peace in the Middle East, nor will it convince Jewish voters who oppose him.
What is called for is an assertive policy and sustained commitment of action, even during an election year. This means vis-à-vis Iran, too. In July 2010 President Obama signed into law tough sanctions against companies involved in energy trade with Iran. Between July and October 2010 several major international companies cut their business with Iran. But since October 2010 not a single important company did so. Why? Because the energy companies quickly learned that the sanctions are not really being implemented. For a short time following the unveiling of the plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador, there were rumors that real "crippling sanctions" are underway, including a boycott of the Iranian central bank. The recently declared sanctions are partial and not sufficient.
Instead, official Washington continues to toy with the naïve illusion of "re-educating Tehran". I heard such beliefs in a closed forum with a senior State Department official who spoke about the hope that Iran will "return to the way of engagement" and "will restore its international commitments". Even as he spoke, American soldiers were being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by Iran-made IED's.
Time is against the United States and against Israel. It is not only the Iranian bomb. The possible resignation of Abu-Mazen, dissolving of the PA which may follow it and the strengthening of Hamas, may drag Israel to a position where it has to toughen the occupation. If so, it will become even more isolated than it is today and the last chance to remain a Jewish democratic state will be lost forever. This is a warning call to all who sincerely love Israel: you cannot remain complacent.
The U.S. policy has to change. Three measures should be implemented immediately:
- Boycott Iran's central bank.
- Punish Iran's major energy partners.
- Ban imports to the U.S. of all products originating from Iranian oil ("Iranian-oil-free Zone").
These sanctions if seriously implemented will accelerate the collapse of the repressive regime in Tehran, which is viscerally hated by the Iranian people. And, Israel will be exempted of the need to take military action against Iran, with all its repercussions.
At the same time, the Israeli government should be required to immediately start negotiations with the Palestinian President about borders and security within a limited time frame. Building in the settlements will be strictly frozen as long as the negotiations take place. It is a fair deal to prevent the catastrophe which now looks unavoidable.
The U.S. has to step up now. Get two-state negotiations moving again. Deny the regime of the ayatollahs nuclear weapons. Don't let Israel's "last resort" be its only resort.
Ephraim Sneh, a retired IDF General, served twice as Israel's Deputy Minister of Defense. Currently he is the Chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.