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Don't Let Republicans Divide Us on Iran

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Some Republicans who say there should be no daylight between the U.S. and Israel are doing their best to create the illusion of daylight for partisan gain. Some Republicans who say disagreements between the U.S. and Israel should be ironed out in private have no compunctions about publicly airing their disagreements with the Obama administration. The result is that our Republican friends unwittingly give succor to Israel's enemies. Their attacks on President Obama create the impression that we are divided on Iran at a time when Iranian miscalculation can be fatal.

President Obama said on March 4, 2012 that "Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." But instead of rallying behind the president in a bipartisan display of support for a policy that they profess to agree with, Republicans tell the world that the president didn't mean it and might be willing to live with a nuclear Iran (despite President Obama's explicit rejection of "containment"). This might be a recipe for short-term political gain, but it's a recipe for disaster if Iranian leaders are tempted to doubt the president's resolve.

Republicans tell us that Israel too doubts the president's resolve. What a surprise. If all I knew about the president's resolve was based on Republican distortions of the president's record, I'd be nervous too. The same people who have done everything possible to undermine trust in President Obama are projecting their mistrust of President Obama on to Israel.

The reality, according to U.S. and Israeli leaders, is that U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation is at unprecedented levels. The trust is there. According to the National Journal, the "Obama administration has already put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on the Iranian government, including new measures targeting, for the first time, Iran's entire financial system."

The real issue, as much as we hate to acknowledge it, is whether Israel can stop Iran on its own. Unless we have top level intelligence clearance, we really don't know. We take justifiable pride in Israel's military exploits: the Six-Day War, the raid on Entebbe, the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor. But an Israeli strike against Iran would have to be executed perfectly, and even if it was "successful," it could only delay, not stop Iran's program -- and at a terrible cost to Israel and America.

President Obama said that "no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction." If Israel does exercise its sovereign right to attack Iran, a country sworn to Israel's destruction, we will and should stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

A central tenet of Zionism is that Israel should not have to depend on foreign powers for its existence. We look to the independent kingdoms of David and Solomon, not the dependent kingdoms of Judea and Israel, as our model. Unfortunately, as strong as Israel is, that day may not have arrived, and if it hasn't, no amount of wishful thinking can make it so.

Israel needs the United States. Israel's red lines are different from those of the United States precisely because Israel's military power is less than that of the United States. If only the U.S. can solve the problem militarily, then the U.S. red lines are the red lines.

Israel might take military action based on doubts that the US will take military action if sanctions don't work. As President Obama said on March 4, Iran "should not doubt Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs."

But if Israel acts based on mistaken assumptions about the president's resolve, we have only the Republicans to blame for willfully twisting the president's words. President Obama could not be clearer, saying that "when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say... as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests." Just ask Osama bin Laden and the Somali pirates.

If we take President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu at their word, the United States and Israel are aligned, despite the best efforts of whose who want to remove President Obama from office so badly that they are willing to sacrifice the U.S.-Israel relationship on the altar of political expediency.

An Israeli strike against Iran based on false assumptions about what the President will or will not do would be tragic for Israel and America, which is why the Republican campaign to delegitimize President Obama and to undercut his message should be opposed by everyone who values a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, regardless of party.

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