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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 19th, 2009 - 01:39:05

Why US, Iran should resume ties
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 19, 2009, 00:15

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Israel has long been itching for a fight with Iran to show who is boss within the region. Reports suggest that the Israeli Defense Ministry�s plans to strike Iran last summer were thwarted by a Bush administration in no mood for another failed war.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have upped the anti-Iranian rhetoric and appear concerned that promised US-Iranian diplomacy may take too long, allowing Tehran more time to develop its nuclear program.

Israel�s former representative to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, says it may be too late for diplomacy. �The world cannot afford to live with a nuclear Iran,� he said. �I hope diplomacy will work, but I�m not sure we have the time for diplomacy to work.� He warned that Israel is not prepared to live under the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons and says he believes Israel has the ability and capacity to ensure that never happens.

Iran�s launch of a home-manufactured satellite this month, using a Safir-2 rocket, signals that Tehran possesses sophisticated missile technology has further rattled Israelis and will certainly add grist to Benjamin Netanyahu�s case for an Iran-strike should he be tapped to become the next Israeli prime minister. It will also bolster Israeli politicians who say they are resigned to Israel having to �go it alone� if necessary. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad�s announcement following the launch that Iran is now �a superpower� will have done little to qualm fears.

Moderate Israelis are urging the Obama administration to expeditiously implement a plan on how to deal with Iran. Undersecretary of State William Burns insists US policy is still being formulated, a process that could take as long as two months, which Britain, France and Germany find disconcerting. It may be that the US is playing for time in hopes that Iranian elections to be held in June will produce a leader less hard-line than Ahmadinejad.

A favorite contender is the 65-year-old reformist former President Muhammad Khatami, who has complained that Ahmadinejad�s �aggressive and blistering rhetoric� has played �into the hands of the enemy, harming the country and the system.� According to polls, over 60 percent of the electorate is behind him primarily based on Ahmadinejad�s lackluster handling of the economy.

During Khatami�s former tenure, he was a liberalizing influence at home and abroad but was constrained by the ayatollahs when it came to real reform. Both President Khatami and President Rafsanjani held out olive branches to Washington and both were disappointed. Rafsanjani was instrumental in getting Western hostages released from Lebanon and was later to complain that President George H.W. Bush failed to keep his promise to reciprocate.

�The Americans did not understand the situation in Iran,� Khatami once said. �They made big mistakes. They destroyed the ground that had been prepared to reestablish ties.� Likewise, Ahmadinejad�s letter to George W. Bush appealing for greater understanding went unanswered as was his congratulatory note forwarded to President Obama subsequent to his election victory.

Whomever the Iranians opt for, however, is unlikely to make a difference when the real power in Iran over foreign policy rests firmly with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, �It�s preferable that Ahmadinejad stays on instead of a smiling president who enjoys the image of a pragmatist like Khatami, who would mislead public opinion in the West and carry on with the Iranian nuclear program.�

So far, the administration has been putting out mixed messages. Whereas President Obama has promised to hold unconditional talks with the Iranians and has asked Iran to �unclench its fist,� Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have kept military action firmly on the table.

Director of US National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently confirmed to a Senate committee that Israel and Iran are likely to confront one another militarily later this year due to Israel�s determination to block Iran�s nuclear ambitions. In the meantime, Commander of US Central Command David Petraeus has complained that Iran is assisting Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan, albeit in a small way. There are also rumblings in the US and Israel that Hezbollah is preparing for renewed conflict with Lebanon�s neighbor, which given Israel�s belligerence -- both in words and deeds -- would hardly be surprising.

As Obama is still very much an unknown quantity when it comes to Iran, I can only rely on my gut feeling that tells me he is sincere in his stated wish to mend US-Iranian relations. Nevertheless, he should set aside his economic woes just long enough to develop a proactive policy vis-�-vis Tehran, else he could end up having to deal with an unwelcome war on his watch.

There is little doubt that if Israel decides to take on Iran, the US will have little option other than to weigh in. Of course, it could be that Israel�s saber-rattling is designed to coerce the Iranians into cooperating with the West�s carrot and stick approach. Let�s face it we�ve heard it all before. But don�t let�s get comfortable with the idea that Israel once again cries wolf. Now that Israelis have moved to the right in large numbers and celebrate the return of their deterrence following their destruction of Gaza, beware! America must step in and soon if we are to prevent this region from once again becoming an inferno.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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