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
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
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
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.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.