Obama’s flashing red light to Netanyahu on Iran

Judging from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC last night, you would think that he received a green light from President Obama to attack Iran unilaterally.

My reading of their meeting at the White House yesterday was that although Obama recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself “by itself,” as he said in his own speech to AIPAC on Sunday, he is asking Netanyahu to hold fire. So in the terms of the driver’s manual, Obama has issued a flashing red signal. Not a green light. Not a flashing yellow light meaning proceed with caution. But a flashing red light that means: Come to a complete stop and proceed when the way is clear.

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After much careful messaging since Sunday, in which Obama had urged more time for a diplomatic solution with Iran, while stating that a “military effort” is part of the contingency planning, Netanyahu was back off message last night, repeating that diplomacy hadn’t worked, sanctions wouldn’t work and time is running out to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He contradicted Obama, who earlier in the day had said that “both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.”

Netanyahu doesn’t have the strategic patience. “None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation,” he said, invoking memories of the Holocaust.

This morning we heard more criticism of Obama’s Iran policy as his Republican challengers for the presidency made their way to the AIPAC conference. The president will have another chance to hit back later today at a news conference.

But here’s the most compelling reason I have heard for not bombing Iran. Military action is the best route to ensure that the Iranian regime decides to race to a weapon. The first thing the Iranian leadership would do would be to throw out the U.N. inspectors and bolt from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it still belongs. Iraq was not deterred from building a weapon clandestinely after the Osiraq strike, so why would Iran be? You would have the risk of a North Korea situation in a country that sits strategically across all the fault lines in the Middle East — never mind the potential for a nuclear arms race in the region.

What Netanyahu doesn’t say is that Israel’s strategy is to maintain the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the region. But Iran is not Iraq, and is not Syria. He would do well to heed the flashing red light and proceed militarily only when Obama agrees that a diplomatic solution cannot be found.

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