Two items in recent days have put the issue of Israel, Iran, and the United States in clearer perspective.
One comes from a former head of Israeli military intelligence, a man widely respected for his judgment, and not regarded as a hawk. The other comes from the New York Times journalist who spent several years as its principal correspondent in Israel. He received flak when his son entered the IDF, but he has met the demands of his profession without having bought into an Israeli narrative.
Both emphasize the same problem. Israel feels threatened in a fundamental way by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Israel has considerable military capacity to use against that threat, but not nearly as much as the United States. To be certain of setting back Iran's timetable, and hopefully ending its nuclear aspirations altogether, Israel must act earlier than the United States. Its weaponry, even assuming its success, could not deal with an more advanced and more bunkered nuclear program as well as American weaponry.
The question that is crucial is Israeli confidence in the Obama administration.
Against the oft repeated statement that Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons, the Obama administration is on record as asserting its faith in sanctions, and claiming that there is no hard evidence or absolute proof that Iran is intent on constructing nuclear weapons.
There is also a history going back to the beginning of the Obama administration of flaky aspirations about democracy in the Middle East, and confidence that the Palestinians can do what is appropriate to match an Israeli settlement freeze and other gestures.
One or another of these aspirations has produced a lack of confidence within Israel, as well among leaders of other Middle Eastern countries that the Americans consider their moderate allies. When the American administration threw its old friend Hosni Mubarak under the bus of chaotic Egyptian protests, Israeli doubters began speaking of Obama throwing their whole country under the bus of Middle Eastern madness.
Sanction supporter are cheering North Korea's commitment to suspend its nuclear program. Sceptics are citing North Korea's record of turning back on its commitments, and saying that Iran is learning from North Korea that it is possible to deal with the West via delay, obfuscation, and apparent concessions. They are also saying that Iran is more sophisticated technologically than North Korea.
In short, my speculative meter of likely Israeli initiative has moved away from the mid-line, in the direction of whatever you wish to call the area of action, pre-emption, or self-defense.
Israel is not big enough to throw the United States under the bus. It may be big enough to keep the Obama White House from sacrificing it to touchy feely aspirations for democracy, decency, or rationality in a country like Iran. Israel may also be big enough to pull the United States along with it, helped by an American election season when the President's opponents are claiming that he is too soft on Iran and too hard on Israel.
Among the concerns of the American president is the price of gas. The latest I've seen is that it is somewhere around than $3.75 a gallon.
Israelis are paying more than $8 a gallon. A recent survey showed American fuel prices ranked #101 from the top in a list of 141 countries. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ene_gas_pri-energy-gasoline-prices (The data is in cost/liter.)
View that in the context of US GDP/c ranked #9 from the top among more than 200 countries. Currently, the US figure is more than $47,000, and Israel's (ranked #45) less than $30,000. http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?v=67
A prevailing Israeli view is that the IDF cannot solve the problem of Iran once and for all. But an attack is likely to have ripples, that will involve American interests and perhaps even direct Iranian attacks on American forces or attempts to close the Straits of Hormuz.
If that happens, the United States will be under the bus along with Israel.
Those remembering my previous notes will know that I am less than enthusiastic about these prospects and their implications.
Iran is not the only issue in our headlines. On the day of the Prime Minister's flight to meet with officials in Canada and then the United States, a prominent daily published an interview with a former close aide who had fallen afoul of problems in the Prime Minister's Office. Friday evening television commentaries dealt once again with charges about the Prime Minister's inability to manage a governmental summit that works together in mutual trust, along with claims that the Prime Minister's wife is a major irritant. A short time ago Sara Natanyahu received a favorable judgment in a dispute initiated by a former household employee, but that was not a prominent feature of the Friday evening discussions. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4197669,00.html
Whatever is decided in the meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the details available to the public are likely to leave us wondering.
As a retired professor, I'll stay with my role as observer and commentator, and not expect a telephone from on high asking me what to do.
And for those concerned about the blessings of nature on the Holy Land as well as its prospects for nuclear war, Whoever or Whatever is running the show has dropped more than 22 cm of rain, including a bit of snow, on our balcony during the most recent four days. And it's still coming. That's more than 8.6 inches in those peculiar American measurements..
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem