Kinsman: Will Obama be successful in convincing Netanyahu not to strike Iran?

By: /
5 March, 2012
Jeremy Kinsman
By: Jeremy Kinsman
CIC Distinguished Fellow

For now – that is before the November US elections – yes, grudgingly on Netanyahu’s part.

Bibi’s unrivalled hubris and the genuflection of AIPAC and right-wingers like Rick Santorum delude him into thinking his political influence in Washington is greater than the President’s, especially as the derisory Republican race piles on the anti-Iran rhetoric to attract the Super-PAC dollars of billionaire Israel supporters like casino-owner Sheldon Adelson. If Bibi again goes over the President’s head to Congress, the alienation between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu’s coalition will be complete. Surely, Netanyahu understands that this would be bad news especially as the President’s re-election prospects have brightened.

The Administration wants to keep the wild card of a unilateral attack on Iran out of the re-election campaign. But in foreign policy terms, the Obama team including the military judges the that a pre-emptive attack on what they consider an over-rated threat in the short-term would be an uncontainable disaster, igniting vastly more chaos in the region, including against autocratic Saudi and other non-democratic rulers who are said to favour a strike on the unpopular Iran regime. It would relegate the UN Security Council’s authority to the dustbin. Moreover, it’s hard to see how it could even work on Iran’s dispersed and buried nuclear facilities.

Netanyahu seems indifferent to the thought it would also degrade Israel’s reputation in the world beyond repair, being more preoccupied by his political responsibilities to a fearful Israeli public whose geography makes it feel existentially vulnerable. He believes that time is of the essence.

Obama will tell Netanyahu in private “No!” but needs to give the Israeli something beyond expressing understanding of Israeli preoccupations. He’ll tell Netanyahu to keep up the rhetoric which maintains pressure on Tehran. Obama will take a tough line on Iran at AIPAC next week (“No option is off the table”), and will try to tighten increasingly effective international sanctions on Iran even further, including on Pakistan’s recent gas pipeline deal with the regime. There will be renewed side-channel efforts to penetrate into the bubble of Tehran’s leadership where self-vaunting also reigns supreme.

The two supposed allies will probably agree to review the situation together at the end of the year when you can ask the question again. If nothing’s changed, the answer will then be a definite “maybe not.”

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