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Monday, April 12, 2010

Break the linkage

Over the past few weeks, the Obama administration has been becoming more and more shrill in its insistence that there is a connection between 'progress' on the 'Palestinian front' and Western efforts to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The Council on Foreign Relations' Ray Takeyh insists that linkage exists only in the minds of Western policymakers and not in the minds of the Arab states. Insisting on that linkage will weaken Israel and prevent it from taking action to stop Iran in the (likely) event that the United States fails to do so.
The notion that the incumbent Arab regimes are reluctant to collaborate with the United States on Iran because of the prevailing impasse in the peace process is a misreading of regional realities. The Arab states, particularly the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, have an odd policy toward Iran. In private, as any visiting American dignitary can attest, they decry Iran's ambitions, fear its accelerating nuclear program and even hint at the advisability of using military force against its atomic installations. Yet they are loath to be part of an aggressive strategy, which they would see as unduly antagonizing the Islamic Republic. The Arab states will gladly purchase U.S. arms and enhance their defenses, but they would be reluctant to participate in coercing Iran. Arab leaders would prefer that someone else take care of the Iran problem without their active complicity. Absent such a solution, they are likely to coexist with the Iranian bomb. No degree of peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians is likely to alter that calculus.


Israel, then, looms large in Iran's strategic calculations. Unlike the Arab states, Israel approaches Iran with resolution. And unlike the United States, Israel is not entangled in conflicts that Iranian mischief can aggravate. Hamas and Hezbollah are not only unreliable proxies but ones that Israeli armor can handle. Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West's remaining sticks.

All this is not to suggest that Washington cannot criticize Israeli policies, even publicly and forcefully. The ebbs and flows of the emerging peace process will cause disagreements and even tensions between the two allies. But as they plot their strategies for resuming dialogue between Israel and its neighbors, U.S. policymakers would be wise to vociferously insist that the dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will not affect Washington's cooperation with Israel on Iran. A concerted effort to decouple the peace process from Iran's nuclear imbroglio is the best means of declawing the Islamic Republic.
Read it all - it's spot-on. Too bad the Obama administration is unlikely to listen.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

There is a disturbing report in Arutz Sheva this morning Israel has imposed a "defacto" freeze on Jewish building in Jerusalem, despite government promises to the contrary. The question is does Israel accept the Obama "linkage" theory? By its actions, Israel's government may be quietly saying "yes." We can only hope that's not in fact the case.


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