Saturday, July 7, 2012

Post #286 - Call It Progress: The Can Kicks Itself Down the Road

Dr. Robert O. Freeman, professor emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and author of several books on Israeli politics and foreign policy, was a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins in 2009 when he wrote "Decision Time for Israel on Iran?" for Israel Horizons (

Freeman began by saying "The Islamic Republic of Iran is a Shiite religious dictatorship, where power is in the hand of conservative clerics." (One might almost think that this would be enough to seal Iran's fate, without going further.) Freeman notes that Iran has its own troubles with unemployment and other economic problems. (He assumes that the disputed 2009 elections proved that President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad pursues policies that most Iranians reject, but is informed enough to know that Supreme Leader Khamenei may be a more critical factor in determining what Iran does vis-a-vis Israel.)

"Israel faces a choice," Freeman writes, "Would it acquiesce in Iran's likely acquisition of nuclear arms or would it launch a unilateral attack on Iran, thereby putting it at odds with its main strategic ally, the United States?" While emphasizing one of the key elements -- U.S. support or lack of it -- Freeman does not mention other possible downsides to Israel's taking the attack option, such as possible retaliation and blow-back from Iran as well as other nations (and non-state actors) of the region. He places confidence in Israel's capacity to resist missile attacks with its "Iron Dome" system. (One should recall that as ineffectual as Saddam's Scud missiles proved to be, they were also not susceptible to interception by vaunted U.S. or Israeli counter-measures.)

Remember, Freeman's article came not long after the advent of the Obama administration. He said, "To be sure, Obama began his policy of engagment with Iran carefully, so he wouldn't give either Israel or America's Sunni Arab allies the impression that he was selling them out as part of a rapprochement with Iran. "'We need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran, '" Freeman quoted the President-elect, "'making very clear to them that their development of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable.'" He laments that Obama's "friendly tone" was not reciprocated by Iran's officials, but notes the "Khamenei...did say that if the US changed its attitude, Iran would change its attitude as well." -- yet wanted to see removal of the crippling sanctions and an end to support for Israel, which was never going to happen.

Freeman then outlines some of the diplomatic moves that took place in tandem with increases in the bite of sanctions. The real point of his piece was to ask the rhetorical question "How long will the Obama administration give Iran...?" He projected that failing substantive progress, Israel might launch a unilateral attack "sometime in 2010," without U.S. approval or encouragement. He held out the hope that a "proper relationship" between Obama and Netanyahu on Iran might allow the Israel leader to grant further "concessions," such as his having agreed to "the establishment of a Palestinian state." Perhaps, he speculates "Iran may prove to be an unwitting catalyst in the Israel-Palestinian peace process."

We are now three years further down the road. Iran endures ever greater pressure from economic sanctions, has been the target of devastating cyber-attacks and has had scientists assassinated, yet, Iran is further along with its nuclear programs. Israel has not seen fit to attack, and still cannot gain U.S. concurrence that this would be anything but a calamitous move. Palestinians have made little progress toward statehood, except what they unilaterally won from parts of the United Nations community, despite Israeli and U.S. opposition. I wonder if Professor Freeman is readying another article along the same lines; or perhaps he will just ask that the original one be reprinted, since nothing has really changed.

The sound you don't hear is the sound of logjams breaking up.

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