Last week’s pogroms in the Middle East should have made the hawks in the West realise that something’s wrong with their strong-arm attitude towards the Muslim World. They should have, but it didn’t seem to have persuaded everyone. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told NBS's Meet the Press that Iran would be on the brink of nuclear weapons capability by next spring, saying, “You have to place a red line before them now, before it’s too late”. The idea of drawing a “red line” for Iran isn’t new. Netanyahu has long insisted that the USA should put forward conditions, then, if Iran violated them, it’d prompt a unilateral military action by either the USA, or Israel, or both, without the UN Security Council's approval.
Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta rejected this scenario. Mr Panetta accused Netanyahu of trying to force the USA into a corner over its Iran policy. Ms Hillary said very clearly, “We aren’t setting deadlines”. American officials still appear to believe that negotiations with Iran and stricter sanctions could force the Iranian leadership to abandon its hardline stance on its nuclear programme. On the contrary, Mr Netanyahu’s convinced that the Iranian leadership is too fanatic to step back. He even said that supporters of the policy of “containing” Iran and its nuclear ambitions “set a new standard for human stupidity”. As for President Obama, who’s the main target of the Israeli premier’s criticism, according to Israeli officials, he’s declined to meet Mr Netanyahu when he comes to Washington later this month.
Actually, it isn’t the Israeli premier; the administration’s own policy towards Iran and the Middle East in general forced the USA into a corner. By ardently supporting coups in a number of Arab countries, the USA and its Western European allies created régimes much more monstrous than the previous ones. The backlash is obvious… a wave of anti-American protests swept the Muslim world. These tragic consequences are the direct product of American strong-arm policies in the region. Now, the Israeli premier’s trying to force the administration into continuing this bankrupt policy. What’s more, he’s finding allies within the USA. Whilst the administration itself seems to be wavering and playing the part of the “good cop”, Obama’s Republican contended Mitt Romney is all too eager to exploit this vacillation.
In an interview, Romney hinted that he’d use military force against Iran and accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus”. It remains unclear how many of his promises Romney would keep if he became president, but the propaganda effect is there. The hawkish attitude may have an impact on “swing” voters and change the pre-electoral picture in Romney’s favour. Netanyahu himself has denied that he was trying to influence the American election, although he’d definitely be much happier with a more hawkish US president. However, most probably, the belligerent rhetoric used by the Israeli premier is less meant for an American audience than it is for the Israeli public. In Israel, general elections are due in October 2013, and the current premier is facing an uphill battle. In this context, the last thing he’d want to do is to weaken his image as a strongman. Indeed, hardly anyone in the USA or Israel would wish to face a backlash similar to the one the world witnessed last week. Attacking Iran could lead to a much more violent one.
This idea seems to have dawned on a number of competent people in Israel itself. Speaking on CBS' 60 Minutes, Meir Dagan, a former head of the Mossad, said that an attack on Iran would be the “stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”. Such revelations, followed by an assessment of the Iranian government as “a very rational” one, came from a man who the Iranian authorities claim has dispatched assassins, computer viruses, and faulty equipment in a bid to delay the Iranian nuclear programme. Well, maybe, before labelling those who’d adopt a more cautious stance on Iran as “setting new standards for human stupidity”, the Israeli premier should listen to the voice of reason from his own ranks.