Signals from the Bush administration apparently indicate an aggressive US stance towards Iran’s nuclear program. In a speech last week in Nevada, President Bush said that Iran threatened to put the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” A recent Londay Sunday Times article cited a Pentagon plan for massive air-strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranian military in three days.
In Israel, these are liable to be taken as indications that strengthen the mindset that the Bush administration will address the Iranian nuclear problem – militarily, if necessary. Indeed, such signals seem to confirm the following scenario: the US is making an effort to exhaust diplomatic means for solving the Iranian nuclear issue by increasing international economic and political pressure, but is prepared to lead a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities should such efforts fail.
However, the reality is that the organizing logic of US policy to the Middle East is the stabilization of Iraq. This is the result of a number of factors, including tremendous public pressure on Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq, “overstretch” of US resources complicating its policy goals for the region, as well as calls in Washington for multilateral diplomacy trumping calls for further unilateral military action.
Indeed, Bush’s “nuclear holocaust” comment was made not in the context of coordinated US-Israeli policy towards Iran, but rather, as rhetoric meant to strengthen his argument against a precipitous “cut and run” withdrawal from Iraq.
In tandem, international actors such as the International Atomic Energy Agency or the European Union are eager to lead a diplomatic process with Iran, as indicated, for example, by the recent IAEA-Iran agreement “resolving” Iran’s plutonium testing issue.
Another indicator is the recent comments by French President Sarkozy that either an Iranian bomb or an American military strike against Iran would be tragedies. International involvement in the Iranian issue is tacitly approved by the US – especially now, since with its hands full trying to stabilize and exit Iraq and missing palatable alternatives for Iran, the US urgently needs all the help it can get from European and international institutions in the Middle East.
The significance of these trends is that a potential scenario exists in which resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis would not be led by the US, would not be military, and would not be coordinated with Israel.
Although the scenario of a US military strike is possible, Israel is apparently well aware and prepared for this scenario. It is in Israel’s interest also to prepare for the scenario of an international deal with Iran so that Israel doesn’t render itself irrelevant in such case by appearing to be a staunch supporter of military action.
If Israel is perceived as a burden to the US in such a scenario, it may be left out of the process entirely and forced to accept its outcome.
Of the many resources the government of Israel is dedicating to the Iranian nuclear threat, some should be devoted to developing policy and solutions for the diplomatic scenario. This would help Israel remain relevant and exert influence in all possible scenarios for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.
The author is an analyst at the Reut Institute