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Most analysts think President Obama went to Israel in a public relations effort to smooth relations between the two countries. He wasn’t aiming for any breakthroughs in the peace process, and tried to dampen expectations in advance. The visit may have started out that way, but by the end I think something significant did happen.
There are signs President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have come to some sort of private understanding over Iran. I think Obama gave Netanyahu a green light to do whatever Israel has to do to stop Iran. America will give Israel the advanced weapons it needs for a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear sites, but will not join in that fight. Obama said, “we’ve got your back,” but did not say "we’ll be with you shoulder to shoulder should fighting break out."
The joint press conference between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu was revealing: The last time the two leaders met, their body language was so frigid you expected expect icicles to form on the windows. They could hardly bear to be in the same room with each other. Instead of the happy talk that usually accompanies Oval Office meetings they lectured each other, scowling the entire time.
This time you had to wonder if they were the same two guys. All of a sudden they were like a stand-up comedy act in the Borscht Belt. They cracked jokes, complimented each other and smiled effusively. They sure didn’t act like two guys who had just been sniping at each other behind closed doors.
But it wasn’t just friendlier body language; what they said was even more revealing. Here are four things that caught my attention:
1. Obama and Netanyahu both said Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. They’ve said those words before, but this time they kept repeating the mantra, saying it several times, often using the very same words. Netanyahu said, “Israel can never cede the right to defend ourselves to others, even to the greatest of our friends.” Obama said, “your first task is to keep the people of Israel safe.”
2. Israel and the US intelligence agencies now see eye to eye on how close Iran is to having nuclear weapons. In the past Obama, and his aides have said the Iranian leaders hadn’t made the decision to ‘go nuclear,’ even though they were enriching uranium. It was always in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s statements that Israel was at the threshold.
This time Obama said, “our intelligence cooperation on this issue, the consultation between our militaries, our intelligence, is unprecedented, and there is not a lot of light, a lot of daylight between our countries’ assessments in terms of where Iran is right now.” Netanyahu echoed him by saying, “we share information and we have a common assessment” on Iran’s nuclear enrichment and weapons development programs.
3. Both acknowledged that the US and Israel see the threat differently. Obama said, “Israel is differently situated than the United States. And I would not expect that the Prime Minister would make a decision about his country’s security and defer that to any other country -- any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security."
4. Both leaders talked about continuing and extending US military assistance to Israel, with Obama pledging “to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge [and here it is again] so it can defend itself, by itself, against any threat.” And just in case reporters missed the significance of this, Netanyahu wrapped up the press conference by saying, “I think you’ve just heard something that is very meaningful. It may have escaped you, but it hasn’t escaped me. And that is the president announced that in addition to all the aid that his administration has provided -- including the Iron Dome, including defense funding for Israel during very difficult times -- he has announced that we are going to begin talks on another 10-year process arrangement to ensure American military assistance to Israel. I think this is very significant.”
This all sounds good. The U.S. wants to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but doesn’t want another Middle East War to do so.
Diplomacy hasn’t worked; neither have sanctions. So let’s give Israel the weapons it needs to do the job. Neat, clean, over before you know it, and the U.S. stays out.
The only problem with this scenario is Iran still gets a vote. What happens the day after Israel attacks?
The Iranian regime will be forced to retaliate or be forced out of power. Iran will order its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, to fire thousands of missiles into Israel from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
But what if it doesn’t stop there?
What if Iran does something in the Strait of Hormuz, like mining the shipping lanes, which only U.S. naval minesweepers can clear? Obama may not want in on this fight, but he might get pulled in nonetheless, because while Israel can start this war, it can’t finish it without the United States.
Some argue that even so, the fighting would be over in a few days, and the world would be rid of Iran’s nuclear weapons. But these are the same folks who said the Iraq War would be a cakewalk, cost us almost nothing, be over quickly and result in just a handful of casualties.
I’m not buying that line again. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that we find a way out of this train wreck of having to choose between bombing Iran or letting Iran get the bomb.
I keep thinking about how my boss Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. We turned tables on the Soviet Union by driving their one revenue source (oil) down so low they had to concede or face the ire, even starvation, of their own people.
Time is running out, but there are two things we could do right now to avoid another Middle East war:
1. We could buy time. By working with tech-savvy Israel, we could launch another round of cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear program and infrastructure. It might set Iran’s weapons program back only a year or so, but it’s time we could use to develop our own energy resources.
2. We could develop our own energy resources. If we accelerated the already shovel-ready American oil and natural gas projects, within a few short years we would be energy independent. We would not only have enough oil and natural gas for our own needs, we would have enough left over to become one of the world’s leading energy exporters. Then who needs Iranian oil? Sanctions against Iran would be easier to impose if there were secure, abundant and cheap alternatives.
Developing U.S. oil resources would also drive down the price of oil, and leave oil-exporting countries like Iran (and Russia) without enough revenue to pay for the subsidies that keep their people fed and off the streets. Within a very short period of time the Iranian regime would have its hands full just dealing with angry Iranians. They might come to the conclusion that it’s their necks or their nukes and voluntarily give them up. If not, it would be the Iranian people rather than Israeli or American military going for their necks.
If I’m right, and Obama has given Netanyahu what amounts to a green light to do what he needs to do to stop Iran, then Obama should take his own counsel and let the American energy industry do what it needs to do to stop Iran.