3/07/2012

Iran Is the Great Distraction

FP - BY DAVID ROTHKOPF

Why Obama and Netanyahu are having the wrong conversation this week.

Iran has called America the Great Satan. Israel has called Iran an existential threat. For both the United States and Israel, whose leaders are meeting Monday to discuss how to handle Tehran's nuclear program, Iran should be called the Great Distraction.

By focusing on Iran, indeed by having some among Israel's top leaders seemingly obsessed about it, Israel is ignoring (or seeking an excuse to ignore) the real existential threats on and within its own borders -- demographic, social, and economic. By allowing Iran to occupy too much bandwidth, American leaders have also taken their eye off the ball. There are far greater national security threats and opportunities that require attention right now, from fixing the broken U.S. economic model to exploring the potential for a sound energy policy in order to both strengthen that economy and dramatically reduce the leverage and thereby the relevance of regimes like the one in Tehran.

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This is not to suggest that Iran's nuclear program is not a cause for concern. Every available means short of an all-out war should be used to stop Iran from getting the bomb. But even with regard to Tehran's dangerous and expanding weapons efforts, the approach to addressing the problem shows a misplaced focus.
Israel speaks of the threat of a nuclear Iran as though it were something new and destabilizing. It is not. At the same time, the greatest threat it does pose is not being effectively addressed, while lesser ones are.
Iran is hardly the first of Israel's enemies to seek or even possess nuclear weapons capabilities. For the entire Cold War, Israel, as a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East, was vulnerable to nuclear attack from the Soviet bloc. Iraq and Syria, of course, sought nuclear weapons capabilities, and some of the countries that supported them in that endeavor remain a threat. One country that has represented such a proliferation threat in the broader region and is at least as great a state sponsor of terrorism as Iran is Pakistan -- a country with many more weapons than Iran could have for decades and one that is far less stable.
Senior Israelis have also correctly pointed out, as did Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief in March 1's New York Times, that one cannot stop a country with sufficient economic and industrial resources from getting a bomb within a matter of a few years from making the decision to have one. Even a successful raid on Iran is likely to only delay that country's acquisition of nuclear weapons. At the same time, any failed raid is likely to only strengthen the Iranian regime, inflame the region, and, potentially, reveal in ways damaging to both the United States and Israel the limits of Israeli power.