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Tony KARON
tkaron@stargazete.com
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Israel/US/Iran in Election year

09 Ağustos 2012 Perşembe

Did Mitt Romney's hawkish posture in Israel last week increase the

likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran? Unlikely. Will Defense

Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to Israel to discuss "various

contingencies and how we would respond" hasten the prospect of

confrontation over Iran's nuclear program? Probably not. And will Iran

capitulate in response to the increasingly painful economic sanctions

tightened by the Obama Administration on Tuesday? Don't bet on it.

Although surprises are always possible, all indications are that the

Iran nuclear standoff will remain locked in an increasingly tense

stalemate at least through November's U.S. presidential election.

The Obama Administration is tightening the sanctions chokehold in the

hope that declining living standards in Iran will force its leadership

to accept Western terms for resolving the nuclear dispute. But there's

no sign of Iran capitulating, and the two sides negotiating positions

are so far apart that they're able to agree only to keep open a

perfunctory channel of communication. Iran appears willing to

compromise, but only in exchange for compromises from the Western side

that President Obama is unable to make in an election year. Instead,

he offers Israel and its supporters on Capitol Hill ever-tighter

sanctions, and a promise to take military action to stop Iran if it

tried to build a nuclear weapon. (Currently it is assembling the

necessary infrastructure, but has not moved to build a weapon, nor

made a decision to do so.)

In a familiar ritual, U.S. officials were last week again pleading for

Israel to allow more time for sanctions to impact on Iran, while

Israeli leaders expressed their customary skepticism of sanctions and

diplomacy in changing Tehran's calculations -- always threatening to

take matters into their own hands by bombing Iran. Whereas Obama has

vowed to use force only if Iran tries to build a nuclear weapon,

Israel insists that Iran can't be allowed to possess the capability to

do so -- a capability it already has. Thus the ongoing tension over

timetables and red lines between the US and Israel, with Netanyahu

insisting that time is running out while Obama insists that, in fact,

there's still plenty of time to resolve the issue through sanctions

and diplomacy.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, for example, has insisted that Iran's

nuclear program can't be allowed to enter a "zone of immunity" where,

even if it hasn't moved to weaponize nuclear material, it has placed

enough of its nuclear infrastructure inside the hardened facility at

Fordow, buried deep in a mountainside near Qom, to put it beyond the

reach of Israel's aerial-bombardment capabilities. Although the "zone

of immunity" is a fuzzy indicator with no time line attached, the

implication is that Israel will have to strike before Iran reaches

that point or else forfeit its own military option for dealing with

Tehran's nuclear program.

Romney, looking for votes and donations from pro-Israel Americans,

raised eyebrows when one of his aides said that if elected, Romney

would "respect" an Israeli decision to take unilateral military action

against Iran. But Israel is not looking for the US to respect a

decision to unilaterally strike Iran; it needs the US to do the job.

Despite the posturing of Netanyahu and Barak, it's well known that

Israel's military capacities are substantially more limited than those

of the US, and that the sustained barrage that would be required to

delay Iran's nuclear program for even a couple of years might be

beyond Israel's capacities. Even with US support, Israel would be

isolated diplomatically if it launched a war with Iran, and the

sanctions and other follow-up mechanisms required to prevent Iran

building nuclear weapons following a strike would likely crumble.

Israeli public opinion, moreover, is opposed to a strike on Iran

unless Washington was taking the lead. And Israel's military chiefs

reportedly also view taking military action at this stage as a

mistake.

But with little prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough any time soon,

Obama is relying simply on escalating sanctions. Next year may be a

better moment for diplomacy. The problem, of course, is that Iran

responds to the pain of sanctions not by capitulating, but through

provocations designed to create a crisis. If that happens in an

election year, all bets are off.