The cool breeze of the Arab Spring, about which many of us were hopeful but skeptical, is now an Incendiary Summer. This ominous anger over a trashy film has caused riots and replaced the Stars and Stripes with Islamist flags in many places. Our embassies are threatened in at least twelve Muslim capitals. In addition, a planned terrorist attack killed a U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Libya.
The eruption come against the background of Bibi Netanyahu turning up the rhetoric on Iran—most recently today, on “Meet the Press” and CNN—insisting that the West draw “a red line” that Iran will not be allowed to cross before it presumes to give Israel “a red light” for a strike of its own. But Israel’s red line is closer than America’s, because our far superior force will be able to work at a later point in time.
If Iran crosses Israel’s Red Line and Israel has not attacked, it will have to trust the U.S. to a strike before America’s Red Line is also crossed. This window of trust would be the first time Israel relied on any nation for its military security. It would be almost the first time any Americans have been asked to go into harm’s way on Israel’s behalf.
And the trust would have to be greater if Obama is re-elected, which looks increasingly likely. Perhaps Romney would pull the trigger on Iran faster than Obama, but you have to be pretty sure that his shoot-from-the-hip style would be good for Israel before you support Mitt.
One thing is clear from the Incendiary Summer: the response of Arab countries if Iran succeeds can only spell danger for Israel. A nuclearizing Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power? Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy’s days are probably numbered? Libya, where our envoy was killed and our flag burned?
Some close to Bibi say he wants the Iran strike before November, since neither candidate could do anything the next morning except support Israel. This would be a high-risk move not just because of the blowback from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, but because Israel’s own experts are deeply divided.
He and defense minister Ehud Barak, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, want to do it. Two former heads of Israeli security services, Meir Dagan (Mossad) and Yuval Diskin (Shin Bet) are openly opposed. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and current one Benny Gantz have each said in the past few months that Iran is not yet near-nuclear. Netanyahu responded with contempt. I don’t know when Israel’s leaders were so publicly split on national security.
Now Amos Yadlin, who flew one of the F-16s that destroyed Iraq’s reactor and went on to aid the destruction of Syria’s and the covert campaign against Iran, has proposed a “third way.” He doesn’t think Bibi and Barak are crazy, does think Iran must be stopped, and doesn’t expect a major blowback. He is certain the IDF can do it.
But he opposes Israel going it alone. What worries him is “the decade after the strike… It will give us just a few years,” while regime change in Iran could take longer. “We need the international community and the United States” to bridge this gap. A repeat strike must be credible, sanctions must hurt, and international cooperation must prevail. Otherwise in quick succession, “we get an Iranian bombing and an Iranian bomb.”
He sees about a year for dialogue with the U.S. to produce a solid agreement. Like Bibi, he wants to know the American Red Line, but thinks there is time for the two allies to converge. “We absolutely must not do anything before the election in the United States,” he says, citing Ben Gurion’s view: Israel should never go to war without superpower backing.
“We need to cool things down, wait until after the U.S. election and then develop a real dialogue with whoever is elected.” The strike will be needed, but will be done in a way that sticks—with the full support of whoever wins in November. That will take, he says, a dialogue that needs and can be given about the length of the Jewish year that begins tonight.
Meanwhile, Bibi is speaking on U.S. television but will not be seeing President Obama during his U.N. visit later this month. He insists he has not been snubbed and refuses to take sides in our election. But even if Yadlin is right, the clock is ticking, and Bibi’s “red light” speech drew a red line for Israel. As of today, he’s embarrassing Obama again, and if he thinks he can sway this election he’s kidding himself badly. It now sounds like an argument, but it had better turn into a dialogue soon.