Will Israel drag the US into a war with Iran?
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told NBC's Meet the Press program that Iran would be on the brink of nuclear weapon capability by next spring.
"You have to place that red line before them now, before it's too late," he said.
The idea of placing the "red line" for Iran is not new. Israeli premier has long insisted that the US should put forward conditions, that if violated by Iran would prompt a unilateral military action by either the US, or Israel, or both, without even the UN Security Council's approval.
The idea has been rejected both by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Mr. Panetta accused Netanyahu of trying to force the US into a corner over its Iran policy. And Ms. Hillary said very clearly, "We are not setting deadlines."
The US officials still appear to believe that negotiations with Iran and stricter sanctions could force Iranian leadership to abandon the hard-line stance on its nuclear program. Mr. Netanyahu, on the contrary, is convinced that Iranian leadership is too fanatic to step back. He even said that supporters of the policy of "containing" Iran and its nuclear ambitions "set a new standard for human stupidity."
As for the US president Barack Obama, who is the main target of Israeli premier's criticism, he, according to Israeli officials, even declined to meet Mr. Netanyahu when he comes to Washington later this month.
Actually, it is not even Israeli premier but the administration's own policy towards Iran and the Middle East in general that has forced the US into a corner. By ardently supporting the coups in a number of Arab countries, the US and its West European allies have created regimes much more monstrous than the previous ones. And the backlash is obvious – the wave of anti-American protests that swept the Muslim world and resulted in the tragic consequences is the direct product of the US strong-arm policy in the region.
Now Israeli premier is trying to force the administration into continuing the bankrupt policy. And he is finding allies within the US. While the administration itself seems to be wobbly and playing the part of the "good cop", Obama's Republican contender Mitt Romney is all too eager to exploit this wobbliness.
In an interview Romney hinted that he would use military force against Iran and accused Obama of "throwing Israel under a bus." It remains unclear how many of his promises Romney would keep if he were elected president, but the propaganda effect is there. The hawkish attitude may have an impact on the "swing" voters and change the pre-electoral picture in Romney's favor.
Netanyahu himself has denied that he was trying to influence the US elections, although he would definitely be much happier with a more hawkish US president.
But most probably, the belligerent rhetoric used by Israeli premier is less addressed to the US audience than to Israeli public. In Israel, general elections are scheduled for October 2013 and the current premier is facing an uphill battle. In this context, the last thing he would like to do is to step aside from his image of a strongman. Indeed, hardly anyone in the US or Israel would wish to face a backlash similar to the one the world witnessed last week. And attacking Iran could lead to a much more violent one.
This idea seems to have dawned on a number of really competent people in Israel itself. Speaking to CBS News' 60 Minutes program, Meir Dagan, a former head of the Israeli Intelligence service Mossad, said that an attack on Iran would be the "stupidest idea I've ever heard."
Such revelations, followed by an assessment of Iranian regime as "a very rational" one, have come from a man who is claimed by Iranian authorities to have dispatched assassins, computer viruses and faulty equipment in a bid to delay the Iranian nuclear program.
Well, maybe before labeling those who adopt a more cautious stance on Iran as "setting new standards for human stupidity", Israeli premier should listen to the voice of rationale from his own ranks?
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies