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Israel's Choices and America's Failure

An Israeli strike on Iran would inflict maximum damage on the utopian illusions of the Obama administration. What qualifies Chuck Hagel for the top Pentagon job in a second Obama administration, I believe, is that he shares Obama's impassioned commitment to global nuclear disarmament. He is a prominent actor in the Global Zero campaign for world nuclear disarmament and a board member of Ploughshares, a pro-disarmament organization. In 2010 the Obama administration endorsed an Egyptian plan for a nuclear-free Middle East (that is, for Israeli unilateral disarmament). I expect Obama to return to this agenda in 2013.

While the Obama White House fiddles with utopian fantasies, the Middle East burns. Israel has a clearer shot at Iran than at any time in the past ten years. With the Assad regime holding on by its fingernails, the likelihood of retaliation from Syria is nil. Hezbollah's capacity and willingness to attack Israel with its substantial missile capacity is also limited by Assad's distress. The risk of war with Syria was always a limiting factor in Israel's capacity to reduce Hezbollah. With Assad weakened, Hezbollah is on its own. As for Egypt: I doubt if its army has enough gasoline to move a division of tanks to the Israeli border.

After the remarkable success of Iron Dome, moreover, Israel has emerged as a pocket superpower in military technology, offering systems that are a lot better and a lot cheaper than anything the United States has to sell in a number of critical fields (rocket defense and drones, among others). Israel cannot produce the entire range of its defense requirements, but there is plenty of competition to the F-35 in the offing, for example. America's neglect of its technological edge in defense sharply reduces its ability to dictate terms to its allies.

If Israel strikes Iran's nuclear program successfully enough to set it back two to or three years (the gauge of success that the Israelis have employed in the past), the Obama administration will be outraged. "If only those @#(@)*(** hadn't gotten involved, we could have fixed all the problems of the world!," the White House will sulk. But there won't be much that the Obama administration could to do after the fact to punish Israel.

The decision to attack Iran is Israel's to make, not Washington's. Israel will do what it deems in its best interests, and there is nothing the Obama administration can do at this point to change that.

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