By Barrie Dunsmore

Rutland Herald and Montpelier(Barre) Times Argus
Sunday March 4th, 2012

          What happens in the coming week could be decisive. Super Tuesday – when ten states will hold presidential primary elections which might settle the Republican presidential nomination? No, although that’s what will get most of the news media attention. Actually, whether America goes to war with Iran this year could well be determined during the upcoming visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

          Netanyahu will of course be meeting with President Barack Obama. But the Israeli leader already knows Obama’s position. That was made clear in two high level missions Obama sent to Israel in recent weeks, the first headed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey with a follow- up by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Apparently, the message was that the United States believes it is premature to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities for the following reasons:

1) American Intelligence agencies collectively do not believe Iran has irrevocably decided to build a nuclear weapon.

2) Very tough sanctions are really starting to hurt Iran’s economy and should be given more time to firmly take hold, raising prospects for bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

3.) A bombing campaign would only set the Iranian nuclear program back a year or two at most. Meantime it would unify all Iranians including the growing numbers who now oppose the regime.

4) Any bombing attack on Iran could not be contained and would most likely spread throughout the Persian Gulf and Middle East with potentially dire political and economic consequences.

          We learned that General Dempsey also told the Israelis that if they went ahead with a raid on Iran without consulting Washington in advance, they should not expect America to come to their aid after the fact. The Israelis appeared to answer that this past week. According to an Associated Press report Israeli officials now say they won't warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Frankly, while this issue is not unimportant, as a practical matter if Israel attacks Iran it will automatically be assumed by the rest of the world including Iran, that America was complicit. And one cannot imagine that if Iran then retaliates against Israel the American Congress and news media would allow Obama to sit on the sidelines.

          Which brings me back to the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit, scheduled to begin next Tuesday. I assume that Netanyahu does not expect to get Obama’s green light to attack Iran. Rather, I think he plans to effectively by-pass the president. He will personally make his case that Israel can’t accept a nuclear Iran to members of the U.S. Congress. He will highlight that argument in an address to the conference of the pro Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). And he will speak directly to the American people through a mostly sympathetic news media.

          If the Israeli leader has as much success as he’s had with a similar approach on previous visits, Obama will find himself with even fewer options in trying to avoid a disastrous war with Iran. One key indicator of Netanyahu’s latest impact will be what happens to a proposed Senate Resolution strongly encouraged by the pro-Israel lobby. As described recently in the Jewish Daily Forward, the resolution would shift America’s red line in dealing with Iran, from preventing the Islamic Republic’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, to stopping it before it achieves “nuclear capabilities.” Opponents say the phrase “nuclear capabilities” is far too vague and could be used right now as a reason to bomb Iran.

          The resolution also urges the president “to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.” That last part is very significant. By ruling out the idea of “containment,” Israel and its supporters in Congress want to eliminate a policy which was used successfully by America from the early days of the Cold War.

          Critics of containment would have us believe that Iran is far worse, and far more dangerous than the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin or Communist China’s Chairman Mao. Arnaud De Borchgrave, once Newsweek’s chief correspondent and now UPI editor at large, challenged that notion in a recent commentary. He writes:

          “There are several generations of Americans and Israelis who have no recollection of the game of nuclear chicken played by Russia and China after World War II. In 1957, Mao Zedong said China could survive and prevail in a nuclear war. Even if 200 million were killed by American atomic weapons, Mao concluded, 400 million would survive and China would still be a major power while the United States would lose its reason for existing.….Stalin repeatedly threatened the West with nuclear annihilation. Analysts at the time said Stalin believed he could destroy the United States and inherit Europe intact. For Stalin, 20 million people "purged" during his bloody dictatorship was a statistic.”

          As I have written (several times) before, what ultimately made containment work was MAD- mutual assured destruction. As it applies to Iran, even without America’s nuclear deterrent Israel has 100-200 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them – more than enough to erase 4000 years of Persian civilization if Iran or its surrogates were ever to use any form of nuclear weapon against Israel. The Iranian theocracy has demonstrated evil intent but shows no signs of wanting to commit total national suicide.

          Recent polls suggest a majority of Americans would support an Israeli strike against Iran. But in Israel itself, a poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz found Israelis equally divided over whether Iran is in fact a threat to their existence. It is also worth repeating that three former top Israeli intelligence and military heads have publicly opposed a pre-emptive strike against Iran - for reasons quite similar to the arguments raised (as noted above) by the Obama administration.

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