My friend and teacher Barry Rubin believes that President Obama made a huge and amateurish mistake when he spoke to AIPAC on Sunday. Based on his public declarations Obama might just have committed the United States into war with Iran. At the very least he may have forced Israel’s hand, ensuring that she must attack Iran.
All of this debate misses the point. What is needed here is not a partisan view or one which focuses on Obama himself but rather a strategic analysis.
Whether he realizes it or not, Obama changed history with his AIPAC speech. What he did is to make a war between Israel and Iran almost inevitable, let’s say more than 90 percent probable, most likely some time in late 2013, 2014, or 2015.
What a lot of people are going to miss is not that Israel now thinks Obama is reliable but that it knows he has now locked publicly into a major commitment. If Israel ever were to attack an Iran on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, how is Obama going to bash Israel for doing so? In effect, then, Israel has traded patience for freedom of action.
Obama laid out a very clear chain of events. If and when Iran obtains a nuclear weapon then the U.S. government will support an attack by Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities. It might even join in with such an attack.
This is a commitment that cannot be retracted. It will apply whether Obama wins or loses the election. It will apply if he changes his mind. Some will see his action as heroic; others will see it as reckless. But it makes no sense to see it as false or to nitpick about his precise definition of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
Here is Obama’s simple chain of argument:
- The U.S. government officially and publicly recognizes that Israel cannot and should not accept Iran’s having a nuclear weapon.
- Iran having a nuclear weapon is a tremendous and unacceptable danger to U.S. interests.
- If Iran obtains even one nuclear weapon that will prove sanctions have failed.
- Consequently, at that time Israel is entitled to use force to prevent Iran from having such weapons or to destroy any that exist.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.