March 5, 2012

March 5, 2012 | Commentary on Iran, Israel

Obama Risking a Showdown Between Iran and Israel

Small wars can spiral into big ones. And President Obama is giving the world a lesson in how to start - inadvertently - a small war. The Nobel committee should be thinking about a process for recalling prizes.

The prospective small conflict involves Iran and Israel. The former is blustering, but right now, neither nation can be much interested in going toe-to-toe.

Iran has problems enough: a shaky economy, a government hated by its own people, and the prospect of its client state Syria devolving into civil war - one that might set an unwelcome (to the mullahs) example of how popular revolt can topple a brutal, repressive regime.

Israel cannot feel secure either. The U.S.-backed "peace process" is dead. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring looks to be producing regimes that will be even less friendly toward Tel Aviv than the ones they replace.

Iran blusters not to foment war, but to buy time. Like North Korea, Tehran has learned how to play rope-a-dope, stringing out negotiations with the West as it proceeds apace to build a nuclear bomb. All it takes is equal parts threat and willingness to talk - the diplomatic equivalent of a child screaming for attention and accommodation to keep quiet.

Recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and shut off oil exports to some European countries - tempered with a willingness to talk with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency - are straight out of the Pyongyang playbook. The most recent talks, of course, accomplished absolutely nothing, which led the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA to declare them a success.

"The second round of talks about cooperation between Iran and the agency and interaction with each other was held, and the talks will continue in the future," Ali Asghar Soltanieh said. Translation: Just back off sanctions and we'll keep talking . . . and building.

Israel, meanwhile, is pressing the West to ramp up sanctions. If the Israelis were serious about attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, they wouldn't run around talking about it; they'd just do it. But rumors of war are just the stuff to stiffen the backbone of Western powers and dissuade them from any thought of easing tough sanctions against Tehran.

While neither side may be ready for war, war might be only one accidental act away.

James Carafano is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer