Following the death of Ambassador Stephens amidst protests across the Middle East, foreign policy has moved front and center in the 2012 presidential campaign. Against this backdrop, Iran looms large.
A recent report released by the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency indicates Iran is continuing to pursue a nuclear weapon . Following this report, Israel began to ratchet up its rhetoric. At this point, the unthinkable seems unavoidable: the Middle East may soon be embroiled in a war over the proliferation of nuclear armaments, over a delicate balance of power, over the heart and soul of the Arab world.
As Iran moves closer to building a nuclear bomb each, the Israeli government inches closer to pulling the trigger and taking military action. Exactly when action is appropriate, however, remains a matter of significant contention between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama.
Netanyahu has repeatedly called for the establishment of a clear and decisive red line. If the Iranian’s cross this line, wherever it is set, military action will commence. President Obama has so far resisted these calls to adopt an inflexible, red-line approach.
Obama publicly maintains his opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran, and his approach has been focused on a two-pronged strategy. First, the administration has pursued harsh economic sanctions against the Iranian regime, hoping to bring domestic political forces to bear against the Ayatollah and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In addition to this public regimen of sanctions, the Obama administration has applied a diverse array of covert assets and tactics, ranging from the Stuxnet computer virus which significantly slowed Iranian enrichment for several months to the mysterious deaths of several key Iranian scientists.
Unfortunately, the American approach has yielded few concessions from Iran. So far as the Israelis are concerned, an increasingly aggressive posture needs to be taken with Iran, and Tel Aviv is leading the charge. In a recent statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu proclaimed “those in the international community who refuse to draw a red line on Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
Yet even without American support, the Israelis may take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, although that would certainly be a last resort. As some in the Israeli government have explained, to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weaponry is to ensure the survival of the Jewish state, the Jewish people .
For citizens of the United States, the notion of a truly existential threat is hard to comprehend. For citizens of Israel, many of whom are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors, the threat to their homeland, to their very existence, is poignantly real.
Barring an unexpected regime change in Tehran, the Iranian powder keg seems destined to explode. The real question, then, is where the United States will stand. That stance may hinge largely on who occupies the White House 2013. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says Iran will be on the precipice of attaining nuclear weaponry within six to seven months .
Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office next year, expect Iran’s quest for nuclear armaments to serve as the defining event of 2013 and perhaps the entirety of the upcoming presidential term.
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