Pressure continues to build in Iran’s festering nuclear volcano, with the Obama administration distracted on domestic issues related to fixing a sluggish economy. With only 12 months before President Barack Obama faces reelection, he seems geared toward addressing domestic economic issues. Since taking office Jan. 20, 2009, Iran continues its uranium enrichment program at a furious pace, inching closer and closer to enough fissile material for its first A-bomb. While the White House fiddles, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grows more impatient with Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. “The possibility of a military attack against Iran is no closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option,” said ordinarily dovish Israeli President Shimon Peres. Peres’ announcement sent a loud message to the White House to deal with Iran’s nuclear issue.
Israel has faced threats and insults from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad who has hosted and celebrated Holocaust denial conferences in Tehran and urged “wiping Israel off map.” No matter how benign the interpretation, Israel doesn’t take existential threats lightly. “We must stay calm and resist pressure so that we can consider every alternative,” said Peres, making gunboat diplomacy the latest pressure on Iran. Iran has warned Israel that any preemptive strike would be met with a devastating military strike. Peres’ recent comments remind the White House that it must do more than fix the broken U.S. economy. Critical foreign policy issues dog the administration, including how to end the Iraq and Afghan wars and what, if anything, to do to avert confrontation in Iran. Iran snubbed former Bush administration efforts to contain its nuclear ambitions.
Various unverified intelligence point to Iran getting dangerously close to sufficient quantities of weapons grade uranium to build nuclear bombs. Whether they’re in possession of the technology and plans to build a usable atomic weapon is anyone’s guess. Speculation has centered on Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan supplying Iran with know-how to build it first A-bomb. “I don’t think any decision has already been made, but there is an impression that Iran is getting closer to nuclear weapons,” said Peres, ratcheting up the pressure on the U.S. and international community to take decisive action. Since Bush administration secretaries of state Colin L. Powell or Condoleezza Rice ran the State Department, little has been done to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been low on the food chain for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Israel’s growing concerns remind the White House that they must walk and chew gum at the same time. Avoiding dangerous foreign policy riptides won’t assure rising popularity on the home-front. Former President Bill Clinton’s cliché that “it’s the economy stupid” won’t help Barack’s reelection bid if he fails on both fronts. Voters place value on domestic and foreign policy issues. If the economy continues to flounder, foreign policy successes become even more important to disgruntled voters. If neither domestic nor foreign policy stands out, then voters get bit by the change bug. Obama’s past successes getting key al-Qaeda terrorists have burnished his defense credentials, dispelling the GOP’s dovish labels. While the White House starts to withdraw from Iraq and unwind Afghanistan, it only makes sense to revisit Iran. Iran has been a thorn in the U.S. side the Shah fell in 1979.
Speculation has grown in Israel that Netanyahu and his defense chief Ehud Barak have been working on contingency plans for a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Nuclear experts have cautioned that Iran’s enrichment and possible bomb-making facilities are untouchable, deeply buried in concrete-and-steel bunkers underground, not reachable with conventional weapons. “The intelligence services of the different countries that are keeping an eye on [Iran] are worried and putting pressure on their leaders to warn that Iran is read to obtain the nuclear weapon,” said Peres, sending a loud message to the White House. With the International Atomic Energy Agency due to release a new report on Iran, the U.S. is running out of time. If the report warns of something imminent with Iran’s nuclear program, it could press Israel into taking unilateral action
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi accused the IAEA of playing “political” games, dismissing the findings of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. “We have said repeatedly that their documents are baseless. For example, one can counterfeit money, but it remains counterfeit. The documents are like that,” said Salehi, showing the same kind of denials by the Iranian government seen in the past. Because of fake claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. faces a steeper burden to prove Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It’s not enough now to make accusations, then start firing Cruise missiles. Israel’s worries stem in part from Ahmadinejad’s past threats against the Jewish State. Netanyahu wants the U.S. and world to know that his regime won’t sit idly by while a hostile foe plots the next Holocaust. Before it’s too late, the White House should pay much closer attention.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.