The other day, during the Nuclear Summit in Seoul, unawares of the live microphone – or maybe very much aware of it – the President of the United States was heard saying to the President of the Russian Federation that he would have after the November elections in the United States more flexibility with respect to the East European missile defense system/shield – a topic of interest to the Russian Federation. What should be the Iranian and Israeli governments’ take from this comment – “greater flexibility after the election?”
First, the Israeli government – Already the Obama Administration has leaned on Israel to forego the military strike against Iranian nuclear sites and give time to the sanctions and diplomacy to work. This leaning on Israel has come during an election year, when U.S. presidents typically give Israel a free reign, fearing a backlash from Jewish voters and the hawks of both parties. If Israel is serious about attacking the Iranian nuclear sites – one would think – the Obama “gaffe” signals that perhaps after the elections the U.S. would put even greater pressure on Israel to forego the military option. Or maybe not – maybe all this leaning on Israel for now is to make sure that the U.S. does not get dragged into another war, which could dim the President’s re-election prospects. But then, with every Republican candidate for presidency – minus Ron Paul – engaging in “war talk” - one would think that an Israeli attack on Iran would not make much of a difference in the President’s re-election prospects.
Israel may well want to consider a strike before the U.S. presidential elections, for the fear that after the re-election, the Obama Administration would nix any talk about military strike on Iran. Meanwhile, the Israeli calculus presently will take account of the fact that the Obama Administration – as reluctant as it may be – would have to stand by Israel if Israel launched a strike on Iran before the November elections. So – all this points to a short calendar, from today until Labor Day, for Israel to strike Iran if it were to do so.
In Tehran, the “flexibility gaffe” may have a different resonance. The whole sales pitch behind the U.S.-sponsored European missile defense program in Eastern Europe has been about thwarting the Iranian missile strikes on European targets. If after the election, the U.S. would become “flexible” – meaning, conciliatory and concessionary – with respect to the deployment of missile defense in Eastern Europe, it would be in part because the Iranian threat – actual or perceived – is no longer there or substantially degraded. That means only two things: Either, an Israeli/American strike on Iranian nuclear and missile sites right will have come after the November elections, or the Iranian government has come completely clean and submitted to a verifiable removal of intermediate-range missiles and military nuclear materials. With the Iranian threat gone, the post-election U.S. can give up the East European missile defense program, per the wishes of the Russian Federation.
Now – in Moscow – would not the Russian President – present and future – lean on Iran to avert a military strike on Iranian soil.
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