To be sure, the United States has an abiding commitment to Israel's security. But, just as surely, preventing "dilution of quality" or bolstering Israelis' perceptions regarding their country's raison d'être can never give an American president a just or strategically sound cause for initiating war. And make no mistake: Bombing Iran's nuclear facilities would mean war.
Netanyahu himself admits that the challenges posed by a nuclear Iran "are more subtle than a direct attack," noting that "you'd create a sea change in the balance of power in our area." This is another major point in the Israeli case for war that deserves unpacking -- and debunking. Goldberg points out that "Persian and Jewish civilizations have not forever been enemies." In fact, the Islamic Republic and Israel have not forever been enemies. During the Iran-Iraq war, Israel -- over Washington's objections -- sold weapons to Iran, and was involved in U.S. President Ronald Reagan's subsequent outreach to Tehran (which imploded in the Iran-Contra scandal).
However, Israeli-Iranian geopolitical dynamics changed with the Cold War's end, the Soviet Union's collapse, and the removal of Iraq's military as a factor in the regional balance of power through the first Gulf War. Since then, Israel has deemed Iran its principal rival for regional hegemony -- and the Islamic Republic views what it sees as Israel's hegemonic ambitions as threatening its vital interests.
Israeli elites want to preserve a regional balance of power strongly tilted in Israel's favor and what an Israeli general described to Goldberg as "freedom of action" --the freedom to use force unilaterally, anytime, for whatever purpose Israel wants. The problem with Iranian nuclear capability -- not just weapons, but capability -- is that it might begin constraining Israel's currently unconstrained "freedom of action." In May, retired Israeli military officers, diplomats, and intelligence officials conducted a war game that assumed Iran had acquired "nuclear weapons capability." Participants subsequently told Reuters that such capability does not pose an "existential threat" to Israel -- but "would blunt Israel's military autonomy."
One may appreciate Israel's desire to maximize its military autonomy. But, in an already conflicted region, Israel's assertion of military hegemony is itself a significant contributor to instability and the risk of conflict. Certainly, maximizing Israel's freedom of unilateral military initiative is not a valid rationale for the United States to start a war with Iran. Just imagine how Obama would explain such reasoning to the American people.
So, what should Obama do? Goldberg concludes with a story told by Israeli President Shimon Peres about Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. When Ben-Gurion met U.S. president-elect John F. Kennedy in late 1960, Kennedy asked what he could do for Israel. Ben-Gurion replied, "What you can do is be a great president of the United States."
Regarding Iran, what constitutes "greatness" for Obama? Clearly, Obama will not achieve greatness by acquiescing to another fraudulently advocated and strategically damaging war in the Middle East. He could, however, achieve greatness by doing with Iran what Richard Nixon did with Egypt and China -- realigning previously antagonistic relations with important countries in ways that continue serving the interests of America and its allies more than three decades later.