(CBS News) Former Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, offered a dire prediction of a U.S. confrontation with Iran, saying it could escalate into war as early as next year.
"I'm afraid that 2013 is going to be a year in which we're going to have a military confrontation with Iran," he said Sunday on "Face the Nation."
Indyk joined a roundtable of foreign policy experts to discuss the latest protests in the Middle East and Israel's public statements pressuring the United States over Iran.
The former ambassador said the time has not come, yet, that the U.S. needs to take military action. "Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon," he said. [W]hile there's still time, there's not a lot of time."
As for the public dispute between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama over Iran, Indyk said he doesn't think "the difference between Netanyahu and Obama on this is that great, in terms of the President's commitment not to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons."
On Israel's insistence that the U.S. publicly declare a "red line" that Iran is not permitted to cross, Indyk said "that is an unreasonable requirement. The idea of putting out a public red line - in effect issuing an ultimatum - is something that no president would do. If you noticed, Governor Romney is not putting out a red line; Senator McCain didn't, either. And neither is Bibi Netanyahu for that matter, in terms of Israel's own actions."
Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, echoed Indy's assessment that negotiations with Iran have not dissuaded the Iranians to halt their nuclear program. He said Netanyahu has sought to increase pressure publicly because "he doesn't want these things to be drawn out indefinitely."
The roundtable also discussed the anti-American protests across the Arab World the past few days, saying they are a defining moment for newly-minted, post-Arab Spring governments.
"[T]he old world of the Middle East is gone. No new world has yet taken its place," Haas said, likening the protests to a "forest fire" and the Middle East to the "wild west."
"It's more than about a film. This is the equivalent of a forest fire. Anything could set it off, so the film is the wrong place to focus," Haas said.
"I think the president was right on one thing he said the other day: these countries are not allies, they're not adversaries, they're somewhere in-between," he added. "The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, in Egypt, it has to decide whether it's a government, a political party, or a popular movement."
New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman said the protests, which began in part due to an anti-Islamic film mocking the Prophet Mohammed and led to the death of four American Consulate workers, are "confused and fraudulent."
"Twenty thousand Arab Muslims in Syria have been killed, and there hasn't been a single protest around the Arab world, yet our embassy in Cairo and Libya, our consulates there, were ransacked because of a nut ball film on YouTube," Friedman said.
"[T]here's just a huge fight going on... over what is going to be the future of this region. Who's going to set the rules? And right now, you have the far, far right in the Muslim world trying to challenge the right in the Muslim world, and no leaders really standing up and charting, I think, a progressive, forward future," he added.
Friedman said the countries are in danger of "falling behind exponentially in this globalized world today." He said countries in the Middle East "have exactly enough time, starting now, to get into the modern world.
"And to spend another decade futzing around with Islam as the answer? Islam is a great and glorious faith, but it is not the answer to their development issues today."
Indyk, who is now at the Brookings Institution, said the problems of some Middle Easter countries go beyond anti-American protests. The Middle East is experiencing a "descent into chaos and the potential for a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias, to spread from Syria to Iraq to Lebanon and then to Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia. And so there's real potential here for much more instability that we're already witnessing."