U.S. And Israel Head For A Clash

(AP Photo/Debbie Hill, Pool)
While the big annual policy conference of AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – has brought to Washington 6,000 supporters of the Jewish State fully committed to cementing the U.S.-Israel alliance, many at the bustling convention fear that a major clash is coming soon between President Barack Obama and Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu seems to be belittling Obama's contention that a full-court press is needed toward establishing an independent Arab nation of Palestine. Israel's government wants to put the focus, instead, on dangers posed by Iran.

The prime minister is due to fly to the United States for a White House chat on May 18, and analysts who predict strife make a persuasive case.

One of the academics who spoke in an AIPAC seminar, Jerusalem-based Professor Martin Kramer, who writes at The Shalem Center, framed the problem as two sets of competing "analogies."

Kramer said senior U.S. government analysts, based on our recent history, say Iran can be dealt with the way we handled the Soviet Union and China. For many years, the Russians were "contained" and "deterred," so that they would never dare to use their nuclear weapons. In the end, the Communist regime in Moscow collapsed.

American policy toward China featured "engagement," using the logic that doing business with China has buried threats of war between our two countries. China won't pull all of its billions out of the United States, because the Chinese would be damaging their own investments.

There are policymakers in Washington who speak of "living with the Iranian bomb," if sanctions and threats do not prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Israelis make two very different analogies. The pain of six million Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust prompts Israel to take the suggestion by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish State is illegitimate and should be wiped off the map very seriously. They see radical Iranian ideology as akin to Nazi creed that mandated mass murder.

A more recent event was the pinpoint, long-distance raid by Israel's air force which destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981. As Israelis see it, most foreign countries condemned the attack, but years later grudgingly thanked Israel for doing it. Meanwhile, the Iraqis did not retaliate at all.
Israel's two analogies – to Nazis and to Iraq – lead to an Israeli belief that whatever the risks, a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities may be necessary within a year or less.

America's two analogies – to Russia and China – will strengthen Mr. Obama's desire to reach out an open hand to Iran and respond to any willingness from Teheran to talk.

A former Israeli government minister, with decades of experience as an army general and a cabinet member, told one of the AIPAC sessions on Sunday that the world has to understand Israel is serious about preventing Iran's nuclearization – at any cost.

"They must be aware of the option we have to act alone, or they'll do nothing," said Ephraim Sneh. He contended that much stronger economic sanctions against Iran are needed, and the U.S. and other nations will do that – as another conference attendee put it – "only if they believe Israel's about to go nuts."

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    Dan Raviv is a correspondent for CBS Radio News based in Washington, host of CBS News Weekend Roundup, and co-author of "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars"