Why Netanyahu should part company with Obama on Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may be at odds with President Obama on several key issues, but the two leaders have approached the Iranian uprising in very similar ways. Like Obama, Netanyahu has so far declined to provide any real support to the anti-regime protesters.

Why? Caroline Glick suggests three reasons:

Israel’s primary concern is Iran’s foreign policy and specifically its nuclear weapons program and its support for anti-Israel terror groups. There is no reason for Israel to believe that a Mousavi government will be more inclined to end Iran’s race to the bomb or diminish its support for terror groups like Hizbullah and Hamas than Ahmadinejad’s government is. As prime minister in the 1980s, Mousavi was a major instigator of Iran’s nuclear program and he oversaw the establishment of Hizbullah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Beyond that, there is the fact that Israel – like the US – is the regime’s bogeyman. If Israel is identified with the protesters, the likes of Khamenei will use this connection to justify their brutal repression.

Finally, there is the distinct possibility, indeed the likelihood, that these protests will go nowhere. They will be brutally repressed or fizzle out of their own accord. So what would Israel gain by sticking its neck out?

This case, and in particular the second point, is more persuasive as applied to Israel than as applied to the U.S. For, although Glick is probably correct in arguing that the extent of anti-Israeli sentiment among ordinary Iranians is over-estimated, Israel surely comes closer to “bogeyman” status in Iran than does the U.S. And, by the same token, it’s doubtful that many Iranians would draw inspiration from Netanyahu’s encouragement the way they likely would from Obama’s.

Even so, I agree with Glick that Netanyahu, like Obama, has made the wrong decision. Israel will never have decent relations with the current regime. But even if the regime rides out the current storm (which seems more likely than not), it will not last forever. Israel has an interest in forging a bond with the comparatively progessive elements that are attacking the regime.

Moreover, it may be that Israel could make a tangible contribution to the uprising. According to Glick:

[Israel] could use its communication satellites to break through the communications blackout the regime has attempted to enforce. Its Internet capabilities can be offered to the protesters to reopen closed networks. Israel could temporarily expand its radio broadcasts into the country and allow its airwaves to be used to broadcast events on the ground in real time so that protesters won’t have to rely on word of mouth to know what is happening or where things are leading.

In any event, it’s unlikely that Netanyahu is under the illusion that Obama can either talk the mullahs out of developing nuclear weapons or organize a sanctions program that will cause the regime to abandon its quest for such weapons. Thus, it’s difficult to see what Netanyahu thinks he has to lose by taking the side of the protesters.

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