Gamble on Iran: Israel could be the source of an October surprise
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The United States risks being dragged by Israeli politics into another Middle East war, this time between Iran and Israel.
The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embroiled in internal political conflict. His Likud-led, right-wing religious coalition government is not required to call new elections until next year. He had nonetheless been on the verge of calling early elections in May but was able to avoid doing so by the agreement of the centrist party Kadima to join Likud in a coalition government. The deal with Kadima collapsed in July.
Mr. Netanyahu, in a mess with Likud not in the majority in the parliament, has been seeking a way to strengthen his position. Unfortunately, he has chosen the question of whether Israel -- or preferably, Israel and the United States -- should conclude that efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program have failed and Iran should now be attacked.
The U.S. election provides him an opportunity to maneuver, albeit risky. He appears to believe that his policies would receive greater support from Mitt Romney as president than Barack Obama. He has been encouraged in that view by some of Mr. Romney's supporters, including billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who visited Israel recently with the Republican candidate. Mr. Netanyahu's relationship with Mr. Obama has suffered from Israeli and Palestinian refusal to work on Mr. Obama's effort, launched in September 2009, to achieve direct negotiations toward a two-state solution of the longstanding problem.
The dilemma for Mr. Netanyahu is that, if Mr. Romney wins, the Israeli leader's policies will likely receive more support in Washington. If Mr. Obama wins, however, the re-elected president will likely react to Israeli attempted interference in the election, particularly with an "October surprise" Israeli attack on Iran, like a cat doused with a bucket of cold water.
From America's point of view, the Iranian nuclear program has been slowed down or even stopped by U.S. and Israeli cyberattacks, assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and international economic sanctions. Iran is also continuing to seek support in the world arena, including by hosting a conference on Syria and a 120-nation conference of the Non-Aligned Movement at the end of the month.
Most of all, with the Iraq war finished, the Afghanistan war winding down and urgent domestic priorities calling, the United States does not need a new Middle East war. Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians need to work out their internal problems independent of the U.S. election.
First Published August 17, 2012 12:00 am