TEL AVIV – The current drive to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal reflects two important, and interrelated, changes. From Israel’s perspective, these changes are to be welcomed, though its government must remain cautious about the country’s own role.
The first change is the escalation of efforts by the United States and its Western allies to abort the Iranian regime’s nuclear quest. This was instigated in part by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s finding in November 2011 that Iran is indeed developing a nuclear weapon, and that it is getting perilously close to crossing the “red line” – the point beyond which its progress could no longer be stopped. Moreover, the US and its allies understand that failure to take serious action might prompt Israel to launch its own unilateral military offensive.
The second change is the perception that Iran’s nuclear capacity would threaten not only Israel. In a speech to the Union for Reform Judaism in December, US President Barack Obama stated that “another threat to the security of Israel, the US, and the world is Iran’s nuclear program.” But, by this February, Obama was saying of Iran that “my number-one priority continues to be the security of the US, but also the security of Israel, and we continue to work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this…”
That choice of words was no accident; rather, it was a sign that the US is changing tack when it comes to Iran. For more than a decade, the question “Whose issue is it?” has been part of the policy debate about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Israel’s former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, used to caution his colleagues against “rushing to the head of the line” on Iran. He argued that if Israel were to take the lead in sounding the alarm on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the issue would be perceived as yet another “Israeli problem.”