Sunday, March 4, 2012

Aipac up your troubles

Portrait of mask and actor. Uncredited illustration from notes by William A. Johnson, University of Cincinnati.

Martin Indyk on NPR this morning (audio here) explained the Israel-Iran situation in a way that really made me understand the Israeli position better—not Netanyahu's position in particular, but the very broad position of everybody, basically, that isn't a dove.

He's talking about Iran's reaching the "threshold" of ability to build a nuclear weapon, [jump]
and it's easier to get the uranium from 20% pure to 90% than it is to get the first 20%, and they're building triggers and delivery systems (these points as suggested by the IAEA report of last spring), and so on, as usual, and I'm thinking as usual, that he's presenting the evidence as far clearer than it actually is (the IAEA report doesn't even mention triggers; in a later IAEA report the alleged trigger-making turned out to be making nanodiamonds, which are not a weapon, though they are also not a girl's best friend).

And then he's talking about sanctions and how they will simply stiffen the collective Iranian neck, which sounds like a valid enough point, though I hardly see how bombing them would bring them to the negotiating table any faster.

And then it hit me that the Israeli position is in the literary sense a tragic one: they don't believe that anything is going to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon at some unpredictable future moment, they realize full well that an attempt to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities will be a disaster and a failure, but they see themselves eventually doing it anyway, giving it their best shot like Hemingway heroes, and unable to think it out beyond that.

And how do they know the Iranians won't decide not to build the weapon? Because the Iranians are irrational. (Not that I'd necessarily disagree with the premise, but how many lunatics does it take to make a folie à deux? That's what I thought.)

So here's hoping Barack Obama has a little of that comic sense so sadly missing from most world leaders, and which you do feel in him once in a while. And here's hoping he has a really nice chat with Shimon Peres (who has that comic sense in spades) today.

Yup, I think they had a nice talk:
"Mr. President, I know your commitment to Israel is deep and profound," Peres said. "Under your leadership, security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has reached its highest level. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a friend in the White House. He reflects the values that make American great and make Israel secure. Thank you President Obama on behalf of my people."
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war," Obama said. "Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built. Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly, but carry a big stick."

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