How would a President Romney have handled it?
Israel—or, rather, Benjamin Netanyahu—is now backing off his idea of an immediate military attack on Iran. The reasons (explained below) are interesting, but if Romney had been president, I suspect we would now be in a war with Iran (and perhaps a large part of the Middle East). Graham Allison and Shai Feldman write in the NY Times:
FOR three years Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, seemed to be united in urging an early military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But last week that alliance collapsed, with Mr. Netanyahu accusing Mr. Barak of having conspired with the Obama administration, in talks behind his back.
The clash came as a surprise in Israel, but in hindsight, there was a prelude — the speech Mr. Netanyahu delivered a week earlier to the United Nations General Assembly. In a memorable cartoonish graphic, Mr. Netanyahu depicted a “red line” that he said Israel would not let Iran cross. But he also acknowledged that Iran would not be able to cross it until next spring or summer. In doing so, he essentially reset the urgency of his warnings and ended speculation that Israel might mount a unilateral attack on Iran before the American presidential election.
The public row with Mr. Barak illustrated the magnitude of Mr. Netanyahu’s retreat and his difficulty in explaining it. He was left with implying that he had been undermined, if not betrayed by, his own defense minister. But that was not the full story of why he had blinked.
In fact, Mr. Netanyahu’s about-face resulted from a long-building revolt by Israel’s professional security establishment against the very idea of an early military attack, particularly one without the approval of the United States.
For months, former and even serving chiefs of Israel’s defense and intelligence communities have vigorously and publicly opposed Mr. Netanyahu’s case for attacking Iran sooner, rather than after all other means have been exhausted. Meir Dagan, the much respected former head of Mossad, did so to an American audience in an interview with Lesley Stahl broadcast last March by CBS’ “60 Minutes.” In Israel earlier, he had been quoted as saying that such an attack was “the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”
In addition, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak had proved unable to win sufficient support for early military action from other members of the government. Despite months of sustained effort, Mr. Netanyahu was not able to muster a majority even in his nine-member informal inner cabinet, much less Israel’s larger security cabinet, whose agreement he would need before attacking.
And in August, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, took the occasion of his 89th birthday celebration to decisively reject any unilateral Israeli attack. The country’s pre-eminent elder statesman and the father of Israel’s own nuclear project, he broke with the nonpolitical traditions of Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency to argue that the central issue was the harm that going it alone could do to future American-Israeli relations.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Obama administration was conducting a quiet campaign that would strengthen the view, already circulating among Israeli security professionals, that prematurely attacking Iran would not advance Israel’s interests and would damage Israel’s relationship with America. Instead of holding Israel at bay or threatening punitive action, the administration was upgrading American security assistance to Israel — so much so that earlier this year Mr. Barak described the level of support as greater than ever in Israel’s history. . .