Things are not always as they appear in the Middle East. Appearances can also deceive whenever an Israeli prime minister and a U.S. president get together in Washington.
During their two-hour meeting at the White House on Monday, it appeared as though Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu were bosom buddies. Netanyahu, especially, praised the new president and claimed agreement with Obama that, as a first priority, Iran must be stopped from possessing nuclear weapons.
A "senior official traveling with the prime minister" (one of those euphemisms required to disguise who is really speaking) told a small group of reporters and columnists following the White House meeting that, for the first time since the creation of Zionism, Jews and Arabs see eye-to-eye concerning the strategic threat a nuclear Iran would present. "This goal supersedes anything else," said the official. In response to questions, the official acknowledged that Arab leaders say one thing to their friends and something quite different to their enemies.
President Obama invoked an end-of-the-year timeline for diplomacy with Iran to work. This would seem to give Iran a green light to pursue its nuclear bomb for the next seven months. At the end of December when we in the West learn that Iran has been stringing us along and using diplomacy as a delaying tactic, what then? Will it be Israel that bombs the nuclear sites, or will it be one or more of those Arab nations supposedly of one mind in opposition to a nuclear Iran?
It's a safe bet to put your money on Israel doing the dirty work and suffering the usual condemnation -- accompanied by more terrorist attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah -- from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, the latter two seeing nothing worth fighting to preserve.
A more sobering assessment has come from RAND, a nonprofit research corporation. In a new report entitled "Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East," prepared for the U.S. Air Force, RAND dismisses hopes that bilateral talks between the United States and Iran will alter Tehran's behavior. It calls such hopes "unrealistic" and advocates a broad international effort that would leverage incentives and punishment based on Iran's response. This has been tried before and has mostly proved ineffective because there are countries that do not abide by economic boycotts.