Paul Greenberg

Grand displays of nationalist sentiment and mass demonstrations against the Great Satan may be well and good in their place, but not if they threaten people's livelihoods. The natives were growing restless, and so Teheran had to pretend it was ready to forsake its plans for a nuclear weapon. The deal was set for the signing; it was all over but the cheers and applause. Give 'em a happy ending every time. At least for a while.

The Great Sham at Geneva was to be maintained to the last minute, in tandem with the mullahs' Great Stall, which was winning them still more time to expand Iran's network of nuclear plants from Fordo and Bushehr to Arak ... till the whole complex was unassailable, its components scattered all over the map, buried underground in hardened bunkers, all those centrifuges spinning like mad. Soon it would be too late to stop the Iranians despite the West's empty protests and futile UN resolutions. It was all over but the ceremonial signing, to be followed by curtain calls, the pop of champagne corks, and the final group picture....

But then ... a bump in the road. The French objected. The French! Yes, the heirs of collaborationist Vichy, of Petain and Laval, had once again become the French of Verdun and "They Shall Not Pass!" There's always one guy in the outfit who doesn't get the word, one player who refuses to recite his tame lines. Who would have thought only a few years back that the French would step forth as in days of old and retrieve the banner of Leader of the Free World that the current American administration has been only too eager to let fall.

In Libya, in Mali and now at Geneva the French have resumed their old role as a bulwark against aggression. The result: Showtime has had to be postponed, maybe even called off.

Then there's the wild card: Israel, which has already taken out two budding nuclear plants in its near neighborhood, first in Iraq and then Syria. Unlike the Czechs at Munich almost a century ago, the Israelis may not be prepared to go gently into that not so good night. The sacrificial lamb could yet turn out to be a lion.

A remnant of a people wiped out once before, the Israelis seem to understand what is at stake in this show: their existence. Nor do their Arab neighbors seem happy at the prospect of being dominated by Teheran. And so an intermission has been called in this diplomatic opera.

But, lest we forget, the clock is still ticking. Message to Jerusalem: If you're going to strike, if you even can strike at that distance, sooner would be better than later. Yes, the results of such a strike would be unpredictable. But the results of just waiting for Iran to complete its Bomb are all too predictable. And not at all assuring. For the whole, ever volatile Middle East. And the world.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.