The first rule of strategy is to keep your opponent busy attending to your agenda so he has no time to advance his own. Unfortunately, Israel's leaders seem unaware of this rule, while Iran's rulers triumph in its application.
Over the past few weeks, Israel has devoted itself entirely to the consideration of questions that are, at best, secondary. Questions like how much additional assistance Israel should provide Hamas-controlled Gaza, and how best to fend off or surrender to the international diplomatic lynch mob have dominated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's and his senior ministers' agendas. Our political leaders - as well as our military commanders and intelligence agencies - have been so busy thinking about these issues that they have effectively forgotten the one issue that they should have been considering.
Israel's greatest strategic challenge - preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons - has fallen by the wayside.
In the shadow of our distraction, Iran and its allies operate undisturbed. Indeed, as our leaders have devoted themselves entirely to controlling the damage from the Iranian-supported, Turkish- Hamas flotilla, Iran and its allies have had a terrific past few weeks.
True, Wednesday the UN Security Council passed a new sanctions resolution against Iran for refusing to end its illicit uranium enrichment program. But that Security Council resolution itself is emblematic of Iran's triumph.
It took a year for US President Barack Obama to decide that he should seek additional sanctions against Iran. It then took him another six months to convince Iran's allies Russia and China to support the sanctions. In the event, the sanctions that Obama refers to as "the most comprehensive sanctions that the Iranian government has faced," will have no impact whatsoever on Iran's nuclear weapons program.
They will not empower the Iranian people to overthrow their regime. And they will not cause the Iranian regime to reconsider its nuclear weapons program. They won't even prevent Russia from supplying Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to protect its nuclear installations from air assault.
THOSE LONG-awaited and utterly worthless sanctions underline the fact that life is terrific these days for Iran's leaders and their allies. A year ago, the Iranian regime was hanging by a thread. After stealing the presidential elections last June 12, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his boss Ali Khamenei required the assistance of all their regime goons to put down the popular revolt against them. Indeed, they needed to import Hizbullah goons from Lebanon to protect themselves and their regime from their own people. European leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy were openly supporting the Iranian people as they announced their intention to overthrow the regime.
But then Obama sided with the regime against its domestic, democratic opposition. Intent on giving his appeasement policy a whirl, Obama took several days to express even the mildest support for the Iranian people. In the meantime, his spokesman continued to refer to the regime as the "legitimate" government of Iran.
Obama's support for Ahmadinejad forced European leaders like Sarkozy to temper their support for the anti-regime activists. Even worse, by keeping the democracy protesters at arm's length, Obama effectively gave a green light to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei to resort to brute force against them. That is, by failing to back the democracy protesters, Obama convinced the regime it could get away with murdering scores of them, and torturing thousands more.
A year on, although the regime's opponents seethe under the surface, with no leader and no help from the free world, it will take a miracle for them to mount major protests on the one-year anniversary of the stolen elections. It is unimaginable that they will be able to topple the regime before it gets its hands on nuclear weapons.
A year ago Ahmadinejad was afraid to show his face in public. But this week he received a hero's welcome in Istanbul. He had a bilateral meeting there not only with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
In the past year Iran has deepened its strategic ties with China and Russia. It has developed an open strategic alliance with Turkey. It has expanded its strategic web of alliances in Latin America. Now in addition to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, Iran counts Brazil among its allies.THEN THERE is Lebanon. Like the regime in Teheran, Iran's Lebanese proxy Hizbullah lost the Lebanese elections last June. And like the regime in Teheran, Hizbullah was able to use force and the threat of force to not only strong-arm its way back into the Lebanese government, but to guarantee itself control over the Lebanese government.
Now in control, with Iranian and Syrian support, Hizbullah has an arsenal of 42,000 missiles with ranges that cover all of Israel.
Then, too, Hizbullah's diplomatic situation has never been better. This week former US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker called for the US to initiate a policy of diplomatic outreach to the Iranian-controlled illegal terrorist group. Ryan is the second prominent US official, after Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, to call for the US to accept Hizbullah as a legitimate actor in the region.
As for Syria, it too has only benefited from its alliance with Iran. The Obama administration has waived several trade sanctions against Damascus.
As it battles the Senate to confirm its choice for US ambassador to Syria, the administration has become the regime's champion.
Assuming the Senate drops its opposition, Syria will receive the first US ambassador to Damascus in five years as it defies the International Atomic Energy Agency and openly proliferates nuclear technology. Today Syria is both rebuilding its illicit nuclear reactor at Dar Alzour that Israel reportedly destroyed on Sept. 6, 2007 and building additional nuclear installations.
Luckily for Bashar Assad, the IAEA is too busy trying to coerce Israel into agreeing to international inspections of its legal nuclear installations to pay any attention. Since June 2008, the IAEA has carried out no inspections in Syria.
AND THAT'S the heart of the matter. The main reason that the past year has been such a good one for Iran and its allies is because they have managed to keep Israel so busy fending off attacks that Jerusalem has had no time to weaken them in any way.
It is true that much of the fault here belongs to the US. Since entering office, Obama has demonstrated daily that his first priority in the Middle East is to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. As for Iran, Obama's moves to date make clear that his goal is not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Rather, it is to avoid being blamed for Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Moreover, Obama has used Iran's nuclear weapons program - and vague promises to do something about it - as a means of coercing Israel into making unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians.
The problem is that despite overwhelming evidence that Obama is fundamentally not serious about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel's leaders have played along with him. And in so doing they have lost control over their time and their agenda.
When Obama first came into office, he was committed to three things: appeasing Iran, attacking Israel for constructing homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria, and condemning Israel for refusing to support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Ahmadinejad's rejection of Obama's outstretched hand forced Obama to launch his halfhearted drive for worthless UN sanctions. But he used this bid to coerce Israel into making still more unreciprocated concessions. After pocketing the prohibition on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, Obama moved on to Jerusalem.
From there he moved to forcing Israel to accept indirect negotiations with the Palestinians through his hostile envoy George Mitchell. And once he had pocketed that concession, he began pressuring Israel to surrender its purported nuclear arsenal.
Following that, he has moved on to his current position of pressuring Israel to accept a hostile international investigation of the navy's enforcement of Israel's lawful blockade of the Gaza coast. He also seeks to weaken Israel's blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza and force Israel to accept a massive infusion of US assistance to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
This last Obama action plan was made explicit on Wednesday when the US president announced that his administration would give $400 million in assistance to Gaza, despite the fact that doing so involves providing material aid to an illegal terrorist organization controlled by Iran.
OBAMA'S ACTIONS are clearly disturbing, but as disturbing as they are, they are not Israel's main problem. Iran's nuclear program is Israel's main problem. And Netanyahu, his senior cabinet ministers and the IDF high command should not be devoting their precious time to dealing with Obama and his ever-escalating demands.
To free himself and Israel's other key decisionmakers to contend with Iran, Netanyahu must outsource the handling of the Palestinian issue, the Obama administration and all the issues arising from both. He must select someone outside active politics to serve as his special envoy for this purpose.
Netanyahu's envoy's position should be the mirror image of Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell's role. He should be given a suite of fancy offices, several deputies and aides and spokesmen, and a free hand in talking with the Palestinians and the Obama administration until the cows come home.
In the meantime, Netanyahu and his senior cabinet ministers and advisers must devote themselves to battling Iran. They must not merely prepare to attack Iran's nuclear installations.
They must prepare the country to weather the Iranian counter-attack that will surely follow.
Those preparations involve not only fortifying Israel's home front. Netanyahu and his people must prepare a diplomatic and legal offensive against Iran and its allies in the lead-up, and aftermath, of an Israeli strike against Iran.
The most obviously qualified person to fill this vital role is former defense minister Moshe Arens.
Aren has the experience, wisdom and gravitas to handle the job. Bereft of all political ambitions, Arens would in no way pose a threat to Netanyahu's leadership.
Whoever Netanyahu chooses, he must choose quickly. His failure to bear in mind the first law of strategy places Israel in greater and greater peril with each passing day.