Who said "Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable and we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening"? It wasn't Binyamin Netanyahu. No, President Barack Obama said that at his first press conference after winning the 2008 election.
The clock is ticking ominously on that front. "We feel a sense of urgency," an Israeli spokesman said as Prime Minister Netanyahu prepared for his first meeting with Obama since both were elected. All Israelis feel that sense of urgency because they have watched, frustrated, as the Bush administration signed on to a lengthy series of negotiations with Iran headed by the Europeans. With U.S. approval, the Europeans offered a smorgasbord of incentives for Iran to give up its nuclear program. They were met with meetings and more meetings. Iran agreed to nothing except more meetings in an attempt to run out the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick.
And now a new American administration arrives on the scene convinced, like its predecessor, that negotiations are the way to go -- except, oddly, President Obama believes that he is departing from past practice. Speaking to Newsweek magazine, he said, "...We want to offer Iran an opportunity to align itself with international norms and international rules. I think, ultimately, that will be better for the Iranian people. I think that there is the ability of an Islamic Republic of Iran to maintain its Islamic character while, at the same time, being a member in good standing of the international community and not a threat to its neighbors. And we are going to reach out to them and try to shift off of a pattern over the last 30 years that hasn't produced results in the region."
"Shift off a pattern over the last 30 years"? But the world has negotiated with Iran -- offering carrots and sticks -- continuously over that period. Will the Obama magic somehow accomplish what the Europeans, the United Nations, and five previous presidents of both parties could not?
Among the very first initiatives of the Obama administration was a conciliatory video message to the mullahs on the occasion of Iran's Nowruz holiday. The response of the regime has been underwhelming. Even in the face of Obama's goodwill gesture, Iran falsely convicted U.S. citizen Roxana Saberi of espionage (her trial lasted about 40 minutes). She has since been released after staging a hunger strike (and who knows what sort of backroom deal). Work on nuclear weapons continues.
Obama insists that he is not naive about Iran. "If it doesn't work, the fact that we have tried will strengthen our position in mobilizing the international community, and Iran will have isolated itself, as opposed to a perception that it seeks to advance that somehow it's being victimized by a U.S. government that doesn't respect Iran's sovereignty."
When you consider Iran's conduct on the world stage, its relentless support of terrorists around the globe, its genocidal threats against Israel and the United States, and its totalitarian repression at home, you might think that a leader with the persuasive gifts of Barack Obama would have no trouble mobilizing the international community. And in fact, Secretary of State Clinton has said, "We believe that our outreach and our consultation lay the groundwork for tougher international sanctions."
Yes, but tick, tick, tick. How long do they have to indulge that approach?
Israel is terrified of an Iranian bomb. But she is not alone in the Middle East in this. Sunni Egypt is nervous as well, as is Saudi Arabia. Many observers believe that an Iranian bomb would ignite a nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis can certainly afford to buy the technology. Even the tiny (but wealthy) United Arab Emirates are investing $7 billion in a missile defense system. Does the Obama administration want to see the Middle East, hardly known for stability and reliability, bristling with nuclear weapons?
A number of news outlet are reporting that CIA Director Leon Panetta visited Israel two weeks ago to deliver a warning: Do not take military action against Iran's weapon sites without consulting with us first. Israel desperately needs American friendship now as ever. But the policy of the Obama administration seems to be yet another iteration of the negotiations track that has yielded nothing -- that in fact has bought time for the mullahs to complete their nuclear ambitions. It may be asking too much. As President Obama himself acknowledged to Newsweek: "They're right there in range and I don't think it's my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are."