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Playing With Fire


With renewed urgency, the Obama administration seeks to resolve the states of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and neighboring Muslim states on one hand, and America and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other.

Everyone of good will supports peace, nowhere more so than in Israel, a country that hasn’t enjoyed a day’s peace since achieving independence 61 years ago. Meanwhile, Washington is now on its third consecutive administration expressing serious national security concerns about Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.

But the twin goals – Israeli-Palestinian peace and an American-Iranian thaw – have, contrary to popular opinion, a paradoxical relationship.

Some Washington power brokers apparently believe that repairing America’s standing among Muslims and Arabs demands progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Conventional wisdom dictates that “progress” and the “peace process” itself mean addressing Palestinians’ statehood goals and their grievances against Israel.

There are, however, fundamental questions that must be asked regarding Palestinian demands: Are we empowering those who despise Israel and the United States? Are we purchasing good will for the United States by tossing Israel to the wolves? Do we grasp the Middle East psychology that interprets accommodation and compromise as weakness?

On the last point: Apparently not. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry told a February 26 hearing that the United States must restore its “moral authority” in the region by returning “to our traditional role as an honest and firm broker in the Middle East peace process.”

America’s failing to do so would “remain a millstone around any effort to reach out to Muslims anywhere,” Kerry continued, alluding, apparently, to the albatross he feels Israel is to America.

“And as we work to empower partners from Morocco to northwest Pakistan, we can’t afford policies that make it unsustainable for locals to be seen as pro-American. We can’t afford to be politically radioactive.”

Better politically radioactive than physically radioactive, Senator Kerry.

Which brings us back to Iran, whose president speaks gleefully of genocide against Israel. The nearly-nuclear-capable Islamic Republic has armed and funded the dangerous folks on Israel’s western and northern borders: Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.

The Kerry formulation reads like self-fulfilling blackmail. If the price of purchasing American security from extremist Muslims is delivering Israel by weakening its security, what does that say about such demands, the people making them, and those who accommodate such thinking?

Far from engendering good will, pressing Israel into dangerous concessions leading to a Palestinian state run by the rabidly anti-Israel, pro-Iran Hamas leadership assuredly will whet Tehran’s appetite for more.

We in America must understand that the Palestinian territories have become another gymnasium in which Ahmadinejad can flex his muscles. According to Dan Diker, a scholar with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “There is a definite linkage between the conduct of the Palestinians and the wishes of the Iranians. The decisions that the Hamas leadership makes in Gaza are coming directly from Tehran via Damascus.”

America must get serious about the Iranian leadership’s mindset, strategic goals and tactics. We were treated to another dose of its rhetorical hubris recently with Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-America comments at the United Nation’s conference on, yes, racism. All the more reason that waiting for Tehran to confirm the obvious – that its nuclear program is meant for military and not energy use – is playing with fire.

North Korea’s test launch on April 5 of its Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, and the Obama administration’s tepid response to this violation of UN Security Council resolutions, bode ill for Washington’s seriousness about confronting Iran.

As former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote of Pyongyang’s missile launch, “Tehran’s only conclusion can be: It is past time to torque up the pressure on this new crowd in Washington. [Iran] sees an American president so ready to bend his knee for public favor in Europe that the mullahs’ wish list for U.S. concessions will grow by the minute.”

President Obama would do better to increase pressure on Tehran in accordance with his March 12 statement that Iran “continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States.”

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Wall Street Journal in an April 6 interview that Iran’s nuclear ambitions represented a “life or death” challenge to Israel.

About the Author: Sarah Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a Washington-based think tank and policy center.


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