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Two Strikes . . .

The logic of Israel’s Syria policy.

May 20, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 34 • By LEE SMITH
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The Iranian nuclear program is not a stand-alone threat. The White House doesn’t want Iran to have the bomb because it knows that both Israel and the Arabs, especially the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, are threatened. An Iranian bomb would also undermine a half-century of American hegemony in the Persian Gulf and possibly disrupt the flow of energy resources that U.S. allies and trading partners rely on. But, from Obama’s perspective, those problems are way off in the future, and in the meantime he is not about to risk his legacy by committing U.S. forces to the Middle East. Besides, he still seems to think that there’s a deal to be had with the Iranians, before or even after they get the bomb. So it’s not a big immediate worry, except for the Israelis and the Arabs, to whom Obama sends a message that has grown less and less reassuring over the last year: Relax, I don’t bluff.

The Israelis really don’t want to have to attack Iranian nuclear sites. After all, isn’t the Persian Gulf primarily Washington’s area of interest and influence? Israel has problems on almost all of its borders, even now with Egypt, the largest Arab state, and maybe sometime in the future with Jordan. The Americans, on the other hand, are out of Iraq and on their way out of Afghanistan and have all the equipment to do what’s required. It would be better for Israel and the world if Obama did it. But his waffling over Syria increases concern that he’s bluffing, however much the Israelis hope he’s not.

The Iranians may also be bluffing.  Should anyone touch their nuclear program, Iranian officials thunder, the resistance will unleash a wave of terror across the world. In fact, Tehran seems to have already dispatched its dogs, and their terror operations, along with Hezbollah’s, have been rolled up in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Their greatest achievement of late was a suicide bombing last July at a bus station in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists.

On the other side of the ledger, Israel seems to have taken out Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh, Hamas’s Mahmoud al-Mabhouh and Ahmed Jabari, Syrian general Muhammad Suleiman, and scores of Iranians associated with the nuclear weapons program. In 2007, Israel destroyed Syria’s secret nuclear weapons facility at Deir al-Zawr. It has struck Iranian weapons facilities and convoys in Sudan repeatedly, most recently in October. The following month, with Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel degraded Hamas’s supply of Iranian missiles in Gaza.

This then is how to understand Israel’s strikes in Syria two weeks ago. Jerusalem will not allow Iran to tip the balance of power, not with medium- and long-range missiles, and almost certainly not with a nuclear bomb. The reason it has been so difficult to discern the nature of Israel’s campaign to preserve the balance of power is that this tiny nation on the Mediterranean is acting like a rational state actor in defending its interests and ensuring its citizens’ security. In contrast, the superpower that is supposed to set the tempo for the rest of the world is governed by a man who says he does not believe in balance of power.

Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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