Dunsmore: Israel, Iran, and Obama

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(HOST) American-Israeli relations are going through rough times over Israeli settlements in Arab territory and Iran’s nuclear program.  Today, commentator Barrie Dunsmore, veteran ABC News diplomatic and foreign correspondent, gives us an update.

(DUNSMORE) In recent weeks there has been a growing chorus emanating from Israel with a common theme: President Barack Obama is treating Israel unfairly. He’s asking Israel to make concessions about settlements without reciprocal moves by the Palestinians; and he is not taking adequate steps to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability that would threaten Israel’s existence. The subtext to these now almost daily laments is that Obama cares more about Muslims than he does about Israel.

As this drama unfolds, it’s important that the American people should not be misled. The fact is that no country has been more generous and more protective of its friend and ally than the United States has been of Israel, and Obama is not threatening to change that.

Some of Israel’s anguish is probably based on the fact that, since the late 1990s, Washington has given Israel a virtual green light to do whatever it wished – without regard for the impact of its actions on American interests. It is those American interests that Obama is now justifiably trying to protect.

By insisting that Israel abide by numerous previous agreements it has made to freeze the construction or expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory, Obama is taking a position held by previous American presidents. Unfortunately, they caved in when the political heat was turned up by Israel’s friends in Congress. As a result, the amount of Arab territory now occupied by nearly half a million Israeli settlers has become such an impediment to peace – that the two-state solution to the decades-old dispute between Israel and the Palestinians may already be next to impossible to implement.

Meantime, Israel is intensifying its claim that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon Israel’s very existence is threatened. Iran’s leadership, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, is an "apocalyptic cult" bent on Israel’s destruction. Based on this assertion, Israel suggests it has the right, and would like American help, to launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

As I have said repeatedly, and was joined this past week by Joe Klein of Time Magazine and Fareed Zacharia of Newsweek, to attack or not to attack Iran is a false choice. Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal a hundred times larger that anything Iran is ever likely to have. Nuclear deterrence worked against Stalin and Mao, two of history’s most infamous mass murderers, and it will work against Iran’s clerics. Whatever the ugliness of the Iranian regime, there is no reason to believe the ayatollahs would want to ignite a nuclear war with Israel that would result in their own annihilation.

Given Jewish history, Israel’s anxiety is understandable. But, even if Iran should develop a nuclear weapon in the next year or two, this would not be as great a threat to U.S. or Israeli interests, as the catastrophe that would follow an Israeli/American attack on Iran. A true friend of Israel should not be shy about firmly making that case.

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