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Israeli-Obama Iranian Differences

Former Ambassador Shoval: 'Israel and US may be on a collision course over military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities'

'Deployment of US radar missile system in Israel may be attempt to tie Israel's hands or help defend the country in wake of joint operation against Iran'

Iranian missiles (photo: MEHR)

Even Dr. El-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the American intelligence community are now convinced that Iran is definitely developing nuclear weapons. Israel estimates the Iranians are only a year or two from passing the point of no return and reportedly requested an American green light to strike Iranian nuclear sites. But President Bush said no and has now supplied Israel with a radar system for to detecting Iranian missiles. Meanwhile, Russia has again blocked stiffer sanctions against Tehran. In a wide-ranging interview with IsraCast, Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, assesses various aspects of the looming threat, after Iranian President Ahmadinejad tells clapping members of the U.N. General assembly about Israel's imminent destruction.

Zalman Shoval says the deployment of the American radar system in Israel may have two opposing goals - to tie Israel's hands from attacking Iran or to protect the Jewish state in the event of a joint Israeli - American operation against Iran's nuclear sites. Reacting to the recent report that President Bush had rejected an Israeli request to raid Iran, Shoval replied that Washington is apparently unwilling to enter a conflagration with Iran that result from an Israeli military strike. However, if Israeli intelligence believes Iran is now 'galloping' toward the bomb, this was a burning issue the Israeli government would soon have to deal with.

The Iranian Missile Range

However, with President Bush soon to leave office to be replaced by Barack Obama or John McCain in January, Jerusalem would be involved in a 'running diplomatic exercise' with the US.

Could this not give Iran time to reach its nuclear point of no return? The former ambassador replied that this was indeed the  problem and Jerusalem could not afford too much delay.

But what if Israel reached the conclusion that the only logical thing to do was to attack Iran before it got the bomb 'to wipe Israel off the map'? Might this put Jerusalem on a collision course with Washington?

Shoval replied that collisions could be prevented at the last moment or rectified later on. However he added there are also pragmatic problems Israel would have to consider such as overflying Iraq or Turkey to hit Iran. He added that everyone in his right mind should support economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran to avoid the possibility of a war. But in this case, it was not only Russia and China but also a great many west-European countries who still conducted commerce with Iran while paying lip-service to the sanctions effort.

What impact might the current US presidential election have on the Iranian crisis? Regardless of the two candidates, Shoval points to a dangerous mentality that already exists in some parts of the US establishment - that a nuclear armed Iran is a fact of life and the US will have to live with it. From an Israeli point of view, it was too early to say whether Obama or McCain would prove most effective dealing with Iran. Both candidates have declared that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

Zalman Shoval

Zalman Shoval served as Israel's Ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1993 and from 1998 to 2000. A veteran member of Israel's Knesset (1970-1981, 1988-1990), Ambassador Shoval was a senior aide to the late Moshe Dayan during his tenure as foreign minister in the Begin government, including during the first Camp David conference.

If the U.S is currently pressing Israel not to attack Iran, was this not the time to raise the possibility of a US-Israel mutual defense pact?

Shoval replied that while an American or NATO umbrella might give Israelis a good feeling, it could also impose limitations on Israel's ability to act, and not only against Iran. There were neighboring Arab countries and terror organizations which Israel might need to confront urgently. This could be hampered by a joint defense agreement with the US. However, Shoval proposes upgrading Israel's status as a major non-NATO ally which at present does not mean very much. In his view, more 'content and substance' should be added to this coordination and relationship with NATO. 

David Essing

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