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Opinion

Israel is not the threat, Mr. Obama. Iran is.

The Obama administration appears to be conducting a campaign of leaks to the media to stop Israel from attacking Tehran's nuclear program. It seems Obama fears an Israeli military strike more than he fears Iran achieving nuclear-weapons capability.

By John Bolton / April 3, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with President Obama at the United Nations in New York in this September 21, 2011 file photo. Op-ed contributor John Bolton says the Obama administration is undermining Israel at nearly every turn. Recent case in point: leaks to Foreign Policy magazine that Israel had secured basing rights from Azerbaijan for possible use during a campaign against Iran’s nuclear program.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File

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The Obama administration appears to be conducting an organized campaign of public pressure to stop Israel from attacking Iran’s well-developed nuclear-weapons program. So intense is this effort, and so determined is President Obama to succeed, that administration officials are now leaking highly sensitive information about Israel’s intentions and capabilities into the news media.

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The president’s unwillingness to take preemptive military action against Tehran’s nuclear efforts has long been evident, notwithstanding his ritual incantation that “all options are on the table.” Equally evident is his fixation to ensure that Israel does not act unilaterally against Iran, a principal reason why Washington’s relations with Jerusalem are at their lowest ebb since Israel’s 1948 founding.

Indeed, the only conclusion to be drawn from Mr. Obama’s actions and rhetoric is that he fears an Israeli military strike more than he fears Iran achieving nuclear-weapons capability.

Current and former Obama advisers have repeatedly contended that a satisfactory negotiated outcome is possible, one where Iran will continue to develop a “peaceful” nuclear capability under international monitoring. How they can cling to this belief after years of Iran deceiving the International Atomic Energy Agency, going so far as to demolish buildings and excavate and remove thousands of cubic yards of rock and soil to try to conceal traces of radiation, is hard to fathom. Nonetheless, Team Obama still believes that Iran’s military-theocratic regime is capable of holding Pandora’s box but never opening it.

Equally disconcerting, administration officials, past and present, argue that a nuclear-capable Iran can be contained and deterred. Although Obama himself insists that containment is not his policy, I believe that assertion is true only in a limited sense: It is not his policy today. It is his policy for tomorrow, his Plan B, after the current sanctions and diplomacy fail to stop Iran. This is perhaps even more delusional than dreaming about Iran benignly pursuing “atoms for peace.”

Deterrence against the Soviet Union worked precariously and unnervingly at times, with some very narrow escapes from catastrophe, only because of a confluence of calculations between Washington and Moscow. There is no realistic prospect that Tehran’s religious autocracy will develop the same calculus of caution.

Still worse, even if Iran could be contained and deterred, there will undoubtedly be wider proliferation in the Middle East once Iran achieves nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton herself has said that a weaponized Iran certainly means that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and perhaps others will seek their own nuclear capabilities. Thus, in a relatively short period, five to 10 years, there could be half a dozen or more nuclear-weapons states in the region.

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