Is Iran to Blame for Israel's Woes?

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 10:41 AM PDT

Laura Rozen writes:

From a colleague covering the conflict in Israel: "Almost everyone I talk to here is now saying the Iraq war has presented one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history." Namely because it has so empowered Iran, and reduced US ability to deal with Iran now.

Well, that may be true, in a sense, but it's worth thinking this through. It's a lot harder for the United States to invade Iran now, true—after all, we don't have the troops, and any war against Iran would endanger the 130,000 soldiers currently stationed in Iraq. (Of course, that may not actually deter the Bush administration from bringing out the tactical nuclear weapons and starting World War III, but it's at least convinced some top generals in the Pentagon to oppose war with Iran.) By extension, it's now a lot harder for the United States to threaten to invade Iran. But then again, invading Iran was never a good idea, regardless of what happened in Iraq.

The preferred dovish way of "deal[ing] with Iran" is to talk with the leaders in Tehran, and perhaps eventually striking a deal by promising not to attack (which is a horrible and unfeasible idea anyway) in exchange for better behavior. We still have the ability, even after Iraq, to give that a try at least; it's just that the Bush administration just refuses to do so for various ideological reasons. Maybe Iran is actually less willing to negotiate thanks to the war in Iraq. But it's hard to say, since no one has actually tried.

It's also hard to say in what sense Iran has posed "one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history." Iran has armed Hezbollah, yes. And Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israel, true. But neither of those things pose existential threats to Israel in the way that, say, various Arab armies, backed by the Soviet Union, did back in the 1960s and 1970s.

In any case, it's worth noting that Israel brought the current crisis on itself by invading Lebanon. Iran had little to do with it. Prior to the outbreak of war on July 12, Hezbollah rocket attacks were somewhat desultory and killed relatively few Israelis—it was bad, yes, but not something Israel couldn't live with if there was no good way of dealing with it. And there wasn't a good way of dealing with it. At present, Israel is talking about occupying a greater portion of Lebanon than it did back during its disastrous occupation in the 1980s. How does that help matters? It doesn't, it's a disaster. Iran is a problem, but it's clearly not the sole problem here.

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