Bibi, Let Go

Against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings, Netanyahu’s campaign to force Obama’s hand on Iran has failed. Obama made it clear in March that he would not go to war with Iran over uranium enrichment, as Bibi had requested.

Instead, he would reinvest in diplomacy and opt for a solution based on limiting and inspecting—not eliminating—Iran’s enrichment program. And if diplomacy succeeds, Obama won’t go to war with Iran at all. Rather, a reduction of US-Iran tensions will follow, which may have significant repercussions throughout the region.

As a stalwart opponent of US-Iran diplomacy, Netanyahu is putting Israel on the opposite side of the US. Israel must now make a choice: Either continue to obstruct Obama’s diplomatic strategy and risk greater tensions with Israel’s most important ally, or shift gears and opt to influence the talks instead.

(I have for years argued that this situation was all but inevitable and that Israel would benefit from making this shift sooner rather than later).

Israel faced a similar situation in 1992. The Cold War had ended, and the US had ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. It was the height of the unipolar moment—but Israel’s role in this new world was unclear. Washington had gravitated towards the Arab side after the Persian Gulf War and pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. The Yitzhak Shamir government had a series of clashes with the George Bush Sr. White House; over the Kuwait war, the Madrid conference and the Palestinians, as well as over US arm sales to Saudi Arabia. America was at the height of its power—but US-Israeli relations were at an all time low.

It was clear Israel needed to shift. The opportunity came with the 1992 elections and the Labor party’s landslide victory.

For the first time, Labor could govern without having the Likud in its collation government. With this new political maneuverability, the Labor party could make radical changes to Israel’s strategic orientation—such as opting for a peace process with the Palestinians based on a land for peace formula.

Today, however, the Israeli government under Netanyahu neither enjoys the political nor the ideological flexibility to muster a shift.

Trita Parsi is the President of the National Iranian American Council and the 2010 Recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

The above article was published in thedailybeast.com on May 2nd, 2012 10:34 a.m. EDT).

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