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Shaul Mofaz is not the first star to cast Iran in a part in the political game in Israel. Twelve years ago, in May 1996, on the eve of an election, the then head of Military Intelligence, Moshe Ya'alon, voiced an "assessment" that the rulers of Iran were hoping that the Likud headed by Benjamin Netanyahu would take over the government from Shimon Peres. At that time, there were those who assumed that the Labor Party would follow in the footsteps of Yitzhak Rabin, who had set up the goal of extending the circle of peace with the Arabs before Iran was able to complete its nuclear plans. Rabin believed this to be a more sensible policy than the method of simply shouting "gevalt."

Since then, Iran has turned into a land of refuge for politicians who are rich in screwups and short on accomplishments. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens to wipe us off the map, how can one disturb the prime minister with trifles such as the Arab peace initiative? Can anyone expect the defense minister to free himself to take care of the hooligans manning the settlement outposts when a nuclear bomb is ticking in our ears? And how can Condoleezza Rice talk nonsense to us about building in East Jerusalem? She'd be better off spending her time assisting her president, George W. Bush, in enlisting the world's support in combating the Israel-bashers.

The compulsive fixation on the Iranian issue ensures Israel's status in the eyes of creation as the source of trouble. When Israel is perceived as the central factor in the tensions with Iran, it should not be surprised if it is depicted in the world as the major offender in the spiraling cost of oil. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the two American academics who published an article in the London Review of Books, and a subsequent book, about the Israel lobby in the United States, and who placed a significant part of the blame for the sorry decision to invade Iraq, on Israel and its supporters in the U.S., have been quick to claim that those very same elements are now stirring up the Iranian quagmire.

In an interview I conducted with the pair last week in Jerusalem, Walt said that there was no doubt that the Iranian nuclear plan had to be dealt with, but that Israel and sources in the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. were the only ones putting pressure on the American administration to use force against Tehran. Mearsheimer claimed that the growing threat that U.S. and Israel will attack Iran was forcing that country to deter them by deployment of weapons of mass destruction. Both the professors agreed that the bitter lesson of the war in Iraq, as well as the fear that an attack on Iran would cause the price of oil to ascend to new highs, would prevail this time over the war cries of the pro-Israel lobby.

Many good people have found numerous holes in Mearsheimer and Walt's theory, but many others, some of them less good, have been exposed to it. Millions of readers and Internet surfers in the U.S. and other places have learned that a handful of conservative Jews, with their partners in the Christian right, have bent the Middle East policy of the strongest power on earth to conform to what they consider to be Israel's interest. The words of the two have fallen, and continue to fall, on attentive ears.

Mearsheimer recalled that he had grown up on the Leon Uris's novel "Exodus," from which he learned that the Israelis were the good guys - the cowboys - whereas the Arabs were the "Indians." The present generation understands that the story is much more complicated. Walt made note of the fact that the Arabic word "nakba" ("catastrophe," by which the Palestinians refer to the creation of Israel, in 1948), which was virtually unknown to Americans over the past six decades, had begun making its way into discussions and articles in the media during Israel's 60th-birthday celebrations two months ago.

Television audiences in Israel were absolutely delighted to see the three presidential hopefuls in the United States (McCain and Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton before her withdrawal from the race), standing at the dais at the AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, and swearing, one after the other, to take care of Israel's security and welfare. American TV audiences that watched Jon Stewart's satirical "Daily Show" that same week, saw their leaders competing, one after the other, with words of flattery before the Jewish lobby and with expressions of blind support for America's problematic client from the Middle East. Stewart did not balk at referring to the leaders of AIPAC as "the elders of Zion" nor at depicting Barack Obama in a blue-and-white suit ornamented with a Star of David.

On the day after the election, whether Obama is able to bring the Democrats back to power, or whether John McCain is successful in retaining the White House in the hands of the Republicans, the president-elect will be wearing a suit of stars and stripes. The American public and its leaders are not safely nestled in Israel's pocket. As the Iranian threat becomes more concrete, Israel will need more of their understanding and support. The Iranian nuclear program is too substantial a threat for it to serve as a tool in the hands of cynical Israeli politicians whose tongues wag too freely.