Iran will make peace for us
The question, really, is whether an ability to persuade Israel will give Obama a green light from the Arabs to act with force against Iran.
Lets's say the following urgent notice arrived at Benjamin Netanyahu's office this week from Tehran, proposing the following steps: Dismantle the outposts, remove the checkpoints between towns, open the Gaza crossings and declare your intention to cease construction in the settlements. In exchange, we will commit to freeze uranium enrichment the moment the last outpost is destroyed. Whether the enrichment freeze remains in place depends on the next stage, which would begin in another three months, when you would be required to agree with the Palestinian government on the final border between Israel and a Palestinian state, including Jerusalem.
You will also have to recognize the Palestinian state. In return, we will extend the enrichment freeze another year, during which you will be required to dismantle the settlements or agree with the Palestinian government on the settlements' future. Once this stage is completed, we will shut down the nuclear installations at Natanz and Arak, and transfer all our nuclear development plans to the International Atomic Energy Agency. We will then announce the end of our nuclear program. Iran, I vow, will cease to pose an existential threat to Israel. The notice bears the signature of Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. The response from Jerusalem to Tehran? "We won't bow to extortion."
It makes sense if this scenario seems implausible, because it reflects the dubious theory the Obama administration is proposing to Israel: the link between Israeli-Arab peace and the end of Iran's nuclear program. This theory - that Israel has ensarled itself and Washington - is based on three assumptions: The Arab states perceive the Iranian threat as Israel does, American military action against Iran would win Arab approval, and, as a result, Iran would be so alarmed at the Arab-American-Israeli solidarity it would shut down the centrifuges.
Still, it is unclear if Arab fears of Iran stem more from the nuclear issue or Iran's political influence in certain Arab and Muslim states. The very dialogue Obama seeks to carry on with Iran increases concerns about Iran's improved position, apparently contradicting Obama's philosophy of building an Arab-Israeli coalition to isolate Iran.
Yet while Obama links his influence on Iran with the Israeli-Arab peace process, his test for legitimacy among Arab leaders - particularly those defined as "moderate" - is not the way he deals with Iran, but his policy toward Israel. The question is whether an ability to persuade Israel will give him a green light from the Arabs to act with force against Iran. And what will happen if he does not succeed in leaning on Israel? Will Arab countries stop viewing Iran as a threat? After all, a common enemy does not necessarily guarantee an alliance among its adversaries.
What influence would an Israeli-American-Arab alliance exert over Iran? In practice, such an alliance already exists, even if there is no official signed document. You can gauge the impression it made on Tehran by observing last week's display of the new and improved Sejil missile. Iran does not think it's in the same league as the Arabs, it thinks it's in the big leagues. More importantly, the link between peace and Iran has already rendered the Islamic Republic a partner in the peace process, and has made Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's position even more important than Hosni Mubarak's.
Nonetheless, there is something riveting in the artificial linkage between peace and Iran. It is expressed in the fictitious communique above. If Israel faces the choice of eliminating an existential threat by dismantling settlements, making concessions in Jerusalem and recognizing a Palestinian state, what choice will Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman make?
Among the myriad assumptions for predicting the actions of Iran and the Arabs, one assumption has yet to be tested: that Netanyahu prefers removing the Iranian nuclear threat over maintaining settlements and refusing to partition Jerusalem. In the meantime, it appears Netanyahu has inadvertently gained the proper perspective of the Middle East - one shared by the Arabs: Peace and Iran are two distinct entities. If we take this logic further, we may assume that Israel needs peace regardless of the Iranian threat. But this is just a left-wing statement.