Iran protests - AP
Iran protests in 2009. Photo by AP
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With the barrage of speeches and debates in Washington recently over who should or should not bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, I can't stop wondering what Iranians themselves think about this thoughtful debate. For an Israeli journalist to quote friends in Iran is probably being a bad friend, but Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, an Iranian activist living in the United States, feels insulted that neither American nor Israeli leaders have bothered to talk to those who have a real stake in Iran's future.

"No one in Iran wants to get bombed," she says. "By going to war, the situation will not be solved. It's addressing the symptoms, not the cause, and we must respond to this in a long-term fashion, not patchwork that will spring another asinine leak in 30 years. The regime can be brought down, and we have begged and begged and begged for some assistance for us to do it ourselves, and we sure can but seems like it's the idiocy of the people who cannot think outside the box - starting with Obama, who is forcing Israel's hand, so now the story has become asinine diplomacy or war. And we don't need either," Zand-Bonazzi says.

Her suggestion? The one former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan hinted at in his interview to the CBS news show "60 Minutes," broadcast in the United States on Sunday - to assist the Iranian opposition. "I applaud Meir Dagan, though I wouldn't quite call the Iranian regime 'rational', she says, referring to a comment he made in the interview.

Wouldn't it hurt the Iranian opposition to receive any aid from the United States or Israel?

"Heck no", she says. "How much more could we be hurt?! Whether we have funding or not, they'll accuse of being puppets anyhow. So what the heck!"

I couldn't resist reminding Zand-Bonazzi that the Iranian opposition in the United States is notorious for its infighting.

"Every opposition - the Russian, Jewish, Chinese, Cuban - in all countries, attack each other," she shrugs. "Many serious people do not fight. If we disagree, we have learned to go to our corners, take time to rethink and come back at it from another angle. To paint an entire opposition with one judgmental brushstroke is not only unfair, it's simply untrue. We have every connection inside Iran. We want to speak for ourselves. The time has come for Iranians to take a stand for the self-determination of our movement, which is the only way to get out of this peacefully. We know the absolute weaknesses of that regime. How they fight. Who fights among them. What is said. How they are sabotaging each other. How to quicken the sabotage between them. They are at each other's throats inside that regime. And we have all the means at our disposal to see that all the way to the end."

What did she think about the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recent speech to AIPAC in Washington (dubbed "the duck speech," for his comment about Iran's nuclear program: "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck," then it's "a nuclear duck. And it's time the world started calling a duck a duck." )

"There's nothing more to say to Mr. Netanyahu," Zand-Bonazzi says. "He has made up his mind and a huge number of people who could have given him better advice did not. Though he's a person who sees things for what they are, his solutions are not as blanket obvious. Sometimes things require a little more intricacy."

Red lines

On the pessimists' side, this week at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies Dr. Matthew Kroenig, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he doubts a deal with Iran can be reached, because "Iran has crossed many red lines in the past 10 years - and we've watched them doing that." He argued for taking action.

Dr. Colin Kahl, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, suggested looking for positive hints in remarks by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who recently said nuclear weapons are a "sin." This could give the regime an opportunity to step back from its nuclear program without losing face, Kahl said.

And there was this question from someone in the audience - presumably, someone who did not attend last week's AIPAC conference: "How exactly will Iran's nuclear bomb directly threaten the United States?"

Well, according to a new poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, the question is very relevant to the U.S. public. Only one in four Americans favors an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear program. Seven in 10 (69 percent ) favor the United States and other major powers continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran - with rare bipartisan support (58 percent of the Republicans and 79 percent of the Democrats ). Furthermore, three in four say the United States should primarily act through the UN Security Council, rather than acting by itself.

Only 25 percent favor the United States providing military forces in the event Israel attacks Iran, Iran retaliates against Israel and Israel requests U.S. aid; even among Republicans, only 41 percent would support such aid.

More than half of respondents - 54 percent - said the United States would support Israel publicly if it attacked Iran. Only 14 percent said the United States should encourage an Israeli attack.

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, summarized the results as saying Americans do not believe a preventive military strike will produce much benefit. (Only 18 percent believe that it would delay Iran's abilities to develop a nuclear weapon by more than five years; 20 percent said a strike would delay the program by one to two years; 22 percent think it will actually accelerate the program development; 31 percent said a strike would strengthen Iran's government and 42 percent believe it would weaken the regime in Tehran. )

Fair enough: These responses are quite consistent with what Israelis think about the potential effectiveness of a strike, with one slight difference: For Israelis, their lives might be at stake. For Americans, it's more pain at the gas pump. Which, if you ask President Barack Obama as he faces reelection is not an issue to be taken lightly.

While we're on the election: The press might scream about Rick Santorum's electability problems, but he continues to defy the opinion polls and the skeptics. In some sense he already won, by forcing Americans to discuss issues that seemed well off the radar this season: faith, family, values, contraceptives, principles and the like. One doesn't have to be Jewish to feel slightly uncomfortable about the "Jesus candidate" - plenty of words have been written about what he is not. And his success probably says more about the U.S. public than about the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania himself. But the more serious Santorum's promise to turn the Republican primary into a two-man race becomes, the more the Jewish community will have to abandon its attempts to treat him as a marginal figure.