No Thanks, Mr. President

The interests of Israel will be seriously damaged if it is depicted as the source of the international imbroglio stemming from the Iranian nuclear effort.

President Bush must have envisioned the War of Gog and Magog when he gave Israel the status of the spark that will ignite World War III. At a press conference in Washington last Wednesday, the American president said: "We've got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously - I believe that if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace."

This makes me want to say to the president: "No thank you. Don't make Israel your chief concern." Iran under its current leadership is indeed a dangerous state, and its efforts to attain nuclear weapons must be thwarted. But why place Israel in the center of events?

A nuclear Iran under an extremist Islamic leadership threatens the peace of the entire world, not only Israel. It certainly endangers its close neighbors and has the potential to generate global entanglements. But it is wrong and unwise to portray Israel as the central target of Tehran's nuclear program. One could imagine that Iran's leaders have larger aspirations and practical interests occupying their minds. In addition, Israel has a credible deterrent capability vis-a-vis an Iranian nuclear threat.

And Israel's neighbors who are Iran's allies would be harmed by the environmental damage caused by the use of a nuclear weapon. Countering these considerations is the religious fervor of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some of his spiritual guides. This drives them to preach about Israel's destruction, but it is not at all clear whether the fervor would be the determining factor at the moment of truth.

Even if these assumptions are wrong and the Iranian effort to develop a nuclear capacity is aimed mainly at destroying the State of Israel, a friendly American president (and Bush undoubtedly is one) should not etch this in the world's consciousness as the sole motive for the Iranian effort. All of Israel's governments in recent years have stated that a nuclear Iran would pose a problem for the entire world, not just for Jerusalem. It is in Israel's clear interest to continue this line.

The head of the world's greatest power should lead the effort to foil the Iranian threat, and he seems to be taking this complex role upon himself so far. Bush's efforts - diplomatic and economic pressure as well as increasingly explicit threats to employ military force against Iran - are the way to tackle the problem. Israel should be left outside the picture. The Israeli interest will be seriously damaged if it is depicted as the source of the international imbroglio stemming from the Iranian nuclear effort. In any case, there are already those who argue that Israel's existence is the source of all the Middle East's troubles; references of the kind Bush made last week reinforce this impression and arouse dangerous anti-Israel sentiment in all corners of the world.

These guidelines also apply to the Israeli government: It should not take a prominent role in the international efforts against Iran. It should also not believe and act as if the nuclearization of Iran is intended against it primarily. Without belittling the danger posed by the ayatollahs, Israel has deterrent strength against the Iranian threat. It would be best for Israel to be cautious in exhibiting its lack of tolerance for Iran's nuclear armament; impassioned rhetoric on this matter could create a dynamic that might spiral out of control.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a school that combines the vision of the End of Days with an all-encompassing war in Jerusalem that threatens the nation's existence; these are the conditions for the coming of the Messiah. Sixty-two years after the horror engendered by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it would be best to bring redemption closer through other, earthly and controllable measures - for example, by striving to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. This is a measure that is likely to neutralize the Iranian bomb.