On the Verge

Instead of an Israeli-American dilemma(to attack or not to attack), the dilemma must become an Iranian one (to have nukes and become poor, or to give up on nukes and become wealthy).

A man likely to enter the White House in January 2009 analyzed the new situation in the Middle East earlier this week in Washington. The promising candidate for the presidency exhibited knowledge, intelligence and conviction. He described in minute detail the various aspects of the American failure in Iraq and listed the mistakes of the Bush administration, along with its weaknesses. However, when he was asked about the urgent issue of Iran, he had very little of substance to say. It's too late, he said. Perhaps it's much too late.

This is the way the wind is blowing on the Potomac. The Democrats are rejoicing over the fall of their foes, and the Republicans are licking their wounds. The realists - the opponents of democratization - are invading the city with Baker-Hamilton in the lead, while the neo-conservatives are preparing to fend them off in a holding action. However, both are up to their necks in Iraq. Neither are able to pay any sort of attention to any issue that is not Iraq. The Americans are well aware that Iran is there. They know full well that its time has come. However, following 45 months of fiasco on the Tigris, they have no emotional, nor intellectual, strength left for dealing with Iran. The superpower of the 20th century is bleeding, battered and bruised. It is approaching the moment of truth on Iran without determination or willpower; without leadership or vision.

This is also the case in Israel. Since the summer of 2002, Israel has known what stands before it. For more than four years Israel has known that it is faced with the greatest existential challenge since May 1948. However, for a long time now, Israel has been unable to come to its senses. At first it knew about Iran, but did not comprehend. Then came comprehension, but it did not act. In the end it took action, but failed. And, instead of taking advantage of the disengagement as a way of rallying the world against Iran, it continued on its trip from disengagement to convergence.

Just like the Americans, who for the past four years have wasted their enormous national resources on a baseless belief in democratization in Iraq, Israel wasted its limited national resources on a baseless belief in the unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian Authority. Like the great democracy on the Potomac, so the little democracy in Givat Ram faces the moment of truth with Iran, lacking determination and willpower; without leadership or vision.

It is not too late. It is late, very late, but not too late. By chance, or perhaps not, Iran is facing certain technical difficulties. Over and over, its efforts to enrich uranium are being delayed. This allows the failing decision makers in Jerusalem and Washington to correct their errors. They still have the rare privilege of a second chance.

However, this second chance is also the final one. If in the coming months Israel and the United States fail to rally the West in taking immediate dramatic diplomatic action - the only choice they will be left with is unacceptable: either attack or come to terms with it, a bad choice and a terrible one.

It is not yet too late. Iran has two souls - the mosque and the bazaar. The great failure of the West in recent years lies in the fact that it did not make the Persian bazaar pay for the craziness of the Shi'ite mosque. To date the Iranian public has not been presented with a dilemma. It has not had to pay the cost of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's uranium adventure.

This must be changed immediately. Instead of an Israeli-American dilemma (to attack or not to attack), the dilemma must become an Iranian one (to have nukes and become poor, or to give up on nukes and become wealthy). However, in order to impose such a dilemma on the Iranians, it is necessary to rally the West in an unprecedented way. This is the sort of effort that neither the battered President George W. Bush nor the vacuous Ehud Olmert can lead.

Olmert's slip of the tongue over Israel's nuclear arms is just the tip of the iceberg. The prime minister has been conducting a wanton policy since he came to power. However, at this critical moment, the time is not right for settling scores. If Olmert can overcome himself and set up an emergency cabinet that can lead the strategic campaign he himself is unable to lead, he will stay in his post. If he does not do this - he should step down immediately. When the United States is confused and at a loss for options, Israel must be at its best. Every additional minute the current government exists endangers its raison d'etre.