Saul Singer at PostGlobal

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer, a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post, is co-author of the forthcoming book, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, Moment, the New Leader, and (an Israeli/Palestinian e-zine). Before moving to Israel in 1994, he served as an adviser in the United States Congress to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Banking Committees. He is also on Twitter. Close.

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer is a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post. more »

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Opportunity in Iranian Nuclear Crisis

The Current Discussion: Are Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama on a collision course over Iran and the Palestinian problem? What would be the consequences of a breach between the United States and Israel?

This isn't the collision course that people think. Conventional wisdom has it that Obama wants to move on the Palestinians and Netanyahu wants to deal with Iran, so it will be difficult to come to agreement. In reality, this is not a bad "dispute" to have because it is, in theory, easily reconcilable. The solution is to move on both fronts, as both leaders want to do.

The real problem arises if there are different standards for success. Despite Netanyahu's recent reluctance to say the words "two states," there is little real difference between how the U.S. and Israel define success on the Palestinian front. Success is a full peace between Israel and the Arab world based on full Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza. In any case, a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace is on hold, at best, pending resolution of the Iranian problem. Neither the Palestinians nor the Arab states will officially end the century-long quest to crush the Zionist project at precisely the moment when that quest is poised to obtain nuclear backing.

The more important possible difference lies in how success is defined concerning Iran. The U.S. might be tempted to settle for allowing Iran to develop all the components of a nuclear arsenal -- including enriched uranium, bomb-making know-how, and long range ballistic missiles -- so long as they are not obviously put together.

This would not be an acceptable solution for Israel or the states in the region -- such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia -- that are no less concerned about a nuclear Iran. The reason is that an Iran that is just a key's turn away from a nuclear arsenal has the immunity of a nuclear power, and therefore can destabilize the region as if it were a full nuclear power. It is clear, for example, that Egypt and Saudi Arabia will launch their own nuclear programs even if Iran is "only" a near-nuclear power.

Netanyahu's job will be to convince Obama that the Iranian problem cannot be finessed in such a way. Success must be defined as the dismantling of Iran's nuclear program and enrichment capability. While Iran obviously will not abandon its program unless forced to do so, it is still possible to avoid military action by imposing the "crippling sanctions" that Secretary Clinton discussed during her recent Congressional testimony.

Obama, understandably, wants to resolve the Iranian problem without a full showdown. Iran is banking on the fact that the West does not relish a confrontation, and is therefore trying to look as intransigent and determined as possible. But in reality there is no option of avoiding confrontation, because a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran will ultimately lead to confrontation or war. Further, Netanyahu will make it clear to Obama that Israel cannot tolerate even a "virtually" nuclear Iran and will take military action to prevent this, even though this would be much less preferable than forcing Iran to back down with crippling sanctions.

But the real reason for the U.S. to pursue a truly non-nuclear (and non-terrorist) Iran is not to avoid Israeli military action, but to advance American interests and security. The Iranian nuclear prospect clouds the international security landscape like the financial crisis looms over the global economy. Both clouds must be removed for the international community to prosper. Just as the financial crisis also presents opportunities, so does the Iranian crisis. Forcing Iran to back down would be the greatest setback for Islamofascism since the fall of radical regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, if Obama defuses the Iranian nuclear program, the world could experience the greatest advance in peace and security since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Conversely, if Iran does go nuclear or near-nuclear, existing clouds will continue to darken.

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