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Thu Feb 23, 2012, 12:51 PM


Distrust Divides Bibi and Barack on Iran [View all]

By J.J. Goldberg
Published February 23, 2012, issue of March 02, 2012.

As President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepare to meet in Washington March 5 to thrash out their Iran differences, observers everywhere are scrambling to sort out exactly what the two men disagree about and what can be done to bridge the gaps.

The answers, surprisingly, are: not much ó and not much. What separates them is not serious disagreement, but deep distrust. And thatís not easy to fix.

Histrionics aside, the two leaders agree on most essentials. Iran is indeed working toward a nuclear weapon, as the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in a report last November. If it succeeds, the strategic consequences for both Israel and the West would be devastating. European diplomats involved in the discussions say Iranian nuclear success in the face of American objections would destroy not just American but Western credibility in the Middle East. It would force moderate Arab countries into Iranís orbit, upend the global energy market and spark a dangerous regional nuclear arms race. Israel, America and key allies like France and Britain all concur that no preventive measure should be ruled out, including a military strike if all else fails. This isnít an Israeli fantasy, the diplomats insist.

And, significantly, they all agree that an American attack would be far preferable to an Israeli one. If America attacks, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia will enthusiastically support it. If Israel attacks, theyíll feel forced to oppose it. Moreover, Israel could well end up in trouble ó unable to finish the job, perhaps even embroiled in a regional war ó that would drag America in anyway, but with its Arab allies lined up against it. Best if Washington handles it from the get-go.



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