Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s three-country tour to the United Kingdom, Poland and Israel has concluded. While abroad, he stopped in Tel Aviv, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of bilateral American-Israeli relations and the issue of Iran. Overall, a Romney presidency may very well destroy what’s left of the American position and credibility in the Middle East, if his remarks in Tel Aviv play into practice.
There were no surprises – Netanyahu maintains the right-wing line he is so well known for on the issue, in terms of supporting a military strike against the Persian state’s nuclear facilities, and reiterating that Iran continues to be an existential threat to Israel.
Mitt Romney was even more banal – he wholeheartedly agreed with his host on the issue, both underlining the fundamental connection between America and Israel and saying that he would support an Israeli strike on Iran.
On this side of the pond, Washington restated that the military option against Iran remains on the table and it is supported by the build-up of naval assets in the Persian Gulf in case hostilities break out. This is not news either. In this way, President Obama has effectively internalized Romney’s criticism that he is not dedicated enough to Israel’s security and left his opponent’s foreign policy looking even more baseless, let alone his sportsmanship on criticizing the incumbent while abroad.
How would an Israeli attack play out? First, it would be a one-time affair, because Israel’s wars have never been long and protracted. The reason is simple – it is a small country with limited resources and in a war of attrition it would ultimately lose; that would necessitate the patronage of a great power; ergo, the relationship with the United States and Netanyahu’s unceasing desire to bring America into a potential war with Iran. An Iranian counterstrike and a campaign by its proxies might very well turn into a war of attrition. However, the regime in Tehran is smarter than that, because the diplomatic opportunity to isolate Israel and legitimate itself domestically and internationally would be too great to pass up – all the while legitimizing the development of nuclear weapons as essential to national defence.
Controlling the atom is not just about weapons. Iran would be able to export nuclear energy, produce radiological isotopes, and if it wants, build nuclear power plants in the developing world. Combined, these activities can be handsomely profitable for the regime in Teheran, and this is the major worry for the West, not so much the weapons. As a businessman and multimillionaire, Romney should grasp this potential reality very well.
Romney’s words may very well be a ploy to differentiate himself from Obama – the current president and Netanyahu are not terribly close, while he promises to rectify that. However, Obama has already offered the military option, which means that Israel’s interests have been already assured by Washington, whatever personal misgivings Obama and Netanyahu might have.
Mitt did say he would support an Israeli strike, but did not elaborate on it. Maybe calling Iran an “enemy of civilization” is evidence that he might get America involved in a war with Iran; it is rhetoric, not dissimilar from Bush’s “axis of evil”, and we know how that ended. Ironically, the West, much less America, is not a benchmark for civilization – in historical terms, the Persians came way before and are therefore the criteria, coupled with the fact that Iranian foreign policy in practice is far more prudent than its rhetoric might suggest.
If Netanyahu does strike Iran, we might say he and his right-wing government are the enemies of civilization. Hawks just never make for good foreign policy and Romney would do well to keep that in mind. The rhetoric isn’t helping either.