Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu literally drew a red line for Iran on Thursday. In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Netanyahu said the threshold for pre-emptive action will be "before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment where it's a few months away or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon." When that point arrives, Israel will go it alone if necessary.
Establishing red lines helps to prevent conflict, not generate it. Clear, unambiguous and credible thresholds signal to an adversary that certain behaviors will trigger definitive consequences. When the other side knows the risks, it may avoid courses of action that will bring the known response.
Red lines are only useful when they are credible, and the world has no doubt that Mr. Netanyahu means it when he draws a line in the sand. That's a form of credibility President Obama lacks. So it's just as well that the United States hasn't made similar threats. No one would believe them.
Mr. Obama and his administration have sent conflicting signals to Tehran. U.S. policy states Iran will not be permitted to have nuclear weapons. The White House asserts all options are on the table to enforce the policy. Simultaneously, options have been taken off the table. In particular Mr. Obama has said privately, and his surrogates publicly, that the United States will neither aid nor hinder an Israeli military strike on Iran. That takes military action off the table. Such a posture shows more interest in dodging responsibility than assuming leadership. It's obvious Mr. Obama wants to minimize his personal and political risk. This is something Mr. Netanyahu and his country cannot afford.
Two weeks ago an unnamed administration official protested that the United States has a red line, "which is a nuclear weapon. We're committed to that red line." That simply tells Tehran that the only circumstance under which Mr. Obama might -- might -- be willing to take action would be after Iran already had achieved that which was supposed to be forbidden. This gives Iran a winning hand. It would be unlikely for the Islamic Republic to reveal it had constructed working nuclear weapons before stockpiling a number of them, the better to deter U.S. retaliation. So this policy relegates the United States to only consider the use of force against an already nuclear Iran. Mr. Obama seeks to close the barn door after the horse has run off -- no wonder the anonymous White House source wanted to keep his comments on background.
At this point, nothing is likely to happen before the November election. Iran will probably not reach Israel's red line before next year. Israel will wait to see who will be U.S. president. If Mr. Romney wins, Mr. Netanyahu can count on having a stronger, more confident, more reliable ally who will be willing to adopt the existing red line and strengthen its power to dissuade the mullahs. If Mr. Obama wins, Israel will continue to plan to go it alone against Iran. The resulting crisis will be all the more dire, thanks to American impotence.
The Washington Times
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