Can Obama help prevent an Israeli strike on Iran?

Mar 05, 2012

President Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in DC on Monday, where he'll try to convince Netanyahu to slow quickening pressure among many in his hawkish government to attack Iran's disputed nuclear development sites. According to the Associated Press, "Obama is trying to avert an Israeli strike that could come this spring, and which the United States sees as dangerously premature."

Do you support an Israeli strike on Iran? Does Obama have enough influence to help prevent this sort of strike?

Discuss your opinions with Post reporter Scott Wilson live at 11:30 a.m. ET. Scott will also answer any questions you have on the subject.

Is Dempsey correct in calling Iranian leaders rational in the sense that the Ayatollah and other persian egotists would not risk having the home of their persian pride, the country of Iran, wiped off the face of the earth in a mutually assured destruction doctrine of retaliation for any direct or indirect nuclear detenation in Israel from a bomb produced in Iran? Would that make Bibi incorrect in asserting that Iran is a true existential threat to Israel? It's a MAD world right?

Great to be with all of you today, and thanks much for tuning in. I'll get right to your questions...This one is a good one and I believe both Dempsey and Netanyahu can be right - that is, Iran may be a rational actor and also pose an existential threat to Israel. The dilemma is what side ot come down on in the short-term. And will the Iranian leadership view caving in one the nuclear issue a bigger threat to its survival than Israel's military strikes? The point is that Obama and Netanyahu agree it should never get to the point of Iran having a bomb - and where they disagree is over whether Iran is pursuing one yet.

Does Bibi risk overplaying his hand with a repeat performance of contentiousness after meeting with Obama? His belief of Iran being an existential threat may be truly held but how far will an American president go if he deems what Bibi is doing is not in the US national interest (and the American electorate agrees with the president)?

Good question and, judging by the amicable pre-meeting photo op and remakrs, I don't see Netanyahu venting afterward. It's important to note that the two leaders have bickered in the past over the Palestinian peace issue (see last yera at this time) but on security/intelligence issues the two get along well. That's not to say Netanyahu won't leave the meeting discouraged, but showcasin ga public breech between the two on this issue does his cause (and his politics at home) little good.

What is Israel prepared to do to help the U.S. achieve its objective of negotiating with Iran and using sanctions to leverage a deal?

Likely something Obama will be asking today. What I have heard, though, is that while Obama warned yesterday about bellicose "blustyer" and "the loose talk of war," having Israel appear ready to hit Iran militarily in some ways strengthens U.S. diplomatic efforts - both with Iran and with other nations that do no twant a war. That is, the U.S. diplomatic message in favor of sanctions has been "get on board or face a war." Iran may feel the same pressure. But administration officials do worry about self-fulfilling prophecies - threaten war, fall into one.

Why does US want to even support Israel when the IAEA hasnt found any evidence against Iran? Isn't it being the bullied by Israel into accepting what Israel thinks is right.?Can US really take a reality check and not just let Israel pull its strings and act like a puppet of Israel.

Well, this is at the herat of Obama's message this week - be patient, stop the "bluster," give diplomacy (sanctions and potential talks with Iran) a chance. That, at the moment, is his public push back against Israel's threats. But if U.S. intelligence at some point concludes that Iran is pursuing a bomb, then Obama will likely have a lot less leverage in stopping an attack, if he even wants to at that point.

If there is no evidence that Iran is committed to having Nuclear weapons, then why on earth would anybody support an illegal and pre- emptive attack on Iran?

This is where Obama is, though he doesn't state it quite as sharply as you do. International inspectors have found evidence of possible military intent - and were recently turned away from one site - but in general the U.S. is unconvinced that's Iran's goal. There;'s also the double-standard problem for Obama, who warns of a nuclera arms race in the region. Israel has an undeclared nuclear arsenal, but Obama has declined to ask the Israeli government to declare it and sign the non-proliferation treaty.

The head line should read: Will Obama help prevent an Iranian strike on Israel? When did the subject change from Iran developing a nuclear device to Israel defending herself? It is no secret that for years, Iran has declared it's intention for the complete destruction of Israel. Obama may think he can buy time by doing a re-enactment of Neville Chamberlain but history has proven again and again that that strategy only emboldens the enemy. Obama is fighting for re-election Israel is fighting for her very existance.

Obama's message of patience, in part, is the based on the fact that the Unietd States has more powerful bunker-busting bombs than Israel does. So the US can wait longer, as Iran puts more of its program underground. The question is: Will Netanyahu trust Obama enough to wait?

Hasn't Ayatollah Khamenei said nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam? How could they turn around and develop a weapon if this is the edict from the Supreme Leader in a theocracy?

Yes, he has, as recently as lats week. THe question is: Do you believe him? There's a teent of Shiite Islam - the branch tha tfeels most persecuted through history - that says lying is permissible for self-protection (I'm paraphrasing, obviously, and hope not to be butchering it to badly.) So is this what's going on? The ayatollah's word is likely not going to be enough for Obama or Netanyahu.

As an American, my biggest fear is that Israel will do something stupid, and then because of America's unwavering support for Israel, America will act in a way that is against its own self-interests...Obama has been clear to Netanyahu that he doesn't support bombing yet, but I think pretty much everyone knows that if Israel gets itself into trouble, America will help it. Thoughts?

Yes, Israel will help it, certainly. I think Obama is has been trying to address your concern, widely shared, in recent days, by saying that, yes, Israel feels most threatened by Iran's nuclear ambitions. But the United States has a very strong national security interest, as well, in preventing Iran from getting a bomb.  A nuclear arms race in the region, as Sunni governments, threatened by Shiite Iran, scramble to develop/but one, etc. His message is: This is not just about Israel.

Sorry if this is naive, but in all honesty I don't understand why Iran of all countries is so hostile towards Israel. Iran seems to go out of its way to make trouble for the country and everybody seems to just shrug and accept that policy for what it is. But it's sort of like Germany deciding it absolutely hates Moldova with a passion or something. What gives? And why doesn't anyone in the Middle East ever try to take the high road anymore? Thanks.

It's not naive and actually very interesting. Many puzzle over this. One thing to keep in mind is the Islamic AND revolutionary spirit of Iran's government. So Iran's religious leaders rail against "Muslim land" being taken by the Jeiwsh state, etc. And revolutionaries, self-styled nad otherwise, like to be at the vanguard and so Iran has an interest in giving voice to the broader Muslim anger over the stae of Israel's creation, the post-1967 occupation, etc. Practically speaking it is also a way for Persian Iran to exrt some influence in the Arab Middle East (as it does also through proxies such as Hezbollah and, to a lesser degree, Hamas.) Some explanation, but likely not all of it.

It was my understanding that US sells weapons with the right to control their use. For example, Saudi cannot use F-15s to bomb Israel. Is that correct? And if so, can US tell Israel they must not use US sourced weapons to attack Iran? Is there any way that Iran would not retaliate against US if Israel attacks?

Some weapons sales do come with rthese kidns of caveats, but I do not believe the bunker-busting bombs we have sold to Israel have those restraints. And,a s for the second part of your question, it is very hard to know what Iran would do in response. Would it want to contain  the fallout or exacerbate it? Would it really want to draw the United States directly into a conflict that would likely only end with the end of its government? I think Israel would certainly bear the brunt of the response, but U.S. military assets in the region could also be targeted. Just hard to say....

How accurate, and generally applicable is the claim of "capacity to develop nuclear weapon" of which Iran is being accused? Is it not too vague? What are the solid reasons to start another war, beyond the political rhetoric?

This is the kind of phrase that Obama and Netanyahu will likely drill down on and more clearly define for each other - or attempt to. I was based in Israel four years ago and, yes, the talk of a nuclear Iran was alive and spiekd at times with talk of imminent war. Back then Israeli officials were talking about a point of no return coming when Iranian scientsist had the knowledge of enriching uranium to weapons-grade, so that line has likely been crossed already. But this is what worries the Obama administration - these differing definitions of what amounts to imminent threat.

Does the US have the right (moral or legal) to stop the Israelis from striking Iran if it puts US lives and national security interests at risk?

No, and you have heard Obama clearly endorse, and Netanyahu welcome, Israel's "sovereign right" to defend istelf....Obama can attempt to persuade by citing U.S. security interests, soldiers in harm's way, etc. But there's no legal right....That's all I have time for today, everyone, thanks very much for the excellent questions.

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Scott Wilson
Staff writer Scott Wilson is a White House reporter for The Washington Post.

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