Nukes and Netanyahu

Old friends, new political considerations (Photo: Israel Hadari/NYT)

How Mitt learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

By Mitt Romney’s own admission he has already lost some 47 percent of the vote in the race for the United States presidency to those who believe they are “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing,” and that the “government has a responsibility to care for them.” So if the Republican candidate is to muster the majority to win the White House, he needs help. Thankfully for him he has his old friend from the Boston financial world to try to bail him out: Former Boston Consulting Group executive Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.

Touching down in the US last month, Israel’s Prime Minister went on a whirlwind tour lambasting the Obama administration’s policy on Iran for not drawing the ‘red line’ that he wanted to see. Later in the month, the right wing group Secure America Now ran a campaign attacking Obama showing a speech by Bibi pleading to the world that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon and then reiterating Romney’s rhetoric on Obama’s Iran policy: “The world needs American strength. Not apologies.”

Bibi’s administration has predictably denied that they are picking favorites in the US election. But that has not fooled most political commentators and journalists in the US, Israel or anywhere else who see the PM as clearly favoring Romney. Secure America Now, which maintains one of Bibi’s ex-advisors on its board, has a clear purpose: to air in the districts of Florida where the Jewish vote, estimated at some 20 percent of the total, holds sway at the national level.

For those who remember, Florida — which holds more than 10 percent of the votes needed to win the presidency — was the state that tipped the scales in the contested 2000 election that saw George W. Bush enter the White House. Romney, who (by American standards) is trailing wildly in the polls, will need these and other swing states, as well as all the help he can get from his friends in Tel Aviv to have any chance of winning.

It’s obvious why Romney wants to push the Iranian nuclear issue to the forefront of an election dominated by the economy. It will be much harder for Romney to win over undecided votes by advocating his trickle-down economics against Obama’s more populous Keynesian positions. What is less clear is what the difference between Romney and Obama actually is over Iran and Israel.

Despite the fact that not even the International Atomic Energy Agency knows how close Iran may be to having a nuclear weapon, or if it even intends to build one, Bibi assures us all that Iran is “90 percent there”.

But when Romney is cornered, he admits that he draws the same ‘red line’ as Obama on Iran: “My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon,” he said to an American news channel last month.

He then proceeded to suggest that the Iranians could transfer such technology to Hamas or Hezbollah and, if that occurred, it could threaten US shores. How exactly Iran could transfer these materials, under the watchful eye of Western satellites, through Iraq and a civil war in Syria to Hezbollah, or through an Iran-paranoid Israel to reach Gaza, it seems only Romney knows. Apparently he also has information that suggests both organizations have the capacity to then somehow transport these bombs to the US.

It is a fact of geopolitics that the election outcome in the US will have large implications for the Middle East but as far as Iran’s nukes are concerned, the only discernible difference between Obama and Romney is that the former’s red line is the bomb, while that latter’s is the “capacity” to build one. But if his friend Bibi is correct, Tehran is at “break out” capability and can produce a bomb in a relatively short period of time. So, if he is to be true to his word, Romney should advocate bombing Iran today, even if that would gain him few votes from Americans, who overwhelmingly support getting out of the wars they are in, not getting involved in any more. Israel doing it is another issue, and one Romney says he would respect. But most experts have duly noted that any such action would require US military assistance, derailing the process of enrichment at best and setting off a domino effect in the Middle East at worst.

Sorry Romney, you’re going to have to find another way to avoid your self-imposed margin of error.

This article first appeared in Executive’s October 2012 Middle East Edition 

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