The radio is abuzz about VP Biden's so-called "green light" to Israel to attack Iran's nuclear arsenal. Maybe I'm over-analyzing VP Biden's comments, but I think the White House is trying to take pressure off Iran's protesters. In other words, this might be a classic diversion tactic.
Iran's current regime is in a tough spot. It lacks the manpower to pre-emptively attack another country, especially when so many of its military members have to handle protesters and internal dissent. Even setting aside international law, an Iranian attack against Israel would be a suicide mission because of Israel's nuclear arsenal. Attacking Saudi Arabia, an American ally, or American troops stationed in neighboring countries would also be a suicide mission for obvious reasons.
Israel, on the other hand, is also in a tough spot. Although it has the advantage in terms of weaponry, it must still weigh the overall benefits versus the costs of attacking Iran. At this time, the costs of an Iranian attack are undefined and possibly unmanageable because of Iran's influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Iran's long range ballistic missiles. In addition, Iran doesn't lack the ability to defend itself. Iran has wartime experience because of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and has formidable support in Hezbollah, which has recent experience fighting against Israeli troops.
As for VP Biden, he seems to be playing the role of bad cop to President Obama's good cop. That's not necessarily a bad strategy, because even if VP Biden goes overboard, his words aren't binding--after all, he's not the President. In any case, President Obama is also in a tough spot. He knows his options are limited. Most Americans do not want to sacrifice more American troops in another non-defensive war. As a result, it looks like a stalemate and another Cold War until the fall of the current Iranian regime and a Middle Eastern glasnost.
Update on July 7, 2009: I just saw CNN's ticker--President Obama said there is no "green light" for Israel to attack Iranian nuclear sites.
All this attention on Iranian nuclear capabilities ignores the possibility that the current Iranian regime might be out in the next three years. Meanwhile, North Korea already has nuclear weapons and has threatened American interests. If I lived in Hawaii, I'd be more than a little concerned to be within shooting distance of North Korea. I am concerned President Obama hasn't provided a plan for containing the North Korean threat. As of today, North Korea, not Iran, represents the greatest threat to the United States.
As for Israel, it should focus on peace with Lebanon. Hamas and Hezbollah are greater threats to Israel than Iran. A prosperous, friendly Lebanon will cause Hezbollah and Hamas to wind down operations the same way the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gave up power to Sinn Féin once Ireland became prosperous. The 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war showed that force won't work in Lebanon. If Israel wants peace, having Lebanon as a peaceful partner is key. An Israeli-Lebanese partnership should be a higher priority for Israel than a possible Iranian threat three years from now.
But then again, what do I know? I've never visited North Korea, Lebanon, or Israel. Still, I hope one day to see all three countries experience lasting peace.
Bonus: Alan Dershowitz on Israel in the WSJ (7/3/09):
A majority of American-Jewish supporters of Israel, as well as Israelis, do not favor settlement expansion. Thus the Obama position on settlement expansion, whether one agrees with it or not, is not at all inconsistent with support for Israel...
I believe there is a logical compromise on settlement growth that has been proposed by Yousef Munayyer, a leader of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. "Obama should make it clear to the Israelis that settlers should feel free to grow their families as long as their settlements grow vertically, and not horizontally," he wrote last month in the Boston Globe. In other words, build "up" rather than "out." This seems fair to both sides...