Taken at face value, U.S. President Barack Obama's comment on the Iranian nuclear enterprise appears to have been made in an orderly fashion. An Iranian nuclear weapon is clearly more dangerous than Syrian chemical weapons. Curbing Iran's nuclear program is in both Israel and the international community's best interests. And the connection Obama makes between Tehran and Damascus sounds like a reiteration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main arguments.
It's hard to have much confidence in words though. Given the current political atmosphere in which Obama enjoys scant support among Washington policymakers and the Russia deal raises more concerns than hopes, many have interpreted the U.S. president's words as a kind of frenzy designed to cover up the weakness of his leadership over the issue with Syrian President Bashar Assad, rather than a firm, consistent platform against Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.
The U.S. claims that a muscular military option still exists and that it would launch an attack on Syria if the deal with Russia fell through. But it's up to the U.S. now to convince the rest of the Middle East that it's serious this time. The power of the U.S.'s casus-belli diplomacy has been depleted. In failing to meet one's obligations, one sacrifices the locks of Samson. The U.S. has to exert itself more vigorously from now on.
Russia emerged from this deal in a position where no progress in the Middle East is possible without its input, signalling a return of the same Cold War mould we already know: Washington and Moscow run the world. But this time, they're doing so together. The wheel that began turning in Washington 41 years ago when then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet officials from Egypt has started spinning backward. Arab countries realize that U.S. exclusivity in the region does not suffice to maintain law and order in the Middle East.
Obama believes in his diplomatic agreements. He depends on the deal with Syria. The next few months will determine whether this stick has broken. The test he'll face vis-a-vis Iran is much more daunting. If he fails -- what could go wrong? If he succeeds, Israel's strategic situation will start to improve, but Jerusalem will probably suffer an international backlash against the nuclear reactor in Dimona and other sites where, according to foreign sources, the Jewish state has worked on sundry doomsday weapons.
Given the current circumstances, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been relegated to a secluded corner. It's become a trivial issue. But not exactly, because it is the grease that keeps the Western wheels spinning in the Middle East. One of the results of the Syria deal -- should it materialize -- would be increased pressure on Israel to make gestures to the Palestinians, and not because the issue is so important to either side, or even to the U.S. Rather, it is practically crucial to Obama's relationship with Europe.
Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met on Sunday for four hours. Gossip wasn't on the agenda. Netanyahu stressed the direct line between Damascus and Tehran. Kerry explained to Netanyahu that the U.S. sees a triangle, with Ramallah on the map.