As Obama walks into the Oval Office, he has to contend with the nuances of the power shift in the Middle East - where Israel faces an election in days, and Iran's president could be voted out in the spring. Unfortunately, that could lead to a showdown - very soon.
Never mind the economic woe already piling up on President Obama's desk. Despite the domestic turmoil, he has to keep his gaze on the Middle East - where Israel is anxious and Iran's President Ahmedinejad (in his last months of his first presidential term) is performing a number of attention-getting stunts that could result in an Israeli-Iranian showdown. A long rumored Israeli strike on Iran's nascent nuclear facilities would unleash utter chaos, all the more on the heels of the war on Gaza, which ignited ire at Israel -- all the more among Arabs, Iranians and the world's Muslims.
The announcement that Iran launched its first satellite system this week - a move that Israel views as taking Iran just that much closer to delivering a nuclear weapon (that Iran admittedly doesn't yet have) -- was greeted warily by the Obama administration, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying "We are obviously concerned about Iranian behavior." Israel was more than "concerned" -- the missile launch so shook some that it alone was seen by some Israeli politicians as justification for a strike on Iran. As reported by Voice of America, Israel Space Agency chairman and parliament member Isaac Ben-Israel noted
that "The proven capability to launch the satellite, to launch it into orbit, shows something about the missile technology of Iran and it is worrying" -- all the more since Ben-Israel believes Iran could have a nuclear weapon in 2010. "Therefore," calmly reported Voice of America, "he said Israel has a one-year window in which it could launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities."
While many within and outside of Israel cautioned against overreacting to the satellite launch, Iran appears to be egging Israel on, at least if one believes today's UPI report:
"Iran is sending several ships carrying arms to waters near the Gaza Strip to break Israel's blockade, an Israeli military intelligence Web site [DEBKAfile] said Thursday." And UPI also calmly noted that Israel's power triad - outgoing PM Ehud Ohmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, (the last two of whom like Iran's president are facing elections) "agreed at a special meeting that the Iranian ships must be stopped, even at the cost of a maritime clash with Iran, DEBKAfile reported."
Here's betting that if a skirmish breaks out between Israel and Iran it won't be limited to "a maritime clash" but will quickly lead to a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities -- and here's betting that such a strike would lead to yet another regional war, the last thing Obama or the rest of the world needs.