At the debate, the Iran issue merges with the Israel issue


Among the planned six topics at tonight’s foreign policy debate, there’s this one: "Red Lines – Israel and Iran."

This highlights the great extent to which the Iranian nuclear issue has come to be seen through an Israel prism. Indeed, at this point, this seems like stating the obvious. When the candidates talk about Iran, they invariably talk about U.S.-Israel relations. Ads attacking Obama on Iran suggest that he is abandoning Israel, while those defending his Israel record emphasize his commitment to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Of course, there are reasons why the two issues have become so intertwined in our political discourse: the unique threat that Iran poses to Israel, the dogged efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push the issue to the forefront of the international agenda, high-profile tensions between the U.S. and Israel over how best to address the issue, etc.

But it is also worth remembering that some have argued that framing the Iran issue in this manner is counterproductive to the cause of stopping the Islamic Republic from getting nuclear weapons.

Back in 2008, Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued:


The menace posed by a nuclear Iran is broad and multi-faceted. Focusing exclusively on a single aspect of the issue — namely, the threat to Israel — is not helpful. Americans are more likely to be concerned about defending their country’s national security than about protecting another nation, even a close ally such as Israel. And the international community is more likely to mount a vigorous response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions when the nature of the threat is not framed as an Israeli issue. Stopping Tehran means making the case that the Iranian nuclear program is a menace, not only to Israel, but to world peace. 

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