Stick to the Deadline


After months of nervous restraint over the Obama administration's policy toward Iran, Israelis are understandably running out of patience.

Both the nervousness and the impatience were on display this week after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with top Israeli officials.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, said that any engagement with Iran "should be short in time, well-defined in objectives, followed by sanctions that won't take too much time to clarify whether Iran is trying to deceive the whole world or is sincerely ready to cooperate."

And, he added ominously, invoking the possibility of a military strike: "We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table."

The blunt exchange came just days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton contributed to the angst by suggesting that the United States would provide a "defense umbrella" for Israel should Iran obtain the nuclear bomb.

While Clinton's remarks in Thailand may have been intended to calm Israeli nerves with the suggestion that America would retaliate against any strike on Israel, it had the opposite effect.

The implication, instead, was that the Obama administration was willing to live with a nuclear Iran. That's a development that Barack Obama the candidate vowed to thwart, and one that Israelis across the political spectrum view as an existential threat.

President Barack Obama was not wrong in attempting a new approach to quell the pending threat from Tehran. But the thunderous silence that has greeted his outreach — coupled with the internal political turmoil in the aftermath of Iran's recent elections — should serve as a clear signal that diplomatic efforts would likely lead nowhere.

Even Gates acknowledged this publicly. "We're very mindful of the possibility that the Iranians would simply try to run out the clock," he said in Jerusalem.

The time has come for the administration to set a timer of its own. Gates noted that the U.S. effort to engage Iran was "not an open-ended offer."

But vague references that Iran must lift its veil of silence and respond by the "fall" or "in September" — to coincide with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presumed attendance there — are insufficient.

Iran must understand unequivocally that it can dither no longer. If it continues to do so, then it will be up to the United States to press the world to back sanctions that will have some teeth.

Too much time has elapsed already while Iran inches closer to destabilizing the region and the world.

For Israel, it's a matter of survival.


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