Obama Should Go to Israel

Amos Yadlin, one of the smartest Israeli analysts there is (and a former chief of military intelligence), argued this weekend in a Washington Post op-ed that President Obama might be able to forestall an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities by going to Israel and making the case, before the Knesset, that a nuclear-armed Iran is a national security threat to the United States. Showing Israel, and the many Arab countries that worry as well about a nuclear Iran, that there is a direct U.S. self-interest in preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, could serve to convince doubtful allies that Obama means what he says -- that he will stop Iran, by whatever means necessary, from gaining possession of a bomb. Yadlin:

(Obama) must convince Israel, Iran, Russia and even Saudi Arabia that the U.S. military option is credible and effective.

A gesture directly from Obama could do it. The U.S. president should visit Israel and tell its leadership -- and, more important, its people -- that preventing a nuclear Iran is a U.S. interest, and if we have to resort to military action, we will. This message, delivered by the president of the United States to the Israeli Knesset, would be far more effective than U.S. officials' attempts to convey the same sentiment behind closed doors.

In my Bloomberg View column, I explicate on Yadlin's point:

A visit to Israel would do more to delay a strike on Iran than any other step the administration could take. The beauty of this idea is that Obama won't have to say anything new. He's on record explaining why the idea of containing a nuclear Iran isn't an option; he's on record promising to stop Iran by whatever means necessary; and he's on record explaining why a nuclear-free Iran is in the interests of the U.S.

"If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation," he told me in an interview this year.

When I asked him what his position would be if Israel were not in the picture, he answered: "It would still be a profound national-security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."

These words, delivered in the Oval Office, are powerful. But delivered in Jerusalem, before the Knesset, they would deeply reassure the prime minister and the Israeli public. What could be more effective than the U.S. president explaining to Israelis, in Israel, that their two countries share the same interests?

Yes, Obama is running for re-election, and it is hard to leave Ohio and Florida. But a trip to Israel -- a place he hasn't visited as president -- would put Iran on notice that Obama is deadly serious about thwarting their plans. Combined with stops in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, such a visit would also allay the fears of our Arab allies. Most important, such a visit could prevent war. Which, of course, is a very presidential thing to do.