IT remains to be seen whether the Obama administration wavers on its Iran policy as the presidential vote nears. Two developments are cause for concern. Israel has upped the ante, and in two TV interviews coming in rapid succession Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked America to draw a red line, claiming Iran has done “90 per cent” of work on weapons-grade uranium. The greater cause of worry is Mitt Romney’s categorical support for the Likud government. In Israel in July, the US Republican presidential candidate said he would not stand in the way of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He also said Jerusalem, now under occupation, was Israel’s capital and that any US criticism of the Likud government’s policy on settlements helped Israel’s enemies — provoking immediate denunciation from the Palestinian Authority.
Over the weekend, US officials didn’t agree with Mr Netanyahu on the “red line” and said the Obama administration also believed Iran shouldn’t be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said governments the world over didn’t operate with “a bunch of red lines”, and American ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the existing diplomatic and economic pressures on Iran were working. She claimed that the Iranian economy was in a mess and that oil production and currency had gone down by 40 per cent. The truth, however, is that there is a tacit, bipartisan agreement on America’s Middle East policy. There may be differences in shades, but — with Congress firmly in the hands of the Israel lobby — there is little possibility that any US administration would adopt a policy other than one of unabashed kowtowing to Israel. Mr Netanyahu, of course, knows this is the best possible time to extract maximum concessions from the two presidential candidates on its trigger-happy policy. It would be myopic for the two candidates to surrender to the pro-Israel lobby for electoral gains and ignore the long-term effects of such a policy. At the same time, it is just as important that Iran be more transparent about its nuclear plans and lower its confrontational rhetoric.