Dealing with a Changing Iran

Dealing with a Changing Iran

The ongoing political unrest in Iran may prove a game changer in the effort to stop Tehran’s reckless, dangerous nuclear weapons program.

Vice President Joe Biden appeared to give tacit approval this week to potential Israeli military action against Iran, but the State Department later denied that the U.S. has given Jerusalem the “green light” to protect itself from a possible nuclear attack. The Biden statement and subsequent denial added an air of confusion to an already complicated crisis in which time is of the essence. As Jewish leaders have said in recent weeks, the centrifuges are still spinning even as the political drama plays out on the streets of Tehran and opposition voices get louder. It would be foolish to back off from the urgent quest for real-world solutions to the Iran crisis.

In this volatile environment it is critical for national leaders here and in Israel, and for an American Jewish leadership that has made Iran a top priority, to temper their rhetoric and broaden their thinking. Now is a time for sober, pragmatic analysis, not loose talk about military action and regime change and reflexive opposition to the Obama administration’s as-yet-unfulfilled policy of engagement.

At the moment there are more questions than answers. Will continued diplomatic outreach to a regime that has revealed its ruthlessness undermine its rule further — or provide it a thin veneer of legitimacy? Can tougher sanctions work, given continued resistance from critical players like Russia and China? Will a tightened economic noose reinforce pro-democracy dissidents — or cause them to rally around their government in the face of outside “meddling”?

And will the renewed talk about a military strike by Israel, possibly with Washington’s tacit approval and a wink from Saudi Arabia, weaken or strengthen the position of Iran’s iron-fisted rulers?

The situation is complex and delicate, but that doesn’t mean the world should sit back and do nothing. As we have noted many times before, a nuclear Iran is intolerable: a threat to America, Europe and the broader Middle East as well as the Jewish state.

But limited Israeli military options, years of ineffective U.S. policies and the indifference of much of the rest of the world mean that there are no easy solutions. We need leaders who both understand the gravity of the threat and recognize that slogans and rhetoric are not going to solve the problem, and may make a bad situation worse. We need thoughtful and creative approaches as the Iran crisis deepens; American Jews can contribute to that with activism that reflects those same qualities.

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