By John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt, left, of Harvard University, and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago (Source: NYTimes.com).

US president Barack Obama today welcomes arguably his least favourite foreign leader to the White House. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit neatly coincides with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). That event offers both men a chance to appeal to some of Israel’s most ardent American supporters. We can therefore expect to hear repeated references to the “common interests”, “unshakeable bonds” and “shared values” of the two countries.

This familiar rhetoric is misleading at best and at worst simply wrong. No states have identical interests, and Israel and America are at odds on two vital issues: Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr Obama should continue to rebuff Israel’s efforts to push him into military confrontation with Tehran, while reminding Mr Netanyahu the true danger to Israel lies in its refusal to allow a viable Palestinian state.

On Iran, Mr Netanyahu is convinced it wants nuclear weapons, and that this goal threatens Israel’s existence. He does not think diplomacy can stop Iran, and wants the US to destroy its nuclear facilities. If Mr Obama refuses to order an attack, the Israeli leader would like a green light to do so.

Mr Obama and his advisers – including the military – see things differently. They do not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but they do not believe a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel. After all, Israel has its own nuclear arsenal, and could obliterate Iran if attacked. US intelligence is also confident Tehran has not yet decided to build nuclear weapons. Indeed, US leaders worry that, no matter who does it, an attack would convince Iran it needs its own nuclear deterrent. They are correct.

Equally important, force cannot produce a meaningful victory. Israel’s air force cannot destroy all Iran’s nuclear facilities; even a successful US attack could not eliminate the knowledge on which the programme is based. Iran would simply rebuild its facilities in less vulnerable locations, as Iraq did after Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981.

In short, while one can understand why Israeli hardliners might want the US to strike Iran, Washington has no interest in pursuing this course and Mr Obama should make this crystal clear to Mr Netanyahu. Read more…

John Mearsheimer is professors at the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt is professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

As published in www.ft.com on March 4, 2012.


Javad March 5, 2012 - 8:40 pm

The message could not be delivered any more reasonable and eloquent. Just finished reading their book titled, the Israel lobby. All these respected Jewish professors, i.e. Walt and Steve, are saying is “let there be light”. In other words, let the freedom of speech be practiced when it comes to serious matters like this. and let’s choose what benefits America most once all the arguments are heard; all bigotry set aside.

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