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Analysis: Iran Looms over Bush Trip

Council on Foreign Relations

January 10, 2008
Author: Greg Bruno

Besides his interest in generating momentum behind the Annapolis peace initiative, President Bush also seeks to bolster containment of Iran (WashPost) in his talks in the Mideast. Israel, long focused on security threats closer to home, has in recent years concluded Iran, with its long-range missiles, nuclear ambitions, and violent proxies, poses the greatest single threat (CSMonitor) to its security. Analysts suggest Washington’s revised analysis on Iran’s nuclear weapons program is fueling concern in Israel and intensified rivalry with Tehran. “We’re concerned that the Iran nuclear program is going ahead,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman said ahead of Bush’s visit on January 9. “We're concerned that there shouldn't be complacency in the international community.”

This despite a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in November 2007 concluded that Iran likely ceased its nuclear weapons development in 2003. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has publicly challenged the new U.S. interpretation (Haaretz), and would like to convince Bush to keep the threat of U.S. military action against Iran on the table. During his visit to Jerusalem on January 9, Bush expressed solidarity with Israel declaring Iran “a threat to world peace.” And Gerald M. Steinberg, director of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, says Israel’s initial alarm over the NIE has subsided somewhat. But it has not subsided entirely. Public officials invoke Iran regularly as a mortal threat, and, for instance, the Jerusalem Post devotes an entire section of its website to the “Iranian Threat,” listed on its masthead alongside such staples as sports, business, and features.

Israel has grown increasingly wary (Defense News) of its ascendant neighbor, whose rhetorical barbs and support for Hamas and Hezbollah have directly challenged Israeli security, a point driven home by the brief 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The enmity, of course, is reciprocal.

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