There are many challenges facing the State of Israel in the coming year in the wake of the cease- fire arrangement with Hamas and the recognition of Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly as a non member observer state. The continuing Arab revolution is replacing dictators with Islamic leaders who are at least as open to the establishment of Sharia law as the democracy that the United States and Western heads of state hoped to establish. The elephant in the room is Iran and it is big enough and ornery enough to resist the sanction regime imposed by the Obama Administration and its Western allies. Nothing has stopped the continuing progression of the centrifuges, not Stuxnet, nor assassinations, nor economic restrictions as Iran moves ever closer to becoming a bona fide member of the small and dangerous Nuclear Club. Since it not only threatens the state of Israel through the regular screeds of President Ahmadinejad, but more directly in the arming and re-arming of its outposts in both Lebanon and Gaza with a variety of Grad missiles and the Fajr-5 rockets that just hit Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem, it is necessary to take the nuclear threat seriously.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has spent years warning all who would listen to the existential danger of Iranian nuclear weapons to Israel, the West and the world. But Iran seems to have the money, the power and most importantly the will to overcome all obstacles and proceed in its own fashion to produce the high grade uranium necessary to create and arm a nuclear device. With the clock ticking and a new more right wing Likud Party set for elections early in 2013 it is more than likely that Israel, its allies, the Middle East and the world will face a dire choice in 2013 and decide not if, but when to launch a pre-emptive attack on the nuclear facilities that are spread out across the huge landscape of Iran, some thousand miles east of Israel.
There is another choice. It is tough because it requires the kind of statesmanship that is rare and unexpected in a region so full of change and violence. The new Israeli leadership must pivot to develop a unity government that includes some combination of the three major center left parties of Livni, Lapid and Labor preparing it to put peace formally back into play and sell it to the Israeli public. The Obama Administration must work with the new leadership in Egypt to keep the cease-fire with Hamas in place. Then President Obama must reach beyond all that is accepted and bring the Russians formerly back into the Middle East dialogue beyond the limits of the Quartet to play a positive role in convincing Iran to stop its centrifuges and allow the regular systematic inspection of its nuclear production facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The cost in carrots and sticks to Egypt, the Russians, (of course the Iranians), and other key international actors, (including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the European Union among others), will be great. But if all hands are played well it is possible, just possible, to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle saving countless lives and moving a changing and violent Middle East two very large steps closer to a long and much needed period of peace and prosperity.
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace an NGO based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . The words represent the beliefs of the author and should not be construed as the policy of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace.