Regime change in Iran is Israel's true target
The last time US President Barack Obama met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was obvious that the two men distrusted and despised each other. This time, their mutual dislike was better hidden, but the gulf between them was still as big, especially on the issue of Iran's alleged desire for nuclear weapons.
What divides Obama and Netanyahu is a question of timing. Obama's 'red line' is the point at which Iran 'possesses' a nuclear weapon, which would not arrive for a couple of years even if Iran actually intends to make one.
Netanyahu's 'red line' comes much sooner: whenever Iran has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb, whether it does so or not. It is, of course, quite legal for Iran to enrich uranium (which it says is solely for use in civilian nuclear reactors), while an unprovoked attack on Iran would be a criminal act under international law.
But what worries Obama are three other things. First, the American public simply isn't up for a third 'war of choice' in 10 years in the Middle East.
Secondly, this is presidential election year in the US. If Israel attacks Iran, the oil price will soar and kill the economic recovery Obama is depending on for re-election.
Thirdly, the attack would not destroy Iran's uranium enrichment plants, which are buried deep underground. Israeli and American hawks claim an attack could delay Iran's capability to enrich large quantities of uranium for three years, but Meir Dagan, former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, thinks three months is optimistic.
If Netanyahu and his fellow hawks truly believed Iranian nuclear weapons would mean the extinction of the Jewish state, then their wish to attack Iran would be defensible, but they don't. That's just for public consumption. What's actually at stake here is the preservation of the huge strategic advantage Israel enjoys as the sole nuclear weapons state in the Middle East.
But there is also a deeper motive. Netanyahu and his allies think that an attack on Iran would bring the Islamic regime down. As Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, said in The New York Times Magazine recently: 'An Iranian bomb would ensure the survival of the current regime, which otherwise would not make it to its 40th anniversary in light of the admiration that the young generation in Iran has displayed for the West.'
So what Israel is actually demanding is American support for an attack whose real aim is to bring down the Iranian regime. The thinking is delusional: the notion that the Iranian regime will collapse unless it gets the bomb is held by both Israeli and American hawks, but there is no concrete reason to believe it.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist