We are facing the beginnings of a Cuban Missile Crisis moment in the Straits of Hormuz, and without the proper communications system to avoid a catastrophe, as David Ignatius has noted. Secret communications between President Obama and Khameini are an excellent idea right now, with the right back channels, but they should not be just about communicating red lines and threats directly and personally. They should also be about opportunities, and those opportunities must be kept the most secret of all, because of those who are breathing down Obama’s political neck, itching for war.


There is an ancient idea that if you want your enemy to make a move other than one that is suicidal that you must not surround him on all four sides, you must offer him a way out. If there is no way out, then the threats and aggressive maneuvers just escalate. There must be a clear set of de-escalating possibilities that give everyone room to maneuver.


There were supposed to be negotiations opening up in a matter of weeks, and it seems clear that the assassinations were timed to provoke a crisis before those meetings can take place. Obama should offer to move those meetings up if the Iranian leadership makes a public commitment to not block the Straits any time soon, and makes moves with its boats that make that clear. The United States in turn could agree to limit the number of boats streaming into the Persian Gulf right now. Also, the United States can make clear that its own harsh embargo laws are not set to go into effect for several months, and if in the interim there were significant progress on nuclear inspections then there would be room to delay that embargo.


One of the key ingredients that are motivating the Netanyahu/Barak wing of Israeli policy to provoke a war now in which America plays the central role is that they have calculated that an American-led operation will have a far better possibility of success, and that this can only do well for them domestically in Israel. The domestic popularity of this move is due to the President of Iran’s outrageous threats against Israel’s existence on repeated occasions. In Israel for many people this is 1938. Of course, the leading military thinkers in Israel think that this is an insane path that will bring a horrible missile war to both countries, not to mention a massive disruption in the Gulf of the world’s oil supply and stability. Obama should offer a further de-escalatory card to Khameini, if in turn Khameini distances himself from the position of his president regarding an attack on Israel. He could say quite clearly that Iran will never be the first to attack Israel and has no wish for war at this time. This will give Obama an opportunity to justify de-escalation steps of his own, and to emphasize the intelligence of his Defense Secretary that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.


Finally, from an Iranian point of view there is an increasing violation of its space through drones, assassinations and alliances with the dreaded MEK. Obama should emphasize that he will do his best to prevent further invasions of Iranian space if there are gestures in return on a positive willingness to negotiate with the United States on all outstanding issues. Khameini can in turn offer clemency for the man who has been given a death sentence as CIA, as a good will gesture in return for what Obama is offering.


These and other positive gestures should be developed very quickly by those in Washington, Jerusalem and other capitals who think that this war will only be destructive for all parties.

© Marc Gopin