Israel is sending increasingly clear signs that it is gearing up for a major military confrontation with the soon-to-be nuclear power of Iran.
Consider that in recent weeks:
- Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Zeevi Farkash said Israel will have to admit the failure of diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons program if Iran is not referred to the U.N. Security Council before the end of March.
- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared that Israel must get ready for actions “other than diplomatic” to solve the Iranian problem.
- And citing Iran as an “existential threat,” Likud Party Chairman candidate Benjamin Netanyahu was even more blunt, making an attack on Iran an explicit campaign promise.
These signals were amplified by a December 11 report in Britain’s Sunday Times claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already ordered the Israeli military to prepare to attack Iran with both ground troops and air strikes at the end of March. Israel’s response to the report was coy, with its Defense Ministry declaring that there were no intentions to attack Iran “at the moment,” whatever that may mean.
It is doubtful that these declarations are merely Israeli saber rattling. After years of fruitless dialogue, it’s clear that the international community is incapable of persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear program. To the contrary the Iranian regime’s defiance has grown ever more brazen, as it has repeatedly reneged on its past pledges to scale back its nuclear plans. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has boasted to the U.N. General Assembly of Iran’s “inalienable right” to produce its own nuclear fuel and was quoted by Iran’s official news agency as vowing to share Iran’s nuclear know-how with other Islamic countries.
It really cannot be said that the target of Iran’s nuclear ambitions was unknown until Ahmadinejad recently began raving about wiping Israel off the map. Back in 2001, former Iranian president and hard-line cleric Ayatollah Rafsanjani exclaimed, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in [its] possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce [some] damage in the Muslim world.” Thus Ahmadinejad’s declamations merely represent the public expression of an older policy geared toward blowing up Israel.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has cautioned Iran that the international community is “losing patience” with its intransigence, but he also warned Israel against implementing a military solution. It is precisely this reluctance by the international community to back up its appeals with force that allows Iran to so casually dismiss all the demands made on it. After years of resistance, Iran still has not even been referred to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions. The possibility of action there is extremely low anyway, since veto-wielding Russia is the primary supplier of Iran’s nuclear program and would lose millions of dollars in contracts if the program were terminated.
The entire affair has all the tall-tale signs of European Union diplomacy. Hoping to gain EU support for confronting Iran, the U.S. has allowed the EU to lead the diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. With Iran, the EU hopes to demonstrate the superiority of its “soft power” approach to politics, which is based on the myopic assumption that any international tyrant can be brought to heel so long as he is not threatened with force or any other unpleasantries. All international conflicts, the EU seems to believe, stem from mere misunderstandings that can be overcome through constructive “dialogue.” Naturally, this was also Neville Chamberlain’s philosophy, and the approach worked about as well against Nazi Germany as it has against Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
Thus, the EU’s firmest declarations about the issue do not proclaim the intolerability of a nuclear-armed Iran, but rather express the EU’s absolute opposition to the use of force to compel Iranian compliance. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw pronounced last September that a military option against Iran was “inconceivable,” adding, “I don’t see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran, full stop.” Quite characteristically, the Europeans have mustered more moral condemnation of Iran for Ahmadinejad’s denial of the holocaust than they have for his regime’s feverish attempts to bring about a second one.
In light of Iranian nuclear ambitions and European timidity, Israel clearly has lost faith in the ability of the EU, UN, IAEA, and every other international acronym to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Indeed, the prospect of war with Iran may help explain why the former hawk Ariel Sharon has become so eager in recent years to resolve Israel’s internal security situation vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Even aside from the daunting logistics of the attack itself and the prospect of it touching off a wider war with Iran, the raid will put Israel in a difficult position. The entire world will condemn it for not allowing “diplomacy” to run its course. The attack may strain Israel’s relations with the U.S., since an Israeli conflict with Iran would severely agitate Iraq’s Shiites. Israel’s relations with Russia will particularly suffer, since Russian technicians will almost surely be killed in any large-scale attack on Iran’s nuclear instillations. Iranian-backed Hezbollah will lob missiles over Israel’s northern border, while Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad will try to unleash a new wave of suicide bombers into Israel. The Israelis, however, will likely risk even such a serious backlash in order to prevent the Iranian regime from gaining the destructive means to carry out its openly genocidal ends.
The U.S. has heretofore stressed its desire to resolve this question through diplomatic means. If diplomacy fails, however, the U.S. will be faced with the unavoidable decision of allowing Iran to go nuclear or consenting to the use of force to halt the program.
Unlike the Europeans, the Bush Administration has repeatedly refused to rule out military action. In January, in response to Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker claiming the U.S. itself was developing plans to attack Iran, President Bush stated “I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table.”
Bush gave a clearer indication of his thinking in February: “Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I’d listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I’d be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we’ve made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened.”
Bush reiterated these sentiments in an August interview in which he declared that the U.S. and Israel “are united in our objective to make sure that Iran does not have a [nuclear] weapon.” Although Bush conceded that force is always a last option, he starkly noted that “we’ve used force in the recent past to secure our country.”
It is clear that Bush views a nuclear-armed Iran as unacceptable and that if diplomacy fails, the U.S. would support an Israeli strike on Iran, possibly even assisting it. There is little doubt that such an attack would complicate U.S. efforts in Iraq by antagonizing the Iraqi population, especially the Shiites. But in the global War on Terror, the Bush Administration has decided that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons simply cannot be countenanced. The only question is whether, by March, it will agree with Israel that the time for diplomacy has already expired.