Attacking the Islamic Republic might be bad, but a nuclear Iran will be worse.
The 33-year farce of Western appeasement of Iran may be reaching its denouement. For the last few months, the pace of events have quickened as the West sanctions and threatens, and Iran blusters about closing the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off oil to Europe, and unleashing its terrorist proxies. Just last week Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei subtly suggested that Iran would step up its already considerable support of terrorist outfits targeting Israel and the U.S.: “From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this.” Indulging traditional Islamic anti-Semitic language, Khamenei said Israel was a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut,” and claimed that the U.S. would suffer defeat and damage its regional prestige if it decides to use military force to stop the country’s nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said there was a “strong likelihood” that Israel would attack Iran in April, May, or June of this year, a supposition reinforced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in his remarks at the Herzilya Conference that Iran’s “military nuclear program is steadily nearing ripeness and is about to enter the ‘immunity zone.’ From that point on, the Iranian regime will be able to act to complete the program, with no effective disturbance and a time that is convenient for it.” The backdrop of this war of words is the West’s imposition of yet more sanctions, while the Iranian regime once again rope-a-dopes the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, and rumors of American troop concentrations in the region abound.
A constant in all this the diplomatic fencing is the threat of military action by Israel, along with the rumors surrounding such an event and speculations about the extent of Israel’s military capabilities. More important, however, is the unsavory way the Obama administration is using the threat of Israeli military action to influence Iranian behavior, at the same time it positions itself to avoid any responsibility for an attack. Thus Panetta publicly has been warning Israel against attacking, listing all the “unintended consequences” that would follow, at the same time the U.S. demands that Israel do nothing without alerting the United States in advance. However, despite these public warnings to Israel, it has long been clear that the administration’s diplomatic efforts have all been underwritten by the implicit threat that Israel will take unilateral military action. So it is that Israel is made the Dirty Harry of the Middle East, her actions decried by Western nations too cowardly to do what they know needs to be done, as in 1981, when Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak atomic reactor only to be condemned by the United States.
For make no mistake, Iran cannot be allowed to succeed in manufacturing nuclear weapons, or even achieving “nuclear latency,” the ability rapidly to produce them when needed. Such armaments in the hands of an Iranian regime besotted with apocalyptic Twelver Shi’ism and religiously sanctioned Jew-hatred would radically reconfigure the Middle East, sparking nuclear proliferation in the region and endangering not just Israel, but a large portion of the world’s oil supply. Yet on her own, Israel can at best delay Iran’s progress for at best three to five years. Apart from the logistical challenges of such a complex attack, nuclear production facilities in Iran have been dispersed into 17 known sites, many of which have been moved deep underground into fortified bunkers and tunnels.
The fallout of such an attack, moreover, could hit Israel hard. By Israeli estimations, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah has stockpiled in Lebanon 50,000 missiles, which can reach every corner of Israel. Following the fall of Mubarak and the ascendancy of the Muslim Brothers, the southern border with Egypt is no longer secure, thus providing an avenue for Hamas terrorist attacks. A beleaguered Bashar al Assad in Syria could distract attention from his slaughter of Syrians by attacking Israel in the Golan. Although the United States has said it would defend Israel in these circumstances, it is not certain how reliable that pledge is in an election year, with a U.S. president who already has shown by his actions a marked dislike for Israel. After all, this is a president who counts Turkey’s Recep Erdogan as one of his closest international buddies, despite Turkey’s naked support for the genocidal Hamas, but who publicly disparages Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Certainly, Israel would find little sympathy and support in the U.N. or the E.U. after an attack on Iran.
Yet despite these difficulties, Israel cannot coexist with a nuclear Iran that has threatened to “wipe Israel from the map,” as Iranian president Ahmadinejad has said, or any longer bide her time hoping economic sanctions will work on religious fanatics. Israel takes seriously the post-Holocaust “never again” pledge that the rest of the world professes, but does little to enforce. No one should expect that a people who lost six million people to a lunatic ideology that had announced its intentions in advance, would make the same mistake twice. Nor should we expect a country that since its birth has been attacked three times by its more populous neighbors, and subjected to continual terrorist murder of its citizens by peoples who have made clear that Israel’s existence is a intolerable crime against their faith, to roll the dice and accept letting the world’s foremost supporter of jihadist terrorism acquire weapons of apocalyptic lethality. Yet at least publicly, there has been little appreciation of Israel’s existential predicament on the part of her presumed allies. On the contrary, for decades now Israel has been pressured to make concession after concession to enemies seeking her destruction, pilloried on the diplomatic world stage as a neo-colonialist racist oppressor, and blamed for every political and social dysfunction in the region, all at the hands of Western nations that would not tolerate living with Israel’s existential threats for five seconds.
Particularly distasteful has been the current administration’s actions. Even as he praises the “Arab Spring” and its alleged march toward liberal democracy, Obama has bullied, blamed, and put at risk the only genuine liberal democracy in the region, a beacon of freedom and respect for human rights, and a stalwart ally in the midst of Islamist hatred directed as much at America as at Israel. Rather than playing this duplicitous game of relying on Israeli military muscle to give teeth to diplomatic efforts while publicly distancing itself from an Israeli strike, the Obama administration should start planning and announcing a joint U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran of the sort that drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990-91. The stated goal, moreover, should not be just the degradation of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the destruction of the Republican Guards’ military assets and the material support of Iranian dissident groups in order to effect regime change.
Instead, in our relations with Israel we increasingly resemble the despicable behavior of France and England towards Czechoslovakia in 1938. As Hitler used diplomacy as cover for his aggression, France and England pressured the Czechs to make more and more suicidal concessions. Afraid to fight when it most likely would have won, the French and English abandoned Czechoslovakia and had to fight anyway a year later, when victory was in doubt and ultimately achieved mainly because of Hitler’s lunatic invasion of the Soviet Union. So too today, the equally genocidal Iranian regime can be stopped by a unified and determined Western alliance. Instead, though, Obama is leaving Israel out on a limb as he calculates the “unforeseen consequences” and seeks political advantage. He needs to start calculating the easily foreseen and much more disastrous consequences of Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons. That’s what true leaders do: recognize that the choice is seldom between the good and the bad, but rather between the bad and the worse.
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