(photo credit: AP [file])
In September, after a promising move by the International Atomic Energy Agency declaring Iran to be in "non-compliance" with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it looked like the US and Europe were finally taking some action.
But over two months have passed, and the issue has not even been raised in the UN Security Council. As a result, there is still no serious consideration of sanctions or other pressures that might end Iran's quest short of the finish line. As time runs out, the potential for a military strike is therefore getting more attention.
The recent shrill statements by new Iranian President Ahmadinejad threatening to "wipe Israel off the map" and the cross-border attacks by Hizbullah, Iran's Lebanon-based ally, have heightened awareness of the dangers. World leaders and even the UN have said all of the right things in condemnation, but they have not acted.
Last week, a new Russian initiative designed to give Iran a graceful way out by agreeing to enrich uranium in Russia was the pretense for yet another delay in bringing the issue to the Security Council. Like the Europeans, Russian and Chinese leaders are finally waking up to the serious threat they would face if Iran becomes a nuclear power, but time is running out.
This is also the message delivered this week by OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash) and reiterated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The diplomatic approach has been tried for years, without results, and the deadline is now here.
Ahmadinejad's genocidal rhetoric has demonstrated the futility of hopes for a stable deterrence relationship with a nuclear-armed Iran. In this framework, a limited military option based on air strikes against major targets, possibly via a combined NATO-type force to demonstrate the international support, is slowly gaining currency. A unilateral Israeli operation would only be launched as a last resort, when every other avenue has failed.
But in raising the specter of military action, Sharon and Farkash are also telling the major powers that they will have to act firmly and quickly to avoid such a confrontation. There is still a short time in which to try using sanctions, based on concerted action by the Security Council. This may also turn out to have little impact on Iran, but a serious effort needs to be made to avoid the need for the use of force.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University