Last weekend the mullahs took a big step towards becoming a nuclear power as
they fueled the Bushehr nuclear reactor.
Israel’s response? The Foreign
Ministry published a statement proclaiming the move “unacceptable.”
why did we accept the unacceptable? When one asks senior officials about the
Bushehr reactor and about Iran’s nuclear program more generally, their response
invariably begins, “Well the Americans...”
Far from accepting that Israel
has a problem that it must deal with, Israel’s decision-makers still
the US will discover – before it is too late – that it must act to
from becoming a nuclear power in order to secure its own interests.
for Bushehr specifically, Israeli officials explain that it isn’t the
problem. The main danger stems from the uranium enrichment sites. And
they explain, given the civilian character of the Bushehr reactor; the
it is under a full International Atomic Energy Agency inspections
the fact that the Russians are supposed to take all the spent fuel rods
Russia and so prevent Iran from using them to produce weapons-grade
Israel lacked the international legitimacy to strike Bushehr to prevent
being fueled last weekend.
BEFORE GOING into the question of whether
Israel’s decision-makers were correct in opting out of attacking the
reactor to prevent it from being fueled, it is worth considering where
Americans” stand on Iran as it declares itself a nuclear power and tests
advanced weapons systems on a daily basis.
The answer to this question
was provided in large part in an article in the National Interest by
Clinton administration National Security Council member Bruce Riedel.
“If Israel Attacks,” Riedel – who reportedly has close ties to the
administration – asserts that an Israeli military strike against Iran
will be a
disaster for the US. In his view, the US is better served by allowing
become a nuclear power than by supporting an Israeli attack against
He writes, “The United States needs to send a clear red light to
Israel. There’s no option but to actively discourage an Israeli
Riedel explains that to induce Israel to accept the unacceptable
specter of a nuclear armed mullocracy, the US should pay it off. Riedel
recommends plying Israel’s leaders with F-22 Stealth bombers, nuclear
submarines, a mutual defense treaty and perhaps even NATO
Riedel’s reason for deeming an Israeli strike unacceptable is
his conviction that such an operation will be met by an Iranian
against US forces and interests in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.
is no reason to doubt he is correct, Riedel studiously ignores the other
certainty: A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten those same troops and
Riedel would have us believe that the Iranian regime will be a
rational nuclear actor. That’s the regime that has outlawed music,
and deploys terror proxies throughout the region and the world. That’s
regime whose “supreme leader” just published a fatwa claiming he has the
religious stature as Muhammad.
Riedel bases this view on the actions Iran
took when it was weak.
Since Iran didn’t place its American hostages on
trial in 1980, it can be trusted with nuclear weapons in 2010. Since
go to war against the US in 1988 during the Kuwaiti tanker crisis,
Ahmadinejad can be trusted with nuclear bombs in 2010. And so on and so
Moreover, Riedel ignores what any casual newspaper reader now
recognizes: Iran’s nuclear weapons program has spurred a regional
race. Riedel imagines a bipolar nuclear Middle East, with Israel on the
and Iran on the other. He fails to notice that already today Saudi
United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and
have all initiated nuclear programs.
And if Iran is allowed to go
nuclear, these countries will beat a path to any number of nuclear bomb
Some argue that a multipolar nuclear Middle East will adhere to
the rules of mutual assured destruction. Assuming this is true, the fact
that the violent Iranian response to an Israeli strike against its
installations will look like a minor skirmish in comparison to the
wars that will break out in a Middle East in which everyone has the
And in truth, there is no reason to believe that a Middle East in
which everyone has nuclear weapons is a Middle East that adheres to the
MAD. A recent Zogby/University of Maryland poll of Arab public opinion
the Brookings Institute in US-allied Arab states Egypt, Lebanon,
Arabia and the UAE shows that the Arab world is populated by
As Herb London from the Hudson Institute pointed out in an
analysis of the poll, nearly 70 percent of those polled said the leader
most admire is either a jihadist or a supporter of jihad.
popular leaders were Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, Venezuelan
Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian
Bashar Assad and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
So if popular
revolutions bring down any of the teetering despotic regimes now
seats of power in the Arab world, they will likely be replaced by
Moreover, since an Iranian nuclear bomb would empower the most radical,
destabilizing forces in pan-Arab society, the likelihood that a despot
resort to a nuclear strike on a Western or Israeli target in order to
power would similarly rise.
All of this should not be beyond the grasp of
an experienced strategic thinker like Riedel. And yet, obviously, it is.
Moreover, as an alumnus of the Clinton administration, Riedel’s
general are more realistic than those of the Obama administration. As
officials acknowledge, the Obama administration is only now coming to
the fact that its engagement policy towards Iran has failed.
throughout the US government, the White House is the most stubborn
the notion that the Iranian nuclear threat is not as serious a threat as
absence of a Palestinian state. That is, President Barack Obama himself
most strident advocate of a US Middle East policy that ignores all the
the US faces in the region and turns American guns against the only
doesn’t threaten any US interest.
And now, facing this state of affairs,
Israeli leaders today still argue that issuing a Foreign Ministry
declaring the fueling of the Bushehr nuclear reactor “unacceptable,” and
beginning worthless negotiations with Fatah leaders is a rational and
WHAT LIES behind this governmental fecklessness? There
are two possible explanations for the government’s behavior. Prime
Binyamin Netanyahu may be motivated by operational concerns or he may be
motivated by political concerns.
On the operational level, the question
guiding Israel’s leaders is when is the optimal time to attack? The fact
government sources say that it would have been diplomatically suicidal
before Bushehr became operational last weekend makes it clear that
considerations are the determining factor for Israel’s leadership. Yet
Riedel’s article and the clear positions of the Obama administration
is that there is no chance that nonmilitary conditions will ever be
Israel. Moreover, as Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor
Israel can achieve its strategic objectives even without US support for
From a military perspective, it is clear that it would have
been better to strike Iran’s nuclear installations before the Russians
Any attack scenario from now on will have to either accept the
prospect of nuclear fallout or accept leaving Bushehr intact. Indeed
military perspective, the longer Israel waits to attack Iran, the harder
become to accomplish the mission.
So unless Israel’s leaders are unaware
of strategic realities, the only plausible explanation for Netanyahu’s
to sit by idly as Israel’s military options were drastically diminished
weekend is that he was moved by domestic political considerations.
what might those political considerations be? Clearly he wasn’t
concerned with a
lack of public support. Consistent, multiyear polling data show that the
overwhelmingly supports the use of force to prevent Iran from becoming a
Then there is the issue of Netanyahu’s coalition.
be that Netanyahu believes that he can build a broader coalition to
attack on Iran than he already has by bringing Kadima into his
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is not a great supporter of an Israeli attack
Livni views being liked by Obama as more important than preventing Iran
becoming a nuclear state.
The prospect of a Kadima splinter party led by
former defense minister Shaul Mofaz joining the coalition is also raised
periodically. Yet experience indicates there is little chance of that
Mofaz apparently dislikes Netanyahu more than he dislikes the
notion of facing a nuclear-armed Iran (and a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia
Egypt and etc., etc., etc.).
Only one possibility remains: Netanyahu must
have opted to sit on his hands as Bushehr was powered up because of
he faces from within his government. There is only one person in
coalition who has both the strategic dementia and the political power to
Netanyahu to accept the unacceptable.
That person is Defense Minister
Barak’s strategic ineptitude is legendary. It was most
recently on display in the failed naval commando takeover of the
terror ship Mavi Marmara
was Barak’s idea to arm naval commandos with
paintball guns and so guarantee that they would be attacked and forced
lethal force to defend themselves.
Barak’s ability to dictate government
policy was most recently demonstrated in his obscene abuse of power in
appointment of the IDF’s next chief of staff. Regardless of whether the
“Galant Document,” which set out a plan to see Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant
to replace outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, was
authentic, it is clear that its operative clauses were all being
Barak’s own office for the past several months. So, too, despite the
the document is still the subject of police investigation, Barak
strong-armed Netanyahu into agreeing to his lightning appointment of
Even if Galant is the best candidate for the position, it is
clear that Barak did the general no favors by appointing him in this
certainly humiliated and discredited the General Staff.
Barak is the
Obama administration’s favorite Israeli politician. While Netanyahu is
Barak is feted in Washington nearly every month. And this makes sense.
man directly responsible for Israel’s defense and with his stranglehold
government, he alone has the wherewithal to enable the entire Middle
East to go
How’s that for unacceptable?