When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last visited the White House, two and a half months ago, he took with him a copy of veteran Israeli writer Shlomo Nakdimon's account of the Israeli air attack on Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, First Strike: The exclusive story of how Israel foiled Iraq's attempt to get the bomb.
Perhaps the prime minister was intending to show President Bush the way forward for the US in dealing with Iran. Perhaps he was signaling to the president what Israel might do if all else failed. Perhaps both.
Nakdimon had signed the book for the president and recently, to his surprise, he received a personal thank-you note. "At this critical time in the history of freedom," wrote Bush, "we must defeat the terrorists and spread the blessings of liberty to build a better world for generations to come."
Reading between the lines, Nakdimon says he thinks Bush is indicating a determination to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program, more sophisticated and better protected though it may be, will nonetheless ultimately be thwarted as Saddam's was. This impression was reinforced, he adds, by comments he heard from senior Bush administration officials "in the corridors" of the recent Herzliya conference.
It is an impression bolstered, moreover, by remarks in a similar vein that Bush himself is said to have made to certain visitors to the White House in recent months, and by reports this week in the Times of London that the US is drawing up plans to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, inviting defense consultants and regional analysts to the White House for tactical advice should the diplomatic process fail.
The intelligence community seems hopelessly at sea in assessing quite how clear and present is the danger of Iran going nuclear. Weeks, months, years - there's "expert" opinion backing every speculative timetable. But if the belligerent rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hyping each purported technological breakthrough and boasting that the point of no return is drawing ever closer, is designed to create a sense of unstoppability, it may be that it is having the reverse effect: persuading at least some in the US administration of a need to gear up for action.
Much of Europe, however, is far from convinced of any urgent imperative. Time, it is argued by many European leaders, is far from running out. Sanctions are starting to bite. Iranian oil production is starting to fall for lack of international assistance. Individual European companies are, unilaterally, starting to cancel deals with the Iranians (for fear of losing trade with the US). There is plenty of room yet for deterring Teheran.
The risible French president, Jacques Chirac, for his part, this week cheerfully branded the prospect of an Iran armed with "one [bomb] or perhaps a second bomb a little later," as being "not very dangerous." It was obvious, he declared airily in an interview with the New York Times, that were Iran to launch such a device at Israel, "it would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Teheran would be razed." In time-honored French fashion, Chirac then attempted to retract the quotes which, unfortunately for him, had been tape-recorded.
It is asserted plaintively by some European players, moreover, that it may be all very well for the United States to boldly contemplate another arena of military intervention. The US, after all, they say, will get by just fine even if everything goes terribly wrong. The Americans survived Vietnam, for all the trauma, and they'll survive Iraq, however battered. On Iran, they have several alternative sources of oil, and they've yet to make the slightest serious effort at reducing their energy consumption.
Europe, by contrast, the thinking goes, would be immediately harmed by military intervention - as a wounded Iran thwacked it over oil supplies and organized terrorist retaliation.
Almost all of Israel's leaders and policymakers, in government and opposition, it should be stressed, also hold to the opinion that the sanctions route has yet to be exhausted. Furthermore, they fully recognize that Osirak is not a precedent at all - that no single strike will do to Iran's program what June 7, 1981 did to Saddam's. Most American experts, too, are cognizant of the heightened scope of the challenge this time.
Where it appears that much of Europe, on the one hand, and Israel and the US, on the other, differ is in the readiness to acknowledge that the last resort may become the only resort before too long.
THE DISINCLINATION of many in Europe to internalize the scale of the danger posed by Iran, and by the apocalyptic interpretation of Islam that it champions, abides even as the evidence amasses.
British police were this week swarming across the so-called "Muslim Central" neighborhoods of south Birmingham, making arrests and raiding the homes of the alleged participants in a plot that was to have seen a Muslim British soldier just back from Iraq kidnapped, forced to apologize on camera for his traitorous crimes and beheaded, al-Qaida style. "Blowback," they call it - the tactics of Middle East terrorism coming home to roost in na ve, unsuspecting Great Britain.
"This plot appealed to the extremists for several reasons," a British security source told the Times on Thursday. "We can't give personal protection to every one of the 300 or so Muslims who are in the [armed] services, so it leaves them vulnerable. It also embarrasses the government that this operation is a direct consequence of the war in Iraq. It will also spread panic among other Muslims [who are] working for the government in any way connected to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."
This is only the latest in a series of recent Muslim terror plots in the UK - most, but not all of them, uncovered before it was too late. The trial of a group of bombers who planned to follow the July 7, 2005 London attacks with a second round two weeks later but whose devices failed to explode has been producing horrifying headlines day after day - "London carnage avoided only because 'plotters got bomb mix wrong,'" "Bomb suspect tried to detonate beside mother and baby" - yet the "lessons" being widely drawn are about the need to alleviate young British Muslim disaffection and tackle the motivating grievances at their purported root, in Iraq and in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Even the tangible impact of those "successful" July 7 blasts, the coordinated killings on buses and the underground by a quartet of home-grown Brit-Muslim murderers, did nothing to puncture such determined wrong-headedness. Tony Blair is sadly serving out his final months in office mainly because he recognized unjustifiable terrorism for what it was and strove to fight it, rather than succumbing to the anti-American, hand-wringing, self-flagellation line of his own party and so much of the British academic and media elites.
And in its misguided response to the Islamic extremism flourishing within its borders, according to the eminent Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis, Britain is far from an isolated case. As Lewis put it during a Q&A session with The Jerusalem Post's editorial staff this week, "The bad news on the general situation now is the increasing violence, the increasing support, which the various extremist and terrorist movements seem to be getting. Most alarming of all is the steady increase in the area [in which] they have influence or dominate, which before long will probably include Europe."
The Muslims, he went on dismally, "seem to be about to take over Europeâ€¦ I can give you the stages of the process: Immigration and democracy on their side, and a mood of what I can only call self-abasement on the European side, in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism, to surrender on any and every issue."
European appeasement, of course, also includes pressure on Israel - to maintain restraint, for instance, even as Hamas and Islamic Jihad exploit a Gaza time-out to gear up for more potent attacks. The demand that Israel curb settlement expansion and demolish illegal outposts, however genuinely felt it may be, is repeated ad infinitum by visiting European big-wigs as though the Gaza disengagement had never taken place and as though Israel had not been poised to tear down the great majority of settlements beyond the security barrier until Iranian-sponsored violence from Lebanon and Gaza shattered the public's support for unilateralism.
Desperately trying to hold on to the European tourism market, meanwhile, Israel was this week abysmally reduced, in the aftermath of the Iranian-backed Eilat suicide bombing, to assuring the fickle package-tour operators and their clientele that everything was fine. Eilat the holiday resort hadn't been hit; indeed, that Eilat isn't really part of Israel at all. It was only our citizens, not theirs, who were being murdered.
THE EUROPEANS can hardly be faulted for the respect they nowadays accord to the victims of the last Holocaust. Holocaust memorial days are scrupulously honored, ceremonies held, learned speeches delivered.
When the United States submits a resolution to the United Nations condemning Holocaust denial, the entire international community solemnly raises its hand in concerned support.
But preventing the next Holocaust? Nobody's quite so sure about that. Plotter-in-chief Ahmadinejad gets hosted by the UN, not indicted by it. European leaders, far from clamoring their endorsement, are still pronouncing themselves unfamiliar with the Israeli and prominent-Jewish-lawyer-led campaign to put the Iranian president on trial for inciting another round of mass-murder of the Jews.
Lewis told the Post that the Iranian regime does not expect to be seriously confronted. "Remember, they have no experience of the functioning of a free society," he noted. "What we see as free debate, they see as weakness and division and fear. Therefore I think they have a very low estimate of the forces that oppose them, whether in the US or Israel or elsewhere. They expect to have it their way, whatever way they choose."
In two recent articles in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, translated by MEMRI, the former Kuwaiti education minister Ahmed al-Rabei urged the Iranian leadership to wake up to the true potency of those, particularly American, opposing forces. Teheran should put a halt to the "clamor of hollow threats" about its nuclear ambitions and instead "think of the interests of its people," he suggested. Essentially echoing the Lewis assessment, he told his readers: "The current Iranian leadership suffers from a chronic ailment - the belief that Iran is a superpower."
But "in any confrontation between America and Iran," Rabei argued, "Iran would be a tiny helpless state. It would suffer what the Arabs suffered in 1967, and what Iraq suffered when Saddam stubbornly rejected all peaceful solutions." This reality had to be internalized fast, he pleaded, since "a possible military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities is [already] in the final stages [of preparation]."
Lewis, in common with the overwhelming body of European, American and Israeli opinion, told us this week that he wanted to see Iranian extremism thwarted by the Iranian people themselves. "I think there is a level of discontent at home, which could be exploited. I do not think it would be too difficult to bring it to the point when the regime could be overthrown," he said.
But if that fails, and sanctions prove no deterrence, will the regime's derisive assessment of the forces arrayed against it be vindicated? Will Europe prove too weak-willed to act? And what, then, of the US, and George Bush's little note to Shlomo Nakdimon?