(photo credit: AP [file])
In London yesterday, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he found no "smoking gun" in Iran that would indicate a nuclear weapons program. He also admitted that, for 18 years, Iran had a nuclear program that the IAEA failed to detect.
These two statements by ElBaradei express a large part of the predicament facing those who would rely on his international agency to prevent Iran from developing a bomb. On the one hand, the head of the IAEA cannot say for sure that Iran is developing a bomb, even though Teheran has been claiming its right to do so from the roof tops, and the most of the world is convinced that the mullahs would like to build a bomb as quickly as they can.
On the other, the IAEA is admitting its own limitations at knowing exactly what Iran is doing at this moment, given that nation's strenuous and proven efforts to fool the international community. ElBaradei did not mention, but no one can ignore, a similar failure to detect Saddam Hussein's nuclear program before the first Gulf War, the failure to detect Libya's program until just before that nation admitted what it was doing, and - in the other direction - what seems to have been an overestimation of Saddam's WMD capabilities before his ouster.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz has expressed his doubts that the current diplomatic efforts will stop Iran from developing a bomb. On Sunday, Halutz said flatly, "I believe that the political means used by the Europeans and the US to convince the Iranians to stop the project will not succeed."
At the same time, a recent study by an American military academy reportedly claims that Israel does not have the military capability to destroy Iran's nuclear program. Our shortcoming, the study concludes, is a lack of access to air bases in the countries nearest to Iran.
Last week, after the US and Europe embraced a dangerous Russian proposal that would allow Iran to produce UF-6 gas, a key precursor to uranium enrichment - and after the IAEA failed again to refer Iran to the Security Council - this newspaper urged the government to sound the alarm, rather than continue to sit back silently and hope for the best.
Since then, our leadership has indeed been outspoken. In addition to the comments by Halutz, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that "Israel, and other countries cannot accept a situation where Iran has nuclear arms. The issue is clear to us and we are making all the necessary preparations to handle a situation of this kind."
Indeed, almost everyone - the US, Israel, and Europe - says that an Iranian bomb is unacceptable. This begs the obvious question: What is the international community going to do about it?
The reports that the US is working with the E-3 - UK, France and Germany - to devise a package of sanctions that can be imposed even from outside the Security Council if necessary are encouraging. Such action is long overdue, and it is clear that these nations must not let the threat of a Chinese or Russian veto in the Security Council stop them from taking effective action.
The problem is that we are far beyond the point where some symbolic set of sanctions will be enough. The Iranian regime clearly sees its nuclear program as the best chance it has to protect both its tyrannical and extremely unpopular rule, and to continue to spread its influence through terrorism in the region.
Though Iran's president has infamously said - in a statement that alone should trigger sanctions under the Genocide Convention - that Israel should "wiped off the map," this is just the beginning of the Iranian threat. If the regime were to develop its own nuclear umbrella, it would mark the first major reversal in the global war against militant Islam, including the gains for democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Accordingly, this is no time for leaders in any Western capital to throw up their hands and assume that an Iranian bomb is unstoppable.
If Iran obtains a bomb, it will be because free nations have not banded together to use their extensive economic, diplomatic, and, if necessary, military assets to protect themselves. Where there is a will, there is a way.