Nuclear fungibility

There are times when it is better to act than to talk.

September 16, 2007 20:29
3 minute read.
f-15 88

f-15 88. (photo credit: )


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We are not allowed to report definitively whether Israel carried out a military operation in Syria some 10 days ago, what the target was and whether the operation was successful. What we can say is that major foreign media outlets are reporting that the target was a non-conventional, perhaps nuclear, weapons facility and that the Israeli action followed a critical shipment of material from North Korea. As John Bolton, a former UN ambassador and senior non-proliferation State Department official, told the Jerusalem Post, it makes sense that Syria might have agreed to provide "facilities for uranium enrichment" on its territory for Iran and North Korea, two allied countries whose nuclear programs are under close observation. The government deserves credit for sticking to its silence on the whole matter. There are times when it is better to act than to talk, and this seems to be one of them. We can assume that the IDF would not have recommended, nor the political echelon authorized, a risky operation in a foreign country if the threat being addressed had not been immediate and serious. We can also assume that the Syrian contribution to the fog of silence means that it has much to hide. In any case, this incident should serve to accentuate a facet of the current reality that is often largely ignored: the global nature of the threat from rogue regimes and the "fungibility" of weapons of mass destruction. To this day, President George Bush's fingering of an "axis of evil" - then including Iraq, Iran, and North Korea - is considered by many critics to have been somewhat exaggerated and implausible. Many questioned what such disparate countries have to do with each other, let alone that they might be allied in a meaningful way. Increasingly, we see that, just as free nations should and often do work together against common threats, rogue states and terrorist organizations do so too, often across regional, cultural and religious lines. After years of experts dismissing the possibility of radical Shi'ite and Sunni cooperation, it is now indisputable that Shi'ite Iran aids Sunni Hamas, that both work closely with Shi'ite Hizbullah, and that Sunni al-Qaida is somehow woven, probably tightly, into this jihadi mix. It also seems not to matter that there is no ideological connection between North Korea and Islamist jihadis. It is enough that both are sworn enemies of the West, and that the former has technology that the latter needs. The lesson here is that the West must stop looking at the global landscape without connecting the dots - as if Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, North Korea and the Arab-Israel conflict have nothing to do with each other. President John F. Kennedy was speaking of economics when he said that "a rising tide lifts all boats," but the same can be said about the global strategic situation. There is the team of free nations and the team of rogue regimes and their terrorist proxies. Either our team is winning or theirs is, and it is impossible for us to win overall, or even in one place for long, if we are losing in another important arena in the contest. Further, it should be obvious that the Israeli-Palestinian arena is not the most critical one. Rather, it is whether rogue regimes like Iran and Syria will continue to get away with their race to obtain more devastating non-conventional weapons and their rampant support for international terrorism. It is the latter that will determine the viability of the former, not vice versa. As our columnist Barry Rubin suggests today, a significant message from General David Petraeus's testimony in Washington is that the Baker-Hamilton report had it exactly backward. Teheran and Damascus do not, as the bipartisan report claimed, share an interest in a stable Iraq, nor can any development in Israeli-Palestinian relations make more them more cooperative. Rather, as Rubin puts it, "Petraeus tells the tough truth: Iranian imperialism is at war with America and has no interest in any compromise solution." The amorphous Israeli-Syrian incident should accentuate the urgent challenge of our day: to prevent Iran and Syria from obtaining nuclear weapons. We hope that this incident helps prove that Israel will use all necessary means to do so, and that it is the supreme interest of the international community to solve the overall problem short of last-resort intervention, as is still possible with sufficient will.

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