Three facts and four dilemmas on Iran

Accepting a nuclear Iran would cause much more danger to Israel than the anticipated damage from any action designed to harm nuclear program.

By TZAHI HANEGBI
November 10, 2011 23:11
Iranian Army’s Land Force Academy graduation

Iranian Army’s Land Force Academy graduation ceremony 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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The Iranian nuclear issue contains various components of national security, foreign policy and politics. If we remove commentaries that are personal or affiliated to a political party, which are inherently speculative, we are left with three basic facts that are indisputable.

The most essential fact is the progress Tehran has made in its bid to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran embarked on its journey in this direction many years ago. But over the last decade, its efforts have gained enormous momentum.

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Today no one disputes the fact that Iran has acquired the necessary know-how to enrich uranium for an atomic bomb.

There is also no doubt that Iran has developed the ability to launch long-range missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

Even the biggest skeptics concede that if the moves designed to stop Iran fail, it will be able to fire missiles with nuclear warheads at any target in the Middle East and beyond in just a few years.

The second fact concerns the dangers of Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel. We often explain to the world how the Iranian nuclear program threatens it. From the dismal failure of the international community’s campaign against the nuclearization of Iran, and its refusal to take significant steps beyond economic sanctions, one can only conclude that the threat cannot be contained by the world.

The US, Russia, China, Britain and France, which all have nuclear arsenals, have learned for generations to live in the shadow of “mutual fear.” The existence of several dozen bombs in the shelters of a few more countries does not interfere with their sleep.



In contrast, for Israel, it is a very serious development. The leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have made it publicly clear that they would not leave Iran alone in the “nuclear club.”

The nuclear arms race in the Middle East will leave Israel under a nuclear threat growing with time, dictating limits and restraints too difficult to deal with as we face terrorist threats and provocations from other countries.

In fact, it will leave Israel with no qualitative edge against its neighbors. To that, we should add other possible dangers: nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extreme terrorist groups such as al-Qaida; a possible nuclear confrontation triggered by a miscalculation, after the Middle East turns into a region filled with irrational parties holding weapons of mass destruction; and above all hovers the fanatic logic articulated in the past by the Iranian president, that Iran, with its 70 million inhabitants – unlike little Israel – has the ability to survive a non-conventional confrontation.

The third fact that everyone should face directly, without self-delusion, is the absolute failure of diplomatic attempts to divert Iran from progressing toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. Four firm decisions of the UN Security Council, severe reports of the IAEA, great efforts to cause significant damage to Iran’s economy through sanctions, and innumerable loud speeches – by the leaders of the US, UK, Germany and France on their “commitment to prevent a nuclear Iran” – have all crashed against the rocks of the fundamental stubbornness of the regime in Tehran.

An analysis of reasons for this failure is not important now. Essentially, it’s the result of the unwillingness of Russia, China and India – and with them many of the European countries such as Germany – to pay the price attached to more stringent economic and political sanctions, which would also include sanctions in the energy field.

The important thing is the bottom line: In the unequal race between the stammering international community and a determined fanatical state, the Iranian runner will be the first to cut the tape at the finish line.

SO MUCH for the three facts. And now for the four dilemmas that derive from them:

1. Will the US act to thwart Iran’s nuclear program through military means?
 2. If the US refrains from military action against Iran, does Israel have the capacity to carry out an attack against Iran on its own?
3. If it can, should Israel condition its decision on the consent, direct or implied, of the American government?
 4. If Israel believes it has the power to act against Iran’s nuclear program even without American consent, it must examine the implications of such action in many areas:

• Its relations with the US.

• Its relations with Egypt and Jordan.

• The threat of direct Iranian retaliation by missiles or air strikes.

• The threat posed by Syria.

• The threat posed by Hezbollah.

• The threat posed by terror organizations in Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

• The threat posed by Iranian retaliation in the form of terrorist acts against Israeli targets and/or Jews around the world.

• What it would mean for Israel if Iran would respond by taking measures that would cause a huge price rise in the global energy market.

SUBSTANTIVE DISCUSSION of these implications, as well as intelligence analysis and operational options, must be conducted behind closed doors, in secret. So I will not address them here.

All I would allow myself to say is that I totally reject the apocalyptic scenarios published in recent days. To the best of my knowledge, based on constant dealings with the Iranian issue in the most intimate possible way over seven consecutive years, I think that coming to terms with a nuclear Iran would cause much more danger and harm to Israel than the anticipated damage from any action designed to harm Iran’s nuclear program.

Because of my familiarity with the political scene in the US, I believe that the warnings about a “destruction of relations with the United States” have no basis. The leader of the US understands well that it has no right to undermine Israel’s right of self-defense against a strategic threat. This is true of the Obama administration as well as of any other administration, if there is a new one, following the US election in November 2012.

I agree with those who recommend waiting for a US decision on whether to raise its hands and concede defeat in the wake of continued Iranian defiance, or to raise up a US Air Force attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

However, the waiting period should be limited. President Barack Obama, following his election three years ago, promoted a controversial initiative on direct dialogue (engagement) with Tehran. Iran rejected the initiative with complete contempt.

Then the White House expressed its intention to impose “crippling sanctions” on Iran, but the resolution that was finally passed by the UN Security Council, in June 2010, was watered down and ultimately ineffective.

A year and a half have passed, and if anyone is paralyzed in this stand-off, he is definitely not in Tehran. For the future of Israel, I hope the paralyzed person is not in Jerusalem as well.

(Moria Dashevsky translated this from Hebrew.)

The writer is a former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat

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