The defense establishment is wrong in its opinion that the US will not undertake a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear installations and will allow Teheran to obtain nuclear weapons, former ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. Ayalon, who returned to Israel last month after four years in Washington, disputed the security assessment published in Tuesday's Post that the chances of an American strike were low. He said US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested otherwise when they said publicly that no options were off the table when it came to preventing the nuclearization of Iran. "I am absolutely certain that the US will not allow Iran to go nuclear, because this is a direct challenge to the most vital interests of the US in the region and beyond," Ayalon said. "There is a deep understanding of this among American strategic thinkers and political leaders in both parties."
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"It's true that the focus right now is on a diplomatic solution and all avenues will be exhausted there, but we all should take seriously Bush and Rice's statements that all options are on the table, because they're not just posturing," he said.
Ayalon stressed that the US would not act based on Israel's interests, but on its own. He said acquiring nuclear weapons would allow Iran to continue its aggressive expansion with complete impunity. Iran had proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority and the Iranian regime wanted to drive the US out of the region completely, he said.
According to Ayalon, the US also has an economic interest in stopping Iran because with nuclear weapons, Teheran could control the flow of oil, which could devastate the US economy and the entire international community.
"A nuclear Iran would threaten the world order, because it could ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," Ayalon said. "I disagree with the assessment in [Tuesday]'s Jerusalem Post, because in my estimation, the president, the State Department and the National Security Council do not subscribe to the notion that Iran is bound to be nuclear, that it cannot be stopped and that it must be accommodated. Such a notion is a self-fulfilling prophesy that would allow Iran to become nuclear."
Ayalon also disagreed with the assessment that the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq study group led by former US secretary of state James Baker and former senator Lee Hamilton slated to be presented to Bush on Wednesday would be bad news for Israel. A defense official said this week that if the report called for the US to engage Iran, Israel would eventually be left alone to confront the prospect of a nuclear Iran.
"Even if the report recommends engaging Iran, the talks would be about Iraq and not in reference to the Iranian nuclear program," Ayalon said. "Iran hopes to get a nuclear green light in return for its cooperation on Iraq, but the American administration and Congress will not let this happen."
A senior cabinet member who recently returned from a visit to Washington went even further and predicted that attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would be part of the American exit strategy from Iraq. He said the US would use an attack on Iran to explain its need to withdraw from Iraq.
Meanwhile, former CIA director Robert Gates, who has been nominated to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, said at his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that US "military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort." He said the US should first use diplomacy and work with allies to deal with the problems posed by Iran.
"I think that we have seen, in Iraq, that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable," he said.
Gates suggested that Iran could respond to a US attack by closing the Persian Gulf to oil exports and "unleash a significant wave of terror" in the Middle East, Europe and US. He said the US could not promise Israel that Iran would never launch a nuclear attack.
Asked whether he believed Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons, Gates said he was not sure, because "the risks for them [the Iranians] are enormously high. I don't think anybody can provide that assurance."
Gates told the senators that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons and its leaders were lying when they said the program was strictly civilian.
"Yes, sir, I do," he answered when asked at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether he believed Iran was seeking a nuclear weapons capability. Asked if he believed Iran's leaders were lying, Gates responded, "Yes, sir."
While Iran had not been helpful in Iraq, it could do a lot more to hurt US efforts there, he said. As an example, he said Iran could provide chemical and biological weapons to terrorist groups.
Also, he said, Iran's "ability to get Hizbullah to further destabilize Lebanon, I think is very real."
As for Syria, Gates said a US attack on that country would unleash a wave of anti-Americanism in the Middle East.
It would have "dramatic consequences for us in the Middle East," Gates said. "It would give rise to greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. It would immediately complicate our relations with every country in the region."
News agencies contributed to this report.