The realm of the unthinkable

Experts now publicly contemplate the 'terrible dilemmas' posed by Iran.

Three weeks is apparently a long time these days when it comes to evaluating Iran's nuclear ambitions and capabilities. Three weeks ago, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland indicated to The Jerusalem Post that he doubted that Iran's nuclear drive would be stopped. By this week, he was definitive: "In the end, Iran will attain a nuclear capability," he said flatly. Although Eiland, a 30-year IDF veteran who stepped down recently as the head of the National Security Council, is perhaps the first credible Israeli figure to publicly deliver so conclusive an assessment, he is not the first to reach it. In private conversations, Israelis up to the level of cabinet minister have lately been heard intimating that a nuclear Iran may now be a fait accompli and pondering the implications. Plainly, the regional balance of power would change at a stroke - immensely complicating most every aspect of Israel's always challenging effort to survive here. Worries over Israel's eroded deterrent capability in the complex aftermath of the war with Hizbullah would pale by comparison to the devastating impact of an undeniable curtailment of the Jewish state's regional military hegemony. Israel's room for maneuver in dealings with the Palestinians and regional states, its international status, its economic attractiveness, the confidence of its populace, its very stability - all would be dramatically affected. Beyond the sometimes-panicked musings, there are those in senior positions who, weighing the options for Israeli military intervention to thwart Iran and deeming the costs prohibitive, have moved on to try and find solutions. One being mooted is to invest heavily and very publicly in a bolstering of Israel's second-strike capability. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Eiland's estimation, is prepared to see half his country wiped out for the prize of eliminating ours, then Israel must ensure that it is plain to the Iranians that they would lose not half, but all of their country were they to dare to strike. But there are other voices, too - voices that suggest that the fait accompli conclusion is unwarranted. Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, told this newspaper last week that US President George Bush is "a man of his word," and that "when the president says, as he has on several occasions, that the world cannot live with, or permit, a nuclear Iran, he means it." If America chooses not to act, there are experienced Israeli military and diplomatic figures who believe that, for all the near-unthinkable potential repercussions, Israel does have a military option vis-a-vis Teheran, and should be prepared to use it. Plainly we are entering the realm of the unthinkable - a potential dilemma between striking at the well-protected nuclear program of a nation with considerable potential to hit back, or seeking ways of reconciling to the fact of a nuclear Iran, perhaps by means of a newly potent deterrent capability. These are "terrible" options, as Eiland is the first to acknowledge. So terrible, indeed, that until very recently nobody in authority was prepared to so much as contemplate them publicly.