Guest Column: The Iran threat - urgent and immediate

Better for everyone that Israel not be asked to stand alone. But if it is, it will do what it has to do

foxman 298.88 courtesy (photo credit: Courtesy)
foxman 298.88 courtesy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I have been feeling for some time, even before the National Intelligence Estimate, that we are in one of those historic moments: A threat is emerging to the very existence of the State of Israel, not to say the entire world, and the world is acting as if, yes there is something to worry about, but nothing urgent; it's a long way off, so why get excited. The threat of course comes from the Islamic regime of Iran, a regime whose leader has publicly and repeatedly brazenly talked of "wiping Israel off the map," and which is getting closer to developing a nuclear bomb. What was a disturbing phenomenon - the lack of urgency about this threat - before the intelligence community report has turned into a disaster in the current situation. Yes, leaders and publics continue to pay lip service to the Iranian threat. Another mild Security Council resolution on Iran was passed recently. And meetings take place dealing with the problem. There is some heartening news. Mike McConnell, head of National Intelligence, testified recently that Iran could have enough enriched uranium for a weapon by the end of 2009. French Defense Minister Herve Morin told reporters in late January that evidence suggested Iran is continuing to develop a weapon. And the chief British delegate to the IAEA, Simon Smith, said last week that Iran may have continued work on nuclear weapons past 2003. BUT I'M afraid none of this is serious enough. After all, if the NIE says Iran stopped building a nuclear weapon in 2003, then there is no need for stirring the pot. Let's go about business as usual, in this case gradual and symbolic steps vis-a-vis Iran because after all, Iran is a troubling country, supporting terrorism, abetting US enemies in Iraq, a major violator of human rights. So there is the new Security Council resolution. And leaders will indicate that it's good that some action was taken holding together the major powers. In the real world, however, this toothless resolution doesn't even begin to have an impact on the Iranian nuclear program. Even according to the NIE, Iran continues to enrich uranium (and we don't even know if the level of enrichment is beyond what's publicly presented, which is bad enough) and is expanding its delivery system for such a weapon. MEANWHILE, ISRAEL alone very much has a sense of urgency about the Iranian threat. Its intelligence sees a continuing and immediate nuclear threat. Maybe it's because Israel is a tiny country not that far from Iran and about which Iran's former president Hashemi Rafsanjani (often referred to as a moderate) said that one nuclear bomb detonated in the heart of Israel would mean its destruction, while Iran is a big country that could survive 10 nuclear explosions. And maybe it's because of Jewish history: When leaders with military capability make threats against the Jewish people, the Jews better pay attention. For Israel, though it tries to be restrained about it because America is its great friend, the NIE report is a disaster. It undercut momentum for action and distorted and undermined the perception that Iran is getting perilously close to reaching nuclear capability. Israeli experts talk in terms of one or two years and while they do so, the world fiddles. The world should stop fiddling for its own sake. It is not propaganda to say that a nuclear Iran would be the greatest threat to world peace and survival. The closer Iran gets to a bomb, the more the Middle Eastern states that see Iran as a threat will develop their own nuclear programs. This raises the chances dramatically of nuclear Armageddon. Unfortunately, procrastination is the order of the day. Then what? If Israel perceives Teheran within reach of reaching its nuclear goal, will Israel have any choice but to protect itself and take preemptive action? And where will the world be then. Will it live up to the ethic of "Never Again" and express understanding for the Jewish people's right to act against the clearest existential threat since the Holocaust? And will the world express regret that it didn't take Iran seriously enough and didn't work for serious non-military pressures on Iran to avoid the military option? Or will the world blame Israel for actions when, in fact, Israel would have done the dirty work for the world, not in intent because Israel would have just been protecting itself, but in consequence because the world would then be a far safer place with a delayed nuclear Iran than one already realized. Better for everyone that Israel not be asked to stand alone. But if it is, it will do what it has to do. In 1981, Menachem Begin ordered the Israel Air Force to destroy Saddam Hussein's nuclear facility. Begin did it to secure Israel from a dangerous threat. But he also was sending a signal to the world that the greatest future danger to humanity's existence will come when terrorists and extremist regimes get a hold of nuclear weapons. Then it will probably be too late. It is time to shake off our lethargy. And, if we don't, at least the world must understand that this is not 1939, that a Jewish people exposed to existential threats this time around are not helpless and trapped but have real options of their own. The writer is national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League.