Israel, Iran And The Bomb


The rhetoric and reporting around whether Israel, with or without U.S. involvement, will take military action against Iran this year, is ratcheting up. But that doesn’t make the conclusions any more clear. In fact, based on past history, when Israel takes military action it does so swiftly, suddenly and with no previous drumbeating in the press, as in the successful attacks on the nuclear reactor facilities in Iraq in 1981, and in Syria in 2009.

Some of Israel’s top officials and experts are at odds on the wisdom and practicality of launching an air attack on Iran before that country’s preparations to produce a nuclear bomb become irreversible. The former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, has criticized even considering an attack as “foolish,” asserting Israel lacks the capability to do more than cause a brief delay in the bomb’s production while likely provoking a war with Hezbollah and Hamas, for which Israel has no solution.

But in the New York Times Magazine cover story this past week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke publicly for the first time about the parameters of an Israeli strike, telling reporter Ronen Bergman that the decision depended on Israel’s ability to cause serious damage to Iran’s nuclear sites, America’s support of Israel’s actions and whether all other possibilities of preventing an Iranian bomb had been exhausted.

Bergman, who interviewed a number of officials and has covered the issue for years, noted that “for the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.”

He predicts that Israel will act sometime this year.

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, came to a similar conclusion in his major piece on the subject last year.

Such an action would have immediate, frightening and global repercussions, all of which Washington and Jerusalem are well aware of, including the very real possibility of an all-out Iran-led war on Israel. But some are suggesting that Barak’s public comments primarily were intended to send a strong message to the Obama administration, letting President Barack Obama know how serious Israel is and hoping the result will be increasingly tighter sanctions on Iran and perhaps U.S. military action.

James Besser reports in his Analysis (see page 1), though, that the prospect of the U.S. going to war, again, in the face of economic hardship and widespread opposition to another military engagement in the Mideast — all during a presidential election year — is highly unlikely.

All the choices for Israel in preventing a nuclear Iran, which in turn would launch an arms race across the Mideast, are untenable. Sanctions are the most practical politically and diplomatically but also the least likely to result in Iran halting its race to create a bomb.

To date, it appears that Israel, perhaps with U.S. support, has engaged in a variety of activities aimed at thwarting Iran, from lethal computer viruses to the killing of Iranian scientists working on the bomb. But the consensus is that the day of reckoning is soon upon us; we are, as Barak describes it, entering “the immunity zone,” after which time Iran’s nuclear efforts can’t be stopped from the outside.

Bergman believes that Barak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in a two-pronged plan: both preparing an attack “and putting up a front to pressure Europe and the U.S. to impose tougher sanctions.”

Israel has long argued that Iran is the world’s problem, not just Israel’s. Just this week James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran appears willing to conduct terror attacks in the U.S.

For now, the anxiety level is rising in Israel, but Americans don’t seem to think of the Iranian bomb as their problem, too. What is needed is full cooperation and understanding among the leaders of U.S., Europe and Israel in ensuring that the pledge not to allow a nuclear Iran is more than an empty threat.