Iranian Endgame - by P. David Hornik

Is Israel America’s last resort?

On Tuesday, Danielle Pletka wrote in the Washington Post that “Iran is proceeding with an aggressive nuclear weapons program,” and that apart from “a few dogged holdouts,…much of the Obama administration has come to terms with that reality.”

By “coming to terms” Pletka means that, while recognizing Iran’s aggressive intentions, “official Washington has resigned itself to pursuing a containment policy”—which, as Pletka effectively argues, would be misplaced and unavailing in the case of Iran. But Pletka adds that “privately, Obama administration officials confess that they believe Israeli action will preempt our policy debate, as Israel’s tolerance for an Iranian nuke is significantly lower than our own.”

Also on Tuesday Israel’s chief of Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin—who last month informed the nation that Gaza-based Hamas had obtained rockets that can reach Tel Aviv—addressed the Iranian issue at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Yadlin said Iran was building dispersed, overt and covert nuclear sites, was “simultaneously developing a military capability that would allow a breakthrough when it so decides,” has already “enriched 1.7 tons of low enriched uranium at its facility in Natanz, which is enough for a nuclear weapon,” and that it was time for “tough sanctions on the regime” by the international community.

The internal Iranian protest movement? Yadlin stated: “This protest does not have a classic leadership which is capable of bringing down regimes, as leaders of the protest movement are still the regime’s own flesh and blood.”

But given the West’s continued dithering on the sanctions issue and delusive efforts to get Iran’s friends Russia and China to cooperate effectively with the democratic powers, Yadlin’s professed belief in sanctions could merely be a way of upholding Israel’s official line—meant in part to avoid appearing trigger-happy. If Pletka is right that the U.S. administration is resigned either to “containment” or an Israeli strike, then hopes of sanctions stopping Iran’s nukes are indeed misplaced.

Focusing on Israel’s difficult environment, Yadlin said “There are places in Iran and Syria where weapons tests are carried out and you can see Iranian and Syrian scientists next to Hizbullah operatives and even representatives from Hamas and sometimes Islamic Jihad who are invited to watch.” He also “warned that any weaponry, no matter how advanced it might be, that is in Syrian and Iranian hands could one day be delivered to Hizbullah in Lebanon.”

That is, Israel could see nukes in radical hands on its doorstep. Or as Yadlin summed up: “Our enemies are challenging the IDF’s supremacy—in the air, in terms of intelligence and accurate weapons—in a defensive and offensive manner, and are trying to threaten our existence. The enemy’s abilities are still far from the IDF’s abilities, and the challenge is to maintain the gap.”

An Iranian nuclear capacity—and the Middle East-wide nuclear arms race that is universally seen as the inevitable result—would mean not much, if anything, would be left of that gap. In other words, if the administration believes “Israel’s tolerance for an Iranian nuke is significantly lower than our own,” the administration is right—even if, as Pletka asserts, “subcontracting American national security to Israel is an appalling notion, and we cannot assume that an Israeli action would not provoke a wider regional conflict into which the United States would be drawn.”

Some see the picture as less bleak and hope (for instance, here) President Obama’s antipacifist statements during his Nobel Prize speech—“There will be times when nations—acting individually or in concert—will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified…. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies….”—signal a greater realism toward Iran. Time will tell. Israel’s only prudent course is to assume the worst and prepare accordingly.