In this excellent overview of the Israeli’s view of the Iranian nuclear program in the Daily Telegraph, it’s made very clear by the government that attacking Iran before they can acquire a nuclear weapon is not a question of if, but of when:
Having already suffered a near-apocalypse in the form of the Holocaust, the Jewish people have no intention of being the hapless victims of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal designs. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, last month gave his most explicit warning to date that Israel was prepared to use military force to prevent Teheran from obtaining a nuclear weapon: “The Jewish people, with the scars of the Holocaust fresh on its body, cannot afford to allow itself to face threats of annihilation once again.”
That single sentence sums up the consensus among most of the Israeli people. If the wider world is not prepared to take pre-emptive action to stop Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions, then Israel is ready to act alone.
There are those who do not take the Iranian President at his word that he will “wipe Israel off the map.” But if you are an Israeli government official charged with the safety and security of your tiny nation, you cannot afford the luxury of wondering whether Ahmadinejad is serious or not. He is the leader of a nation that at the very least, is about to get his hands on the technology – uranium enrichment – that can be used for both peaceful and military purposes. If you can enrich uranium for fuel to drive a nuclear reactor, then you can certainly enrich it enough to build a bomb.
The process is exactly the same. The only difference is is in the percentage of isotopes that are converted from U-235 to U238. In short, all you have to do is run the centrifuges for a longer period of time.
Since the Iranians have not shown any willingness to allow for the very intrusive inspections and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which would give confidence to the Israelis that the Iranian program is peaceful, it is a virtual certainty that they will attack and take care of what they perceive to be a problem themselves:
As for Israel’s offensive plans against Iran, the Iran Command team’s task is to demonstrate that Israel has the capability to act unilaterally.
“No one is going to take this threat seriously until the State of Israel can demonstrate to the outside world that we have the ability to deal with this menace on our own,” said a senior security official who serves on Iran Command.
“The only way we can put pressure on the outside world to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear programme is to demonstrate that we can do this ourselves.
‘’Of course, we hope it doesn’t come to a military solution, and we hope that this can be resolved through diplomacy. But Iran’s track record is not good.”
If the Israelis do go through with their attack on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States will almost certainly suffer for the Israeli action. The Iranians have made it clear that they consider the US and Israel interchangeable in this matter and that an attack by either one will require a response against both countries.
Given this set of circumstances, the Bush Administration may very well be thinking that if they are going to get blamed by Iran for an Israeli attack on Iran, why not carry out the attack themselves? In for a penny, in for a pound.
Of course, our attack on Iran would set in motion a series of events in Iraq and elsewhere that would have consequences far more costly than a “pound.” The resulting turmoil in the Middle East could have a catastrophic impact on our interests not to mention any interruption in the oil supply deeply affecting our economy.
But it is in Iraq where we would suffer most from our attack on Iran. Some Shia militias would almost certainly turn on us and make any efforts to stem the violence there futile. For this reason, as well as all the other downside probabilities, I believe that we are not seriously contemplating a military strike on Iran.
In fact, we may be playing a willing cats paw for Israel. While we send more and more naval assets to the Persian Gulf while keeping up a constant drumbeat of charges and allegations about the Iranians assisting in the killing of Americans in Iraq, Israel can carry out the enormously complex planning involved in their own attack on Iran largely below the radar of world scrutiny:
For the Israelis, taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities is a very different proposition to the 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Back then, the Israelis had the element of surprise – the last thing the Iraqis expected to see was a squadron of Israeli warplanes in their airspace.
Iraq’s nuclear programme also posed a relatively straightforward target in that all the facilities were concentrated at the Osirak complex, south of Baghdad. A few well-targeted bombs released in a single air raid were sufficient to do the job.
The Iranians, on the other hand, learning the lessons of the Osirak debacle, have scattered their resources around the country. Obvious targets, such as the controversial uranium enrichment complex at Natanz, are set in specially constructed bomb proof bunkers that would require high-precision, bunker-busting bombs to inflict any serious damage.
Yet another challenge is presented by the recent arrival of the Russian-made Tor M1 anti-aircraft missile system as part of an arms deal signed between Moscow and Teheran last year.
The military challenges may seem like a picnic when Israel considers the diplomatic nightmare of what the world’s reaction would be to their attack. Although the Jewish state can hardly be more isolated, actual sanctions would almost certainly be considered by the UN (and vetoed promptly by the US). And the idea of Israel attacking Muslim country would almost certainly roil the Arab street, although it would meet with secret approval in several Arab capitols where Sunnis dominate.
There simply are no consequence-free options on Iran for either Israel or the United States. But for the Israelis, who believe that Iran is willing and will be capable of carrying out another Holocaust of the Jewish people, the only consequence they fear may be from not doing anything at all.