I’ve said before that I think Israel is in as much existential danger today as any time since 1948. The following article spells this out, but I would add that a new factor — the rapid progress of delegitimization of Israel among the nations of the world — multiplies the objective danger.
A Nuclear Iran
By Shalom Freedman
John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told Ruthie Blum in a Feb. 6, 2009 interview that Iran has surmounted all the technical difficulties involved in producing nuclear weapons. Should anyone have doubted Iran’s technical capacity to do this, one could have noted an event that occurred just a few days before when Iran launched its first satellite. The booster capability needed to launch the satellite means that Iran not only has the ability to reach every country in the Middle East with its weapons, but that it also can reach Southern Europe. All this suggests that the Israeli, American and European window of opportunity to stop Iran from attaining a nuclear capability may have already closed. After all, having clearly mastered the enrichment process and now having the missile capability, the final stage of ‘weaponization’, fitting the warhead to the missile, is considering a relatively simple one. So Iran seems to be the proverbial ‘turn of a screw’ distance from nuclear capability.
This took place while there were endless promises and threats from various Israeli and American officials that it would not be allowed to happen. The Obama Administration even now is saying that it will forcibly prevent Iran from being a nuclear power, that is if its proposed talks with Iran are not successful. Only now there is the possibility that should President Obama be true to his word in a way the Bush Administration was not, there is a very good chance that Israel will be the one to pay the heaviest price. For it is very likely that the Iranian response would be first of all nuclear warheads headed in the direction of Tel Aviv.
Bolton – who was a strong Israel supporter in the Bush Administration – believes that the United States under Obama will take no such action. He says it is essentially up to Israel to do this, and says that now the most Israel can do is hope to delay Iran for two or three years. The real solution, Bolton argues, lies not in military preemption but in regime change in Tehran. But despite the sinking global oil price and the great failures of the Iranian economy under Ahmadinejad, there seems on the horizon no real possibility of regime change.
Israel for its part seems in an almost impossible situation in regard to striking the Iranian nuclear facilities. David Sanger, NY Times diplomatic and defense correspondent, recently reported that Prime Minister Olmert went to Washington in January 2008 and requested permission to fly over Iraq from President Bush. This was denied, as were Olmert’s requests for new airborne tankers and bunker-busting bombs. With Turkey so hostile and the U.S. forbidding the flyover of Iraqi airspace, Israel’s military option is severely limited.
The most viable alternative seems to be deterrence – to depend on its credible second-strike capability and make it clear that any WMD attack on Israel from any direction will be regarded as an attack from Iran. For despite the Iranian suicide-bomber mentality of its President Ahmadinejad, it is unlikely to want to see its cities and society wholly devastated.
But Iran is not only busy on the nuclear front. It is reportedly supplying Hamas with newer and longer-range missiles. It has of course helped arm Hezbollah to the teeth (Hezbollah is thought to have three times the number of missiles that it had before the 2006 war). Its two surrogates are thus still on Israel’s borders and ready, should there be an outbreak of violence, to hit all of Israel with missiles. Iranian ally Syria has an even deadlier arsenal of missiles including some with WMD warheads.
All this means that any incoming Israeli government will face one of the most difficult security situations the country has ever known. Clearly one of its first priorities will be to establish close cooperation and coordination with the Obama Administration. Should Obama decide to follow the advice of some of its key advisors and distance Israel, the Israeli government’s task would enormously difficult. For clearly the security of Israel depends in this new situation on knowing not only how it must act in regard to Iran but also what the U.S. intends to do. Whether the United States decides to negotiate with Iran and buy its delaying tactics and false promises, or to try to preempt, Israel is most likely to pay the greatest price.
Here however, another danger should be mentioned. What the Iranians are likely to do in any negotiation is demand that the U.S. force Israel to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament. Any acceptance of such a policy, given that a nuclear Israel is the greatest deterrent against Arab missile attack or conventional invasion, is likely to further undermine the position of Israel. Should the Obama Administration go along with the Iranian demand, then those critics who feared it would be a negative administration for Israel would have been proven correct.
As it is now, the situation is open and dangerous. And again, the next Prime Minister of Israel will face security threats of unprecedented danger and difficulty.
Shalom Freedman was born in the US and made aliyah to Israel in 1974. He’s published several books and countless articles on Jewish subjects.