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Our World: Accepting the unacceptable

By CAROLINE B. GLICK The Jerusalem Post 08/27/2010 16:34
www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=186171

From a military perspective, the longer Israel waits to attack Iran, the
harder it will become to accomplish the mission.

Last weekend the mullahs took a big step towards becoming a nuclear power as
they fueled the Bushehr nuclear reactor.

Israel’s response? The Foreign Ministry published a statement proclaiming
the move “unacceptable.”

So why did we accept the unacceptable? When one asks senior officials about
the Bushehr reactor and about Iran’s nuclear program more generally, their
response invariably begins, “Well the Americans…”

Far from accepting that Israel has a problem that it must deal with, Israel’s
decision-makers still argue that the US will discover – before it is too
late – that it must act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in
order to secure its own interests.

As for Bushehr specifically, Israeli officials explain that it isn’t the
main problem. The main danger stems from the uranium enrichment sites. And
anyway, they explain, given the civilian character of the Bushehr reactor;
the fact that it is under a full International Atomic Energy Agency
inspections regime; and the fact that the Russians are supposed to take all
the spent fuel rods to Russia and so prevent Iran from using them to produce
weapons-grade plutonium, Israel lacked the international legitimacy to
strike Bushehr to prevent it from being fueled last weekend.

BEFORE GOING into the question of whether Israel’s decision-makers were
correct in opting out of attacking the Bushehr reactor to prevent it from
being fueled, it is worth considering where “the Americans” stand on Iran as
it declares itself a nuclear power and tests new, advanced weapons systems
on a daily basis.

The answer to this question was provided in large part in an article in the
National Interest by former Clinton administration National Security Council
member Bruce Riedel. Titled, “If Israel Attacks,” Riedel – who reportedly
has close ties to the current administration – asserts that an Israeli
military strike against Iran will be a disaster for the US. In his view, the
US is better served by allowing Iran to become a nuclear power than by
supporting an Israeli attack against Iran.

He writes, “The United States needs to send a clear red light to Israel.
There’s no option but to actively discourage an Israeli attack.”

Riedel explains that to induce Israel to accept the unacceptable specter of
a nuclear armed mullocracy, the US should pay it off. Riedel recommends
plying Israel’s leaders with F-22 Stealth bombers, nuclear submarines, a
mutual defense treaty and perhaps even NATO membership.

Riedel’s reason for deeming an Israeli strike unacceptable is his conviction
that such an operation will be met by an Iranian counter-strike against US
forces and interests in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. While there is no
reason to doubt he is correct, Riedel studiously ignores the other
certainty: A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten those same troops and
interests far more.

Riedel would have us believe that the Iranian regime will be a rational
nuclear actor. That’s the regime that has outlawed music, stones women, and
deploys terror proxies throughout the region and the world. That’s the same
regime whose “supreme leader” just published a fatwa claiming he has the
same religious stature as Muhammad.

Riedel bases this view on the actions Iran took when it was weak.

Since Iran didn’t place its American hostages on trial in 1980, it can be
trusted with nuclear weapons in 2010. Since Iran didn’t go to war against
the US in 1988 during the Kuwaiti tanker crisis, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can be
trusted with nuclear bombs in 2010. And so on and so forth.

Moreover, Riedel ignores what any casual newspaper reader now recognizes:
Iran’s nuclear weapons program has spurred a regional nuclear arms race.
Riedel imagines a bipolar nuclear Middle East, with Israel on the one side
and Iran on the other. He fails to notice that already today Saudi Arabia,
the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and
Turkey have all initiated nuclear programs.

And if Iran is allowed to go nuclear, these countries will beat a path to
any number of nuclear bomb stores.

Some argue that a multipolar nuclear Middle East will adhere to the rules of
mutual assured destruction. Assuming this is true, the fact remains that the
violent Iranian response to an Israeli strike against its nuclear
installations will look like a minor skirmish in comparison to the
conventional wars that will break out in a Middle East in which everyone has
the bomb.

And in truth, there is no reason to believe that a Middle East in which
everyone has nuclear weapons is a Middle East that adheres to the rules of
MAD. A recent Zogby/University of Maryland poll of Arab public opinion taken
for the Brookings Institute in US-allied Arab states Egypt, Lebanon,
Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE shows that the Arab world is populated by
jihadists.

As Herb London from the Hudson Institute pointed out in an analysis of the
poll, nearly 70 percent of those polled said the leader they most admire is
either a jihadist or a supporter of jihad.

The most popular leaders were Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan,
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah chieftain Hassan
Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and al-Qaida leader Osama bin
Laden.

So if popular revolutions bring down any of the teetering despotic regimes
now occupying the seats of power in the Arab world, they will likely be
replaced by jihadists. Moreover, since an Iranian nuclear bomb would empower
the most radical, destabilizing forces in pan-Arab society, the likelihood
that a despot would resort to a nuclear strike on a Western or Israeli
target in order to stay in power would similarly rise.

All of this should not be beyond the grasp of an experienced strategic
thinker like Riedel. And yet, obviously, it is. Moreover, as an alumnus of
the Clinton administration, Riedel’s positions in general are more realistic
than those of the Obama administration. As Israeli officials acknowledge,
the Obama administration is only now coming to terms with the fact that its
engagement policy towards Iran has failed.

Moreover, throughout the US government, the White House is the most stubborn
defender of the notion that the Iranian nuclear threat is not as serious a
threat as the absence of a Palestinian state. That is, President Barack
Obama himself is the most strident advocate of a US Middle East policy that
ignores all the dangers the US faces in the region and turns American guns
against the only country that doesn’t threaten any US interest.

And now, facing this state of affairs, Israeli leaders today still argue
that issuing a Foreign Ministry communiqué declaring the fueling of the
Bushehr nuclear reactor “unacceptable,” and beginning worthless negotiations
with Fatah leaders is a rational and sufficient Israeli policy.

WHAT LIES behind this governmental fecklessness? There are two possible
explanations for the government’s behavior. Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu may be motivated by operational concerns or he may be motivated by
political concerns.

On the operational level, the question guiding Israel’s leaders is when is
the optimal time to attack? The fact that government sources say that it
would have been diplomatically suicidal to attack before Bushehr became
operational last weekend makes it clear that nonmilitary considerations are
the determining factor for Israel’s leadership. Yet what Riedel’s article
and the clear positions of the Obama administration demonstrate is that
there is no chance that nonmilitary conditions will ever be optimal for
Israel. Moreover, as Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor shows,
Israel can achieve its strategic objectives even without US support for its
operations.

From a military perspective, it is clear that it would have been better to
strike Iran’s nuclear installations before the Russians fueled Bushehr.

Any attack scenario from now on will have to either accept the prospect of
nuclear fallout or accept leaving Bushehr intact. Indeed from a military
perspective, the longer Israel waits to attack Iran, the harder it will
become to accomplish the mission.

So unless Israel’s leaders are unaware of strategic realities, the only
plausible explanation for Netanyahu’s decision to sit by idly as Israel’s
military options were drastically diminished over the weekend is that he was
moved by domestic political considerations.

And what might those political considerations be? Clearly he wasn’t
concerned with a lack of public support. Consistent, multiyear polling data
show that the public overwhelmingly supports the use of force to prevent
Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Then there is the issue of Netanyahu’s coalition.

It cannot be that Netanyahu believes that he can build a broader coalition
to support an attack on Iran than he already has by bringing Kadima into his
government. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is not a great supporter of an Israeli
attack on Iran. Livni views being liked by Obama as more important than
preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state.

The prospect of a Kadima splinter party led by former defense minister Shaul
Mofaz joining the coalition is also raised periodically. Yet experience
indicates there is little chance of that happening.

Mofaz apparently dislikes Netanyahu more than he dislikes the notion of
facing a nuclear-armed Iran (and a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia and Egypt and
etc., etc., etc.).

Only one possibility remains: Netanyahu must have opted to sit on his hands
as Bushehr was powered up because of opposition he faces from within his
government. There is only one person in Netanyahu’s coalition who has both
the strategic dementia and the political power to force Netanyahu to accept
the unacceptable.

That person is Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Barak’s strategic ineptitude is legendary. It was most recently on display
in the failed naval commando takeover of the Turkish-Hamas terror ship Mavi
Marmara. It was Barak’s idea to arm naval commandos with paintball guns and
so guarantee that they would be attacked and forced to use lethal force to
defend themselves.

Barak’s ability to dictate government policy was most recently demonstrated
in his obscene abuse of power in the appointment of the IDF’s next chief of
staff. Regardless of whether the so-called “Galant Document,” which set out
a plan to see Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant appointed to replace outgoing IDF Chief
of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, was forged or authentic, it is clear that
its operative clauses were all being implemented by Barak’s own office for
the past several months. So, too, despite the fact that the document is
still the subject of police investigation, Barak successfully strong-armed
Netanyahu into agreeing to his lightning appointment of Galant.

Even if Galant is the best candidate for the position, it is clear that
Barak did the general no favors by appointing him in this manner. He
certainly humiliated and discredited the General Staff.

Barak is the Obama administration’s favorite Israeli politician. While
Netanyahu is shunned, Barak is feted in Washington nearly every month. And
this makes sense. As the man directly responsible for Israel’s defense and
with his stranglehold on the government, he alone has the wherewithal to
enable the entire Middle East to go nuclear.

How’s that for unacceptable?

caroline@carolineglick.com

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