The Israeli perspective

For 18 years Iran misled the International Atomic Energy Agency, violated the safeguards agreement and failed to report the full scope of its nuclear activities to the IAEA. Then one fine day it decided to admit its deception. Israel was perhaps the only country that detected what was happening in Iran at an early stage, and it had repeatedly claimed th! at Iran was deceiving the IAEA. We recall that regarding Iraq,! too, it was Israel that argued in the late 1970s-early 1980s that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weaponry. Washington initially rejected these reports, and ultimately Israel was obliged to invoke a military solution and bomb the Iraqi reactor in 1981–but only after the Iranians tried first, and failed.

Israel appears to possess extensive intelligence information on Iranian nuclear activities. While those activities have suffered a variety of delays, there can be no doubt that military nuclear development is the objective of the Tehran regime. Israel views this as a serious threat, frequently defining it as existential in nature. Iran’s diplomatic maneuvers–one step back, two steps forward–are intended to play for time until it achieves the status of regional nuclear power. This assessment is now shared by the United States and leading European countries.

The Iranian nuclearization issue should be understood as not restricted to Iran alone. The problem is far more comprehensive and dangerous because it is obvious that after Iran, additional Middle East states will seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Why, for example, shouldn’t Egypt try? Why shouldn’t Saudi Arabia attempt to acquire nuclear weaponry or know-how from Pakistan? Why won’t Sunni Arab states fear an extremist Shi’ite Iran that has acquired nuclear weapons?

Concern over Iran is particularly great because of the nature and behavior of the regime that rules there. The negative ramifications are doubled when the finger on the nuclear trigger is that of an extremist Shi’ite ayatollah. Iran finances organizations like Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizballah and supports the use of violence against Israel and Israelis. Washington had good reason to define Iran as a member of the axis of evil. Most recently, Israel is doubly worried since the president of Iran called for its destruction and claimed that the Holocaust of WWII never took place, thereby earning the condemnation of leaders worldwide. This combination of a nuclear weapons program, calls for the annihilation of Israel and funding of acts of terror requires an aggressive response against Iran.

Obviously, Israel has good reason to prepare itself for every contingency, and this it is doing. It refrains from threatening Iran while preparing for the worst. Israel understands that Iran is not like Iraq. It is bigger, and its rulers have drawn lessons from the fate of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Israel’s basic approach holds that the problem of a nuclear Iran is not its problem alone, but that of the broader international community–and not only the United States: Iran projects a threat to the entire Middle East and to global stability. The surface-to-surface missiles it is developing reach far beyond Israel. Already they cover Saudi Arabia as well as Turkey, a member of NATO; the next generation of Iranian missiles will cover most of the European subcontinent.

Is there a military option for stopping Iran’s military nuclear project? If the question refers only to Israel, the answer is in the negative. If Israel senses a direct threat from the extremist regime in Tehran and feels the need to do so, it can severely punish Iran and cause a significant delay in its military nuclear development project. But I do not believe it can put a complete stop to the project by military means.

Undoubtedly, the US has a far greater military capability. Experts argue that it is not necessary to destroy all the nuclear targets in Iran in order to achieve this outcome. But for Washington the issue is not only military; it is political as well, particularly in view of the war in Iraq. In other words, this would have to be a military-political option for stopping Iran’s military nuclear project. At a broader level the international community, if it shows the determination, possesses a military option for stopping the Iranian project. This could be the outcome if Iran, under the leadership of extremist ayatollahs, violates its international commitments and threatens its neighbors.

Yet it is important to note that diplomatic and political maneuvers on this issue have not been exhausted. The Russian proposal that Iran exercise its "right" to enrich uranium on Russian territory is a good opening for an agreement–on condition that Tehran honor it in all respects.