IRAN: New Israeli government reignites war talk
After dying down for a few months amid U.S. elections, rumors of an impending Israeli war against Iran's nuclear facilities have resurfaced again, and with a vengeance.
On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres seemingly threatened military action against Iran if President Obama's diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear failed.
If Obama's proposal of talks don't change Iran's approach, "we'll strike him," he said, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to reports citing an Israeli radio interview.
Iran has long denied it is seeking nuclear weapons and insists its drive toward mastering the production of nuclear fuel is aimed at advancing the country's industrial and technological capacity. The U.S., Israel and Western European powers are highly suspicious of the nuclear program.
The Bush administration dangled the prospect of preemptive war against Iran to prevent it from gaining access to nuclear weapons technology, talk that died down in the final year of the presidency.
The latest round of war talk began with the ascent of the conservative Likud-led government in Israel. In an oft-cited interview, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Jeffrey Goldberg, a former prison guard for the Israel Defense Forces, that Israel would attack Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons if the U.S. didn't.
In a thoughtful and critical piece in the online magazine Slate, writer David Samuels argues that Israel will attack Iran to prevent it from becoming a regional hegemon that could supplant the Jewish state's cozy status as America's No. 1 Middle East enforcer.
"The key fact of the American-Israeli alliance that most commentators seem eager to elide is that Israel is America's leading ally in the Middle East because it is the most powerful country in the Middle East," Samuels writes. "An attack on Iran might be risky in dozens of ways, but it would certainly do wonders for restoring Israel's capacity for game-changing military action."
But what about the day after the attack? Samuels believes that Israel could in one fell swoop attack Iran's nuclear and economic infrastructure and turn Iran into "a paper tiger" that would be trying to rebuild for decades.
Samuels hasn't spent a lot of time in Iran lately. Iran isn't Iraq, which was battered by 12 years of sanctions before the U.S.-led invasion. Since the 1988 end of the Iran-Iraq war, it has become a minor industrial power in its own right, producing hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles a year.
It's also a large nation with a relatively educated population of more than 70 million. It could rebuild both its damaged nuclear and oil infrastructure in a reasonable amount of time, just as it managed to do during and immediately after its eight-war with Iraq, analysts say.
In fact, many Iran analysts speculate that Iran has already factored in an Israeli or U.S. attack on its nuclear facilities and created an alternate clandestine program somewhere.
Indeed, while arms inspectors have access to Iran's known nuclear sites, they complain they are not able to visit the factories where such sensitive items as uranium-enriching centrifuges are made. Intelligence on how many centrifuges Iran has produced and where they are is scant.
Also left unclarified in all the war talk is when would Iran cross the red line that would trigger an attack? Is Iran obtaining nuclear weapons capability? According to some experts, Iran already has the technical know-how to build a nuclear weapon within a few years.
Iran has also already mastered the enrichment of uranium. Scientists say Iran's supply of low-enriched uranium is already theoretically enough to build a bomb, if Iran were to further refine its supply in a move that would be a clear violation of Tehran's treaty obligations and trigger all sorts of alarm bells.
Most experts believe Iran won't make such a move.
There's also the question of what the U.S. would do. Reports emerged last year that even President Bush refused to sell Israel weapons it wanted for a possible strike against Iran and dispatched Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to tell Israel to hold off on any possible attacks.
The U.S. knows that in response to an Israeli attack, Iran and its allies could wage serious asymmetrical warfare against U.S. military personnel and interests in the Middle East and South Asia, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and the oil-rich Persian Gulf, triggering a whole series of unintended consequences and costs, with American troops and consumers likely picking up the tab.
Peres also admitted that Israel could not carry out a strike against Iran without America's OK.
"We certainly cannot go it alone, without the U.S.," he said. "And we definitely can't go against the U.S."
— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveils domestically manufactured fuel rods at a fuel manufacturing plant during its inauguration ceremony in the central province of Esfahan last week. Credit: Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty Images