- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A prominent Democratic senator, now deceased, once said to me when we were discussing the possibility of Saddam Hussein acquiring nuclear weapons: “So what if he gets one dirty little bomb — maybe he can reach Tel Aviv or some other nearby place, no more.” Remembering with whom he was talking, he quickly changed the subject. I was reminded of this reading French President Jacques Chirac’s recent interview in which he said that Iran’s possession of a nuclear bomb would not be “very dangerous” — adding: “where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel? It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed.” Well, thank you very much. The Elysee quickly backtracked, stressing that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable” and that its nuclear program was “dangerous for the region.”

President Bush in his State of the Nation speech rightly identified Iran and its terrorist surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Hamas, as the principal threats to international peace. And, indeed, considering Iran’s record and its undisguised ambition to become the pre-eminent military and political superpower in the Middle East — which among other things, means controlling most of the world’s oil supplies — any other conclusion is an exercise in self-delusion. However, the latter is precisely the attitude of many, especially though not exclusively in Europe.

Though outwardly the Europeans agree, for instance, that there should be economic steps against Iran in accordance with the watered-down U.N. Security Council resolution — many European, Russian and Chinese oil companies have just held a meeting with the National Oil Co. of Iran with the aim of increasing the cooperation with that country. One of these groups, the French oil company Total S.A. is going ahead with a liquefied-natural-gas project in northern Iran, while other European companies are weighing similar arrangements.

Though many European governments are paying lip service to the call to limit economic ties with Iran, in practice most tend to ignore it. In response to America warning European oil and gas companies against investing in Iran, the spokesperson of one French oil company reportedly said: “We respect the French law, the European laws; we are not obliged to respect American law.”

Some European governments also refuse to go along with American requests to curtail banking relations with Iranian banks (some of which are known to finance Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic projects as well as terrorist activities around the world), to stop issuing loan guarantees for exports to Iran and freeze certain Iranian assets. All of the above, by the way, contravenes the two-year bargain promoted by Europe in which the United States agreed to support European efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis over the Iranian nuclear program.

Why does all this sound so frighteningly familiar? Because before and during World War II Swiss and other banks, as well as more than a few industrial firms, refused to stop business activities with Nazi Germany — with the result that Hitler’s regime was able to prolong the war and continue its nefarious activities far longer than it would have otherwise.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on his own initiative, has seized upon the idea to bring about a large-scale “divestment” of Western funds from the Iranian economy. “It worked in the case of apartheid South Africa, didn’t it — why not against an economically and technologically much more vulnerable Iran?” he tells statesmen and diplomats around the world.

Iran may be no more than two to three years (“optimists” say five) away from having the bomb, but most of the world continues to dither, and in some cases even to cooperate with it. One attitude that is gaining ground these days, not only in Europe but even in the United States, goes as follows: “We’ve got to be realistic about this, the ayatollahs are going to have their bomb, whether we like it or not.” In fact, many of the international “experts” who not so long ago claimed that there was no “proof” that Tehran actually wanted to go nuclear, now say, “We can live with a nuclear Iran” — or like the two U.S. government-financed scholars at the National Defense University, that “despite its rhetoric, [the U.S.], may have no choice.” The emphasis in the “we can live with it” school seems to be on the word “we” — and if that too sounds familiar it is because it reminds us of the appeasers at the time of Munich who believed that no harm would come to them from Hitler if they would let him do what he wanted to some “far-away” country called Czechoslovakia.

I cannot help but agree with the senior German diplomat who recently said to me that most European leaders have a “Munich” mentality. Hitler, of course, had no atomic bombs (though he tried to get them), but Iran’s Ahmadinejad, unless stopped, will.

The forementioned “experts” also maintain that “if the Iranians know what’s good for them” they are never going to use the bomb. Well, perhaps — but what if they do, or in other words, what if the decision-makers in Tehran, in tune with their jihadist dogma, believe that annihilating the “infidels” would be worth the price of expediting hundreds of thousands of their own citizens to the Islamist paradise? The New York Times as is its wont, wants to have it both ways: “We have no doubt about Iran’s malign intentions” says one of its editorials, but “more threats and posturing are unlikely to get Iran to back down.” The editorial is not alone in believing that diplomacy is the answer.

One can only wish that it is right — but what if not?

Ambassador Zalma Shoval served as a member of the Israeli Knesset and the Sharon government.

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