- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

The countdown to war between Israel and Iran has begun. Earlier this week, Tehran announced that it test-fired long-range missiles capable of striking Israel, Egypt, parts of Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf.

“Iran has successfully test-fired long-range Shahab missiles with multiple warheads,” the country’s state-run media reported, adding that the launch was designed to “boost the armed forces’ deterrent capabilities.”

The test-fire came on the eve of Yom Kippur and just two days after the White House disclosed that Iran had developed a new uranium-enrichment facility — the first step to developing an atomic bomb. Current Intelligence reports estimate that Iran could enrich enough fissile material to develop a nuclear warhead within one to three years.

Tehran insists its program is strictly for civilian energy production. This is laughable. Iran has one of the largest natural-gas reserves in the world. The idea that it would risk a path of global destabilization in order to develop an energy source that is actually more costly than its gas-fueled plants is preposterous. Tehran’s program is clearly aimed at developing a nuclear bomb. Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly stated that “Iran is working … on a nuclear [weapons] program.”

Israel, which is known as a single-bomb state because it would take one bomb to wipe it off the map, cannot let that happen.

Iran is already one of the foremost sponsors of terrorism in the world. If Iran achieves nuclear capability, it will undoubtedly step up its support to terrorist regimes. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad consistently refers to Israel as a cancerous tumor and has previously pledged to wipe Israel off the map. If Iran achieves nuclear-enrichment capacity, it will likely give a bomb to Syria, and perhaps even Hezbollah.

The idea of a nuclear Iran funneling weapons to groups that openly seek to bring about a cataclysm is terrifying. Hezbollah would not hesitate to attack the United States or one of its allies. Even if such groups are unable to launch a direct attack on the United States, they could target Saudi oil reserves and effectively bring this country — and the global economy — to a halt.

Moreover, Iranian development of a nuclear bomb would almost certainly kick-start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East — further destabilizing the region. Can you imagine every Gulf state leader with his finger on a nuclear trigger? Nuclear proliferation throughout a region infested with radical religious doctrines, diminished economic possibilities and an unyielding belief in the after-life is a recipe for cataclysm. The United States must face this reality by making it clear that it will respond with devastating force if Iran continues its rogue nuclear program.

But even the threat of devastating force may not be enough to deter Iran. The republic seems convinced that the United States — fatigued from war in Iraq and Afghanistan — will not attack. The mullahs know that the U.N. is impotent. Though President Obama has responded with threats of severe sanctions if Iran continues with its enrichment program, such sanctions are essentially meaningless without the full support of Russia and China — both of whom clearly enjoy the problems that Iran is causing America and Europe. Saber rattling aside, Tehran has no real reason to feel immediately threatened by the United States.

The wild card in all of this is Israel. If upcoming peace talks between the United States and Tehran are unsuccessful, Israel will almost certainly declare war on Iran. Stage 1 would involve airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, since many of these facilities are underground, it is possible that Israel would be unable to completely disable Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. In response, Iran would launch short-range missiles from Lebanon. At which point, Israel would have to decide whether to wipe Iran off the map with a full-fledged nuclear attack.

The clearest way to avoid this scenario might be for Mr. Obama to set a hard timetable for Iran to abandon its program. However appealing the idea of purely diplomatic talks, the reality is that Iran views the United States as an evil empire. Making concessions to the United States would be tantamount to political suicide for Mr. Ahmadinejad. He would lose all credibility in the Muslim world.

This is precisely why Mr. Obama must make it clear that he will not allow Iran to merely buy time through talks. The more time we give Iran, the more successful it will be at hiding underground enrichment facilities and further securing its nuclear program. Diplomacy must be imbued with the credible threat of force. The United States must declare that it will employ devastating force to prevent a nuclear Iran.

In order to bolster its position, the United States should provide Israel with the “bunker-busting” bombs necessary to destroy Iran’s underground enrichment facilities. At the same time, the United States must lead an international coalition to combat Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. That coalition must not only impose economic sanctions, it must focus military and intelligence efforts in the region, including — but not limited to — the sale of anti-ballistic missiles to Gulf states. Finally, the United States must publicly proclaim that it will support Israel’s right to protect itself through pre-emptive attacks. In short, the United States must make it clear that Tehran’s nuclear brinkmanship threatens not just Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political survival, but also the survival of the Iranian republic.

Taking a hard stand will be unpopular. It will take an immense commitment at a time when U.S. military resources are already severely depleted. But treating Iran with kid gloves will only precipitate Iran’s march toward nuclear capacity — and World War III and the long anticipated Armageddon.

• “The Armstrong Williams Show” is broadcast weeknights on XM Satellite’s Power 169 channel from 9 to 10 p.m.

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