Something is definitely going on between Israel and Iran. More behind-the-scenes diplomacy? Plotting tougher sanctions? Or is something real finally in the works? It’s not quite clear what that “something” may be. Uncertainty is exactly what the Israelis prescribe for now.
The window of opportunity to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapons program is swiftly closing, Western intelligence sources say. The Israelis, who have everything to lose, understand that if they’re going to do something about a foe building a nuclear weapon while boasting that it will “wipe Israel off the map,” the time to act is soon upon them.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an agency of the United Nations, is expected to release this week a long-awaited finding of what it has further learned about the Iranian nuclear program. It’s expected to confirm what everybody, except maybe the CIA, knows is going on in Iran. The document, say inside sources, will supply new evidence that the Iranians are working on a nuclear bomb and computer modeling of how to use it.
The IAEA investigators, The Washington Post reported Sunday, learned that nuclear scientists from the old Soviet Union, perhaps rogues in it only for the money, and from Pakistan, an “ally” of the United States, have joined North Korea to work for the Iranians to build the high-precision detonators needed to set off the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion.
The usual suspects are lining up to urge the West to go back to sleep and let the diplomats, who have been so effective in the past, handle things. Russia and China, ever eager to be helpful, have warned that publishing anything about the looming crisis will damage delicate diplomacy. They say this with the straight face that so impresses other diplomats in Foggy Bottom and other places where the terminally naive sip their herbal tea and tut-tut everything Israel does to defend itself.
The IAEA report, if it is anything like it is expected to be, will reject the infamous CIA conclusion sent to the White House four years ago that the Iranians had halted “weaponization” work. (That’s just how the rascals talk.) British news agency Reuters reported that “a senior U.S. military official” says Iran has become “the biggest threat to the United States,” and the president of Israel says “the military option” is “nearer.”
The Iranians deny everything, naturally, with the usual blah, blah, blah that nobody actually listens to. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran who is in charge of purple rhetoric but who defers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to make the important decisions, such as when to actually build a bomb, says the United States started all the talk because Iran is now the military equal of the United States and Israel. The Americans fear the prowess of the Iranians, the president boasts.
Rumor, gossip, hearsay and speculation abound in the region as usual, but the Jerusalem Post observes that this time “there is no question that something is afoot.” Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, and Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense, have traded recent visits, and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA, was recently in Jerusalem. So was Adm. James G. Stavridis, the chief of the U.S. European Command. The Guardian in London reports that the British generals and admirals are drafting contingency plans for British participation in an attack, led by the United States, on the Iranian nuclear works. There’s a contingency plan for nearly everything, no matter how improbable, in the vaults of the big powers; when you need an order of battle it’s too late to draw one. There’s probably a British contingency plan to renew the hostilities at Yorktown. But we’re talking about serious contingencies.
The Obama administration tries to dampen speculation about what’s up and what America might do to help - or hinder - an Israeli bombing mission. Barack Obama’s dearest wish might be to tilt toward the Muslims, but a decisive strike against the Iranian troublemakers could be a dramatic diversion from his soggy election-year prospects, making him an unlikely war hero. There’s no great enthusiasm for war in Israel, either. Iran has 50,000 missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel, and an Israeli strike on Iran would have to be accompanied by a simultaneous strike on Hezbollah missile sites close to home.
“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” as Winston Churchill famously said. But not always. Survival is always better than the alternative, achieved by any means necessary.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.