Monday, August 30, 2004

One could be forgiven, in light of recent headlines and press accounts, for wondering precisely who the enemy is in this war on terror. For some people, it clearly seems the list should include — if not be headed by — a democratic ally that has been subjected, per capita, to considerably more sustained and deadly terrorist attacks than the United States: Israel.

This argument requires Israel to be seen not for what it is — namely, a longstanding U.S. partner in a strategically vital region of the world where few exist, one that shares America’s values and is a bulwark against the rising tide of anti-Western Islamist extremism. Israel must, instead, be portrayed as perfidious, pursuing an international agenda divergent from (if not actually at odds with) that of the United States and a liability, rather than an asset.

Those who would portray Israel in such an unflattering light doubtless are gleeful over leaks claiming the Jewish State surreptitiously obtained state secrets from a U.S. government employee working for the Pentagon. At this writing, no evidence has been provided to support such charges. Nor has anyone been apprehended — although, for several days, the FBI has been described as poised to arrest someone employed by the Defense Department’s policy organization. Only time will tell whether anyone actually is taken into custody, the type of charges and whether he is actually found guilty.

In the meantime, these leaks have already diverted attention from a nation that genuinely should head the list of America’s foes: the terrorist-sponsoring, nuclear-arming and ballistic missile-wielding Islamist government of Iran. This effect has been all the more ironic insofar as, according to press accounts, the classified information the FBI thinks was improperly purveyed to Israel involved documents shedding light on America’s evolving policy toward the Iranian mullahocracy.

Strategic analyst Steven Daskal recently offered a reminder of the peril posed by Iran: “While the Islamic Republic of Iran as a state is technically not at war with the U.S., Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa calling for total war by all Shi’ites, regardless of citizenship, against the ‘Great Satan America’ remains in effect — it has never been rescinded, and in fact was expanded to include killing Americans as being a necessary part of a defensive jihad to make the world safe for Islam. Khomeini’s pioneering pseudo-theology was later picked up by Sunni extremists, including Osama bin Laden.”

In a thoughtful article in the Aug. 23 New York Post, Amir Taheri recounted how Khomeini and his successors have translated that fatwa into a 25-year-long war against the United States — waged asymmetrically, both directly (for example, in attacks against U.S. embassies and personnel) and indirectly (through terrorist proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq and Shi’ite warlords in Afghanistan). Mr. Taheri correctly observes “the Khomeinist revolution defines itself in opposition to a vision of the world that it regards as an American imposition. … With or without nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic, in its present shape, represents a clear and present threat to the kind of Middle East that President Bush says he wants to shape.”

Therefore, for the U.S., stopping Tehran’s Islamist government before it obtains the means to carry out threats to attack Americans forces in Iraq and elsewhere should be an urgent priority. For Israel, however, denying the ruling Iranian mullahs nuclear arms is literally a matter of national life and death.

Israel’s concern about the growing existential threat from Iran can only be heightened by overtures Sen. John Kerry and his running mate have been making lately to Tehran. In remarks Monday, vice presidential candidate John Edwards said a Kerry administration would offer the Iranians a “great bargain”: They could keep their nuclear energy program and obtain for it Western supplies of enriched uranium fuel, provided the regime in Tehran promised to forswear nuclear weapons. According to Mr. Edwards, if Iran did not accept this “bargain,” everyone — including our European allies — would recognize the true, military purpose of this program and would “stand with us” in levying on Iran “very heavy sanctions.”

There is just one problem: Based on what is known about Iran’s program and intentions — let alone its history of animus toward us — only the recklessly naive could still believe such a deal is necessary to divine the mullahs’ true purposes.

While it may be inconvenient to say so, Iran is clearly putting into place a complete nuclear fuel cycle so as to obtain both weapons and power from its reactor and enrichment facilities. And a deal like that on offer from Messrs. Kerry and Edwards failed abysmally in North Korea.

If the United States is unwilling to take concrete steps to prevent the Iranian Bomb from coming to fruition, its Israeli ally will likely feel compelled to act unilaterally — just as it did with the 1981 raid that neutralized Saddam Hussein’s nuclear infrastructure. At the time, the Reagan administration joined the world in sharply protesting Israel’s attack.

A decade later, however, the value of the contribution thus made to American security was noted by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who said he thanked God every day during Operation Desert Storm that Israel had kept Iraq a nuclear-free zone. If such a counterproliferation strategy becomes necessary once again, it will be in all of our interests to have Israel succeed.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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