- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008



“I warn you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity, which has reached the end of the line.” That, from earlier this year, was but one of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hysterical verbal assaults on a fellow member of the United Nations. If there is a regime anywhere on the globe whose leader regularly and volubly looks forward to the “destruction” of another nation, I’m not familiar with it. (Mr. Ahmadinejad actually anticipates the annihilation of two nations, since he has also spoken of a world without the United States.)

In recent days, Iran has punctuated its threats against Israel and others with a display of missile might, firing intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can reach the entire Middle East and parts of Europe.

In May, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a nine-page report detailing suspicions about Iran’s nuclear program. Accusing the Iranian government of a willful lack of cooperation with international inspections, the report claims the Iranian military has had a major role in Iran’s supposedly domestic and peaceful nuclear energy program.

Someone should fax a copy of the IAEA’s report to our intelligence agencies. Last year, in what will someday be remembered as an infamous National Intelligence Estimate, the spy agencies pronounced that Iran abandoned its intentions of building nuclear weapons in 2003. As former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and others explained, the report was pure whistling past the graveyard. It was surely one of the Bush administration’s low points that this misleading, irresponsible analysis was not more forcefully rebutted.

Actually, aside from Barack Obama’s suggested one-on-one meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad, President Bush’s policy toward Iran has not differed much from the one advanced by Mr. Obama. In concert with Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, we’ve offered lots and lots of carrots in the form of light water nuclear reactors, commercial aircraft, direct negotiations, and other goodies if Iran would agree to suspend enriching uranium.

This offer was first floated in 2004. It was rejected. In 2006, a slightly altered package was offered. It, too, was rejected. And just last week, the Iranian regime reiterated it would not cease enriching uranium no matter what “incentives” were dangled by the international community. Could it be they want the weapons, not world approbation?

Incentives and sweeteners were ineffective. And Iran has, correctly in my judgment, sized up the military threat it faces. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he does not believe Israel or the United States will attack Iran’s nuclear sites. The United States, he explained, is bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is suffering a declining economy. “We do not foresee such a possibility at the moment.” Nor, Mr. Mottaki claims, does his government worry about an attack by Israel, whose government is weak.

And yet, if Iran were to threaten Israel with a nuclear strike, the results might not be as tolerable for Iran as former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani predicted a few years ago. Iran should use its nuclear weapons (when it gets them) against Israel, he said, because one bomb would utterly destroy Israel whereas a counterattack would do “damages only” to Iran.

But Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has analyzed the nightmare scenario of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel and comes to a very different conclusion. Obviously, any nuclear attack suffered by any country would be a catastrophe - particularly for one so small as Israel.

But Israel is believed to possess nuclear weapons of much greater power and yield than any weapon Iran is likely to get in the near future. Mr. Cordesman estimates that Iran would launch a 100-kiloton bomb, which can inflict third-degree burns at a distance of 8 miles. But Israel would use 1-megaton bombs that inflict such burns at 24 miles.

Israel’s arsenal is also large, estimated at about 200 warheads, with multiple delivery methods, including submarine-launched cruise missiles. If forced into a nuclear war (God forbid), Israel would probably aim for Tehran, a city of about 15 million, Mr. Cordesman says, “in a topographical basin with mountain reflector. Nearly ideal nuclear killing ground.”

The great unknown is this: How crazy is the Iranian regime?

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.



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