Thursday, May 11, 2006

A U.S. and/or Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before November conjures up a dead duck rather than a lame duck at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and at the other, key congressional committees under the control of prominent liberals.

Charlie Rangel rewriting the tax code to penalize the rich and favor the disadvantaged? Barney Frank, John Conyers and Henry Waxman chairing key committees? America’s NATO allies siding with Russia and China in disassociating themselves from President Bush’s decision to defang Iran’s nuclear ambitions? This is what moderate Republicans can see if the decision is made to decapitate Iran’s nuclear ambitions before November’s congressional elections.

Yet Conservative Republicans, as polled by, a conservative web-based news service, show overwhelmingly strong support for bombing Iran. Almost 60,000 people took part in NewsMax’s poll and 88 percent agreed Iran poses a greater threat than Saddam Hussein did before the Iraq war.

Asked, “Should the U.S. undertake military action against Iran to stop their [nuclear] program?,” 77 percent replied yes, 23 percent no. Who should take military action against Iran first? The U.S. or Israel? Forty-five percent said the U.S., 35 percent Israel, and 20 percent said neither.

As for whether U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons are working, 93 percent said they weren’t. And roughly the same number — 89 percent — said the U.S. should not rely solely on the U.N.

All indications are that Israel does not plan to rely on either the U.N. or the United States. Vice President Dick Cheney said 18 months ago, “The Israelis may well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.”

At Israel’s National Day reception in Washington last week, an Israeli official, speaking privately and not for attribution said he believed Israel would strike first in the next “month or two or three” and that fighter bombers would not be involved as they were to take out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor before it went critical in 1981. For Osirak, Israel used 14 F-15s and F-16s. This time, the Israeli said, it will be missiles. Cruise missiles?, we inquired. No, he replied, with a gesture of his hand that went up and down again.

What about pinpointing tunnel entrances to widely scattered Iranian nuclear facilities? The Israeli responded Israel has its own geo-stationary spy-in-the-sky satellite taking constant pictures of Iran with a resolution down to 70 centimeters: “We know far more than anyone realizes.”

Israel has developed some 100 Jericho-II medium-range ballistic missiles (which entered service in 1989). Jericho II’s range varies from 1,500 to 3,500 kilometers, depending on payload weight. They are deployed in underground caves and silos.

Israel has several satellites in orbit — Ofeq-1 through Ofeq-5 — that were launched by Shavit space launch vehicles (SLV). The first two stages of the Shavit were Jericho II missiles. There are unconfirmed reports of an upgraded Jericho-3 missile with a range of over 3,000 kilometers.

For world opinion, rightly or wrongly, Israeli action against Iran could not take place without a green light from the White House. This wasn’t the case when Israel vaporized Iraq’s Osirak reactor June 7, 1981, at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. The Reagan White House said, “The U.S. government condemns the Israeli air strike… the unprecedented character of which cannot but seriously add to the already tense situation in the area.” Most other countries denounced Israel. It was the world’s first air strike against a nuclear plant.

Ten years later, then-Defense Secretary Cheney gave Israeli Air Force chief a satellite picture of the destroyed Osirak reactor inscribed, “For Gen. David Ivry, with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi Nuclear Program in 1981, which made our job much easier in Desert Storm.”

Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione reminds us the raid was also controversial in Israel. Half the Cabinet opposed bombing. The chief of Israeli Defense Force intelligence, Yehoshua Saguy, argued Israel should continue to seek a nonmilitary solution as it would take Iraq five to 10 years to produce the material for a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Menachem Begin finally opted for the worst-case estimate of one-year and gave the order to bomb.

Interestingly enough, the raid did not retard but actually accelerated Saddam Hussein’s program. Iraqi scientists debriefed since Saddam was overthrown say he had planned to slowly divert plutonium from the reactor, which was under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The diversion plan, explain the specialists, might have escaped detection but would have taken even longer than the 10 years estimated by Mr. Seguy.

Following the Israeli raid, Saddam, now obsessed, launched a secret underground program with some 7,000 assigned to produce weapons-grade uranium. Even the 43 days of U.S. bombing of Iraq in January and February 1991, that preceded the liberation of Kuwait, did not destroy Saddam’s hardened underground nuclear sites. That was achieved after the Gulf war — by U.N. teams. Since the mid-1990s, there was nothing left to destroy. But Saddam kept on equivocating as he wanted Iran to believe he still had some nukes to discourage his rival from settling scores in his moment of weakness.

The strategic deception worked ? in Washington.

This time Iran has clearly signaled a casus belli to Israel. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declares he intends to wipe Israel off the map and then goes to sea in a sieve by declaring the Holocaust a fiction, it is hard to escape the conclusion he wants Israel to bomb Iran.

A religious fanatic who believes the return of the 12th imam to Earth will be preceded by global death and destruction in his own lifetime, Mr. Ahmadinejad presumably sees an Israeli and/or U.S. attack against Iran closing Muslim ranks the world over against the imperialist infidels.

The State Department’s top proliferation official said the administration is determined to ensure “not one centrifuge spins in Iran.” Israel is certainly poised to stop the spinning.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Mr. Ahmadinejad a “psychopath who speaks like Hitler before taking power.” And Israel is not about to succumb to the appeasement of the 1930s. Or allow a suddenly conciliatory letter from Mr. Ahmadinejad to Mr. Bush to alter Israel’s view of mortal peril to its survival.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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