Israel and the Iranian Bomb

On April 27, four days before being cleared of all charges in the AIPAC case, Steven J. Rosen assessed the Iranian threat for the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia. Mr. Rosen is a visiting fellow at the Middle East Forum where he focuses on the Iranian threat. He is also director of the Forum's Washington Project, for which he edits the Obama Mideast Monitor blog and the Policy Forum series of essays. After earning a Ph.D. from Syracuse, Dr. Rosen held faculty positions at several universities; he then served as the director of foreign policy issues for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee from 1982 to 2005.

He outlined how the threat first emerged and developed over the past fifteen years, as the West's attention was directed elsewhere. Such negligence has led to the fact that Tehran currently poses the single greatest immediate danger to Israel, the Arab world, and possibly even the United States.

Aside from well-known facts, such as Iran's sponsorship of Hamas in Gaza and insurgent forces in Iraq, recent months have witnessed further examples of Iran's unchecked belligerence: Iranian-backed Hezbollah continues to destabilize Lebanon; Iranian operatives were arrested in Egypt for plotting to overthrow the government; Iran occupies islands belonging to the United Arab Emirates; and the speaker of the Iranian parliament has claimed that Bahrain is part of his country.

Most disturbing of all, Iran is on pace to complete its first nuclear weapon as early as next year. Mr. Rosen warned that this would redraw the strategic landscape of the Middle East. On the one hand, the mullahs might decide to use the bomb as soon as it becomes operational, fearing an Israeli strike. The constant hate-mongering emanating from the theocrats makes this a distinct possibility. On the other hand, an emboldened Iran could employ "a nuclear weapon as an umbrella," deterring responses to its aggression. Mr. Rosen further opined that if Iran obtains the bomb, Arab nations will feel more pressured to attain their own, creating an even more volatile Middle East.

Diplomatically, the Obama administration is reaching out to Iran, an approach that Mr. Rosen does not oppose, though he predicts will prove futile. With Iranian elections scheduled for June, negotiations are not likely to commence until fall. Mr. Rosen expects Barack Obama ultimately to tire of being strung along by the mullahs. But when? And will that be too late? How many more months must then pass as the U.S. government works to convince an increasingly complacent international community to apply drastic pressure on Iran? Time is short; Mr. Rosen further doubts that even the strongest economic sanctions could stop Iran as it enters its "final sprint" toward nuclear armament.

In such a desperate scenario, Israeli leaders may see no alternative but to take matters into their own hands, even if an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities lead to significant problems for the United States, which has vulnerable assets and interests at stake in the region. Another consideration is the fact that, even if the U.S. is not involved with an Israeli operation, the former would be viewed as a collaborator due to its airspace control of the Middle East, not to mention the popular conspiracy theories that conflate Israeli policies with U.S. policies and vice-versa. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu who, according to Mr. Rosen, is "not a dove," would have a "pretty formidable assignment to strike Iran against the will of your principal ally."

However, as Rosen noted, Israel is "not necessarily a permanent fact." Faced with this existential threat, Israel may risk striking Iran in the hope of avoiding the more apocalyptic risk of a nuclear-armed, millenarian Islamist state that has openly and vociferously made clear time and time again its intentions of wiping Israel from the map.

The sooner the Obama administration acknowledges and responds to these stark facts, the better for all concerned. If left alone and forced to make a decision, in the interest of survival, Israel may have no choice but to choose the lesser of two evils and attack.

Summary account by David Rusin.

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