Special Report

Israel’s Existential Threat

Israel won't live with a nuclear Iran, and time is running out for a diplomatic resolution.

By 11.18.08

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Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran and is prepared to take military action to prevent the possibility of the Islamic regime obtaining such weapons should diplomacy fail, according to a senior Israeli security source.

"If you consider the prospect of military action, you have to consider the alternative of a nuclear Iran, and that reality is worse than the consequences of any military action," the source said in an interview conducted last week in Tel Aviv.

In the United States, there is a vibrant debate over how seriously to take the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear power. In the wake of the Iraq War, there is little appetite among Americans to launch a military strike on another nation in the Middle East in the name of preventing it from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. Some American analysts argue that the Iranian regime would never risk its own demise by using nuclear weapons, and they have dismissed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that Israel should be "wiped off the map" as mere rhetoric.

But in Israel, the issue is a lot less muddy. While dangers from Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups persist, a nuclear Iran would threaten Israel's very existence. A majority of the country's population resides on a narrow strip of land along the coast, north and south of Tel Aviv, making the prospect of a nuclear blast in the area catastrophic. With the memory of the Holocaust seared into the minds of Israelis, they don't have the luxury of debating whether or not to take Ahmadinejad at his word.

"There's no margin of error, because you can't take the risk that they have the capability, and that it's only a matter of intentions," the security source explained. Iran could decide that they "have the ability to finish the Jewish problem once and for all…so this is something we cannot tolerate."

The source said "the international community's pressure on Iran isn't efficient" and predicted that "the window of opportunity will close, and soon. We're not talking about decades, but years. Perhaps months."

Asked specifically whether or not Israel would resort to military action, the source responded by saying that "all the options are on the table and relevant."

Noting reports that Iran had learned a lot from Israel's air strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981 and had spread out its nuclear facilities and buried them under bunkers, TAS asked, "Do you think there is a viable military option?"

The source then repeated the earlier statement about keeping all options on the table, but placed special emphasis on the words "and relevant," later adding that, "there is a point that we may be forced to take action because of the alternative."

Meanwhile, an Israeli official familiar with the ongoing diplomatic efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran argued that there were still tools that could be employed against Iran to resolve the issue without military action, but said that at the moment, Iran seems intent on continuing its nuclear program.

"You don't find a lot of countries on Earth as determined as Iran," the official said.

According to the source, the combination of diplomatic and economic warfare could be effective in thwarting the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian regime, especially with the price of oil declining, and given the fact that Iran imports a majority of its refined oil. The problem is that at the moment, the UN Security Council process remains "frozen" and Russia and China have prevented sanctions that would have had more teeth.

Over the course of the campaign President-elect Barack Obama called for engaging Iran, even famously vowing to hold unconditional talks directly with President Ahmadinejad. The position makes Israelis nervous because it could allow Iran to buy more time to perfect its uranium enrichment capacity.

"Israel is not ideologically opposed to engagement, but we don't want to put the cart before the horse," the official said.

Citing a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the official explained that Iran had overcome many technological challenges, and once it mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, it could be well on its way to obtaining nuclear weapons should it decide to go that route.

"Iran is trying to run out the clock, and the international community keeps struggling for a magic formula, and it hasn't found one yet," the official said.


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Philip Klein is The American Spectator's Washington correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Philipaklein