Israel has every reason to fear an Iranian nuclear weapon

In 2006 Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote: “I'd rather live with a nuclear Iran” because it’s “the wisest thing under the circumstances.” Friedman may think it wise but the Israelis and I do not. We are convinced that the Iranian leaders will launch a nuclear attack against the Jewish State whenever they have a red button to push.

Contrast Iran’s present leaders with the pre-Islamic Persian King Cyrus the Great. He is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible 23 times. In a letter written in 536 BC and quoted by the historian Josephus, Cyrus writes:

“I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before.”

I have often been asked: if Israel has a nuclear arsenal, and it does, why can’t Iran have one? And my answer is always the same: No Israeli leader threatens to wipe Iran off the map.

During the Cold War, the Russians and Americans operated under a doctrine called MAD (mutually assured destruction). It assumed, correctly, that no matter how bad things got between them -- the 1962 Cuban missile crisis is a case in point -- neither side wanted to see the other side exterminated. The Iranian leaders are neither insane nor irrational, but they do think differently. In a recent internal discussion, the text of which I have somewhere in my files they concluded: “We have 70 million people and Israel has 7 million. If we attack the Israelis with nuclear bombs, they will respond in kind. They will probably kill half of our people, but because of Israel’s location and size we shall kill all of the Israelis within nine minutes. If Allah wills it, after the exchange is over there will be no more Israelis and there will be 35 million Iranians.” 

Moreover, many Iranian leaders are Twelvers, apocalyptic Shiites who long for the re-emergence of Mohammad al-Mahdi, the so-called Twelfth Imam. The Mahdi was born in 869 and the Twelvers believe that he never died. They believe as well that after a universal cataclysm, Allah will let him return together with Jesus who will convert to Islam. Then there will be lasting peace and justice in this world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated over and over again that an Iran in possession of nuclear arms is an existential threat to Israel. He keeps begging US President Barack Obama to set “red lines” that, if crossed, would trigger an American military response. But the President will not do so, leaving me and most Israelis to wonder whether he’s avoiding a military engagement because he has decided to live with Iran’s becoming the world’s next nuclear-weapons power. 

I am convinced that he has. On September 18, 2013, he said that Tehran could keep its nuclear components if it promises not to weaponize them and assemble a bomb. On September 27, 2013, he  said: “Just now I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. I reiterated to him that I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.” Mr. Obama also said that Iran’s supreme leader “has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and that he has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.”

On March 5, 2013, General James Mattis, then the retiring head of the United States Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that diplomatic and economic efforts against Iran are not working, that Iran “is enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose,” and that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon it would trigger a regional nuclear arms race and be “the most destabilizing event that we could imagine for the Middle East.” When asked whether Israel would strike if Iran “reached a critical point in terms of nuclear capability,” the general replied: “The Israelis have said so; I take them at their word. They could conduct a strike without our help.”

So far, in the words of Yossi Klein Halevi writing in the Wall Street Journal, the Israeli prime minister has “pulled back from ordering an airstrike, in part because he has feared alienating the American president.  But . . . he may well conclude that the danger of not pre-empting outweighs all the other dangers -- including a strained relationship with the White House.” Or in the words of an Israeli general, “the only thing worse than striking Iran is not striking Iran.”

If a nuclear agreement emerges from the tortured negotiations among Iran and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, the Obama Administration is only seeking to slow “the Iranian nuclear program enough so that it would take Iran at least a year to make enough material for a nuclear bomb if it decided to ignore the accord.” 

If the United States expects Iran to ignore the accord, why has it gone to so much effort to reach one?

On November 20, 2014, Spain’s Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, professor of atomic and nuclear physics, former vice president of the European Parliament, and president of the International Committee In Search of Justice issued what he called “An objective, thoroughly researched report on the core issue of the nature of the Iranian nuclear program and its status.”

The Committee was formed in 2008 as a group of EU parliamentarians to seek justice for the Iranian democratic opposition. It seeks to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability, and its campaigns have enjoyed support on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Here are ten of the report’s passages:

1. Tehran’s attitude has been one of denial, deception, concealment, rejection of facts, politicization, and reluctant and partial acknowledgement only when all other alternatives had been exhausted.           

2. There has never been a decisive and coherent policy response by Europe and the USA, and this fact has allowed Iran to come closer to the capability for developing nuclear weapons.       

3. It will be a huge mistake to have a comprehensive agreement without demanding that Iran resolve all the military aspects of the program and expose them willingly and thoroughly.

4. As recently as November 9, 2014, President Obama once again reiterated that the US wants to make sure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, and is interested in “verifiable, lock tight assurances that Iran cannot develop" them. But the question is how could there be any assurances as long as so many open questions remain? The simple answer is that there cannot.

5. But by constantly offering concessions at the negotiating table, the US has emboldened the Iranians to increase Tehran’s demands.

6. On November 9, 2014, Mr. Obama offered Tehran a free pass for meddling in the Middle East when he said: “Iran has influence both in Syria and in Iraq . .  . It has some troops or militias in and around Baghdad, and we have we let it know that we’re not here to mess with you, but to focus on our common enemy.” 

7. The Obama Administration must know that any leniency regarding Iran’s increasing interference in the region would encourage it to continue its drive on the nuclear project.

8. Thus, any possible agreement with Iran should include snap inspections in all the suspicious sites, complete implementation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and an absolute halt to all uranium enrichment.

9. This study can only lead to the conclusion that Iran has vigorously pursued its ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons. No serious indications that Tehran has stopped or abandoned this project or intends to do so were observed.

10. In a possible allusion to Israel, which Revolutionary Iran has vowed to wipe off the face of the Earth, the International Committee In Search of Justice concluded: “Any concessions on these issues would open the way for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. And this is something that no democratic country in this world, unless it wants to commit suicide, can ever accept.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position has been steadfast and consistent: “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

If and when that that happens it will be sailors in Israeli submarines operating both conventional and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and Israeli pilots flying in the world’s best and the world’s third largest air force who will do the job. And they will do it successfully because only the Israel Defense Forces stand between Israel and its destruction.

Edward Bernard Glick is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Temple University

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