Netanyahu's agony

In the 1920s, an Austrian madman announced that he would take control of Germany and use that position to murder millions of Jews. Scarcely anyone believed him. But he made good on his promise. He could have been stopped. However, the nations in a position to do so failed at the task. Either they couldn't imagine that he was serious or they weren't particularly concerned about the implications of his intentions.

Today we observe an Iranian madman announce that he intends to repeat the process. He starts ahead of his illustrious Austrian predecessor because he, in cahoots with a mysterious group of clerical fanatics, already controls the government. It remains for him only to finish his preparations of the atomic tools with which he expects to carry out his mad plan.

Once again, there are those in a position to prevent it. But as in the past, events have demonstrated that the powers capable of checking the mad Iranian are unlikely to do so. Most dismiss his threats as political bluster. Most of the rest believe he is not serious because, they calculate, a genocidal thrust by Iran toward Israel would surely be suicidal. And then of course there are the not inconsiderable numbers who, if not gleeful at the prospect of Jewish annihilation, at least don't see it as such a terrible outcome. I wonder into which of these three groups our benighted President falls?

There is however one major difference between the situations then and now - namely, the existence of a powerful Jewish State capable of defending the Jewish people and/or avenging them. And thereby arises the agonizing decision faced by Israel's leaders.

I have no doubt that the people of Israel do not dismiss the madman's threat as bluster or bluff. They understand that the centuries long enmity of Islam toward Judaism, the hysterical obsession of the Muslim world to rid the Middle East of the "Zionist entity" and the Muslim embrace of suicide bombers make it eminently possible that Ahmadinejad is deadly serious. While they retain the ability to annihilate Teheran, much of Iran and perhaps significant parts of the Muslim world - even if only in a retaliatory strike to avenge an Iranian nuclear attack on their tiny country-Israelis surely reason that a better course of action is to obliterate the enemy's nuclear facilities first-using conventional weapons of course.

Thus the agony:

• Israel cannot be absolutely certain, short of an actual Iranian nuclear attack, that Ahmadinejad is truly serious, so a preemptive Israeli strike could conceivably be unnecessary.

• Such a preemptive strike might not succeed.

• It almost certainly will cause inadvertent civilian casualties.

• Even if it succeeds, the Iranian government is capable of causing Israel great pain via their long range missiles, and their proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.

• The Iranians are also capable of delivering immense pain to the rest of the world (e.g., by closing the Strait of Hormuz).

• And finally, successful or not, an Israeli preemptive strike will bring the wrath of the entire world down on them.

What will Israel decide to do? The agony that Netanyahu is experiencing-as the window in which he must decide shrinks-must be monumental. We shall know his decision relatively soon.