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Israel's Iranian Dilemma

IsraCast Sums Up Various Israeli Positions On If & When Jewish State Should Go It Alone Against Iran Which Repeatedly Threatens To Annihilate The 'Zionist Cancer'.

 By chance or design, President Barack Obama has bowed out of the war of rhetoric with Israel on when, if at all, to bomb Iran. So with Obama on the hustings Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joints of Staff, has stepped in as Obama's point-man. Arriving on a trip to Afghanistan, Dempsey said he consulted bi-weekly with his Israeli counter-part Gen. Benny Gantz: 'We compare intelligence, we discuss regional implications and we've admitted that our clocks are turning at different rates. And Dempsey admitted candidly: 'They (the Israelis) are living with an existential concern that we are not living with'. Analyst David Essing says this is the crux of the controversy between Jerusalem and Washington over what to do about Iran's relentless drive for nuclear weapons, in spite of the latest international sanctions.

While recently visiting Tampa, this thought dawned on me - Tampa, over 7,000 miles away from Tehran, is one of the closest American cities to Iran. But not to worry, Iran has no ballistic missiles that can target Florida, not yet that is. But the distance between Tehran and Tel Aviv is estimated at 988 miles and yes, Iran's Shihab missiles could hit Israel's main population centre within fifteen minutes.

Israeli options...

There are basically two Israeli options:

1. Do nothing. Wait for the international sanctions to force Iran to halt its nuclear weapons project. If the sanctions fail, hope the U.S. might impose a naval blockade of Iran which is not likely in light of the opposition from Russia and China. Hope the U.S., no matter if it's Obama or Romney, will launch a military strike to knock out Iran's nuclear weapons facilities sometime in the future. If not, Israel should prepare for the nuclear containment of Iran by launching a crash program to build nuclear bomb shelters.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The probability of Israel adopting such an approach ranges from slim to zero. There is no Israeli consensus for such a policy of containment. On the contrary, even Netanyahu-Barak critics are rock solid about bombing Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, if there's no other choice.

But when Israel should do about is at the center of the current public storm now raging. Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz of Kadima is the latest to contend that Netanyahu-Barak have already decided to go it alone and attack Iran, possibily even before the Nov.6th presidential election, in order to force Obama to publicly support Israel because of the Jewish vote. Mofaz believes the Iranians are still one-and-a-half to two years away from getting their hands on an A-Bomb.

On the other hand, the Netanyahu-Barak position is apparently predicated on the assumption that Obama, may not necessarily select the military option from 'all the options on the table'. The current U.S. leader has never stated unequivocally that he would bomb Iran to stop it from developing A-bombs. On this score, previous U.S. administrations failed to prevent North Korea and Pakistan from going nuclear. In fact, during the Bush administration had to scramble U.S. special forces when it was feared that Pakistan's nuclear weapons might fall into rebel hands. To this credit, Gen. Dempsey has clarified that the U.S. is not living with the existential threat that Israel is. If and when it is, is there any question that the U.S. would act any less forcibly than it has in Iraq or Afghanistan, two non-nuclear states? Or when the U.S. was faced with the threat of Soviet missiles being deployed in neighboring Cuba in the crisis of 1962? But long before then Israel might be left in Iran's nuclear crosshairs.

Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

President Shimon Peres is confident it can bank on the U.S. As Israel's titular head of state, Peres receives classified briefings from Netanyahu, Barak and the security chiefs and he reached the conclusion that 'Israel alone cannot prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons' and therefore it must act in coordination with the U.S. Moreover, American interests are so vital in the Middle East and the Gulf in particular, that no administration to could acquiesce in a nuclear Iran with all that entails.

But this raises the question of just how close the Iranians are to the Bomb. On one hand they have set the irrational goal of acquiring nuclear weapons to achieve regional hegemony, but tactically they have advanced slowly but surely. Their nuclear strategy has been to advance in all nuclear aspects while careful never to set off alarm bells and until now they have succeeded, despite the sanctions. So how close are they to 'breaking out' for the bomb? This is where Dempsey's nuclear clocks chime in. Barak-Natanyahu are opposed to Iran reaching the status of a 'threshold state' that could enable it to acquire the bomb in a relatively short time.

The Obama administration believes this no big deal, it could still deal with the threat and until then the meantime the sanctions might force Iran to its knees. But that would mean is that 'little Satan', Israel would face a clear and present Iranian danger much earlier than would the U.S. David Wurmser, a Middle East adviser has added fuel to the fire by warning Israel not to wait for Obama to send the calvary: In an interview with the daily Yisrael Hayom Wurmser declared: 'All my life I trusted American greatness and its message of doing the right thing-but now the calvary is not ready to ride by Israel's side even at the last minute'.

The Iranian Missile Range

So this raises one cardinal question that has gone unanswered; is Israel ready to relinquish its self-defense to the U.S.? Netanyahu-Barak critics concur with Mofaz that there is still time and that the Nov 6 election should not be a consideration. However Barak kicks in with Iran reaching a 'zone of immunity', when Iran would be invincible to an Israeli air strike. In that case, Israel could not even delay the spectre of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

And where does the IDF high command and the Mossad and Shabak security services, where do they stand in the current debate. The commanders reportedly have grave misgivings about launching an Israeli air strike at this time without coordination with the U.S. However in keeping with military protocol they have not gone public. Netanyahu recently said that he has not made any decision on attacking Iran. Meanwhile Israel is faced with an uneasy peace with Egypt counting on America's mediation to guarantee that President Mohamed Morsi evacuates the mounting military forces he has sent into Sinai to quell terrorist activity. The Muslim Brotherhood president has raised Israeli eye-brows by sending in more than the seven battalions that Israel recently allowed beyond the demilitarization clause of the peace treaty. Taking all these factors into consideration it is unlikely that Netayahu-Barak would push for an Israeli strike on Iran before Nov. 6th unless some new and dramatic intelligence indicates that Iran has already made its break-out for nuclear weapons. But is it reasonable to assume they would before the presidential election?

David Essing

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