An Iranian Missile Test. SOURCE: US Government
The failure of the international community to resolve the Iranian nuclear stand-off, means that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is growing increasingly likely. If the European Union and the United States want to avoid this outcome, they will have to prepare to introduce new sanctions against the Iranian government in the near future.
International consensus now largely agrees that Iran’s nuclear program is not exclusively for peaceful purposes. Further, for Israel, President Ahmadinejad is not as many westerners perceive him; a ranting but ultimately rational actor. Instead, he is the ultimate anti-Semite; a man who, along with his clerical masters, is absolutely committed to the destruction of the Israeli state. This concern is indelibly hardened by the experiences of Auschwitz and Treblinka. As key expert on Israeli nuclear strategy, Shai Feldman, notes, for Israelis nuclear weapons in the hands of adversaries, ‘are viewed as potentially exposing Israel to a second holocaust, even complete extinction.’ Israel also fears that possessing a nuclear weapons capability, Iran would be able to encourage aggression against them through allies like the Lebanese Hizballah, without fear of massive retaliation, assuming that Israel would not want to risk a nuclear exchange.
History tells us that Israel will not accept an Iranian nuclear weapon.
At Osirak in 1981 and Syria in 2007, Israel showed its long standing determination to deny regional enemies possession of nuclear weapons. Israel knew that it would receive sharp international criticism for both these attacks and yet this risk, nor the risk of retaliation, was enough to deter Israeli military action. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, there is little reason to believe this dynamic has changed.
Time for a peaceful outcome is running out. Reports from Israel suggest that in the early summer, Netanyahu gave President Obama until the end of the year to produce results in US-EU negotiations with Iran. These reports suggest that failing progress in negotiations and an absence of new sanctions, Israel will in January 2010, begin to actively consider ‘other options’. Contrary to popular opinion, potential Israeli military options against Iran, though highly complex, are not implausible. Indeed, Israel has already conducted large scale training operations for such an attack. Critically important also, Sunni Arab fears over perceived expanding Iranian power in the Middle East, make Iran’s nuclear program a key concern across the region and not just for Israel. For example, it is not challenging to plausibly imagine a situation (that some accounts suggest has already been agreed), in which Saudi Arabia grants Israel over-flight permission to attack Iran.
Too many in the West are convinced that the practical difficulties inherent in a successful Israeli attack on Iran, correspondingly make such action implausible. These individuals thus conclude that negotiations with Iran need not be urgent. This error of judgment is potentially catastrophic. If negotiations fail and Israel is forced to resort to the use of force, the regional consequences in both human and political terms would be significant. Iran would likely retaliate against Israel either through missile strikes or through its non state allies. This would risk counter-retaliation from Israel and invite an escalatory dynamic that could feasibly engulf the entire region in war. The EU and the US must obviously do everything possible to avoid this outcome.
If Iran is continuing to ignore international inspection/verification demands by the end of December, Britain, France and Germany should join the United States in implementing new sanctions. These sanctions should focus on targeting Iranian import needs, specifically, in the field of refined petroleum imports. At the same time, the EU and US should continue to offer Iran the same nuclear deal as presented in Geneva in October. This deal, in which France and Russia would enrich Iran’s uranium and then transfer the produced fuel back to Iran for monitored use (in so assuring Iran’s nuclear program was peaceful), would give Iran a clear and positive alternative than sanctions. Such an option would also necessarily offer Iran a continuing mechanism for legitimate scientific and power related development, while also, presenting clearly (in the form of sanctions) the severe costs of non-compliance. Israeli fears would be allayed (at least to the degree to prevent military action) and the potential for war significantly diminished.
The Iranian nuclear stand off is approaching the end game. If a peaceful outcome is to triumph, the EU-US must be ready to act with determined courage and intelligence.