The massive stroke that cut down Israeli Prime Minister ArielSharon late on Wednesday night (Jan. 4) not only throws Israelipolitics into turmoil. It also marks the likely starting point of thecoming nuclear showdown that will pit the Jewish state and the freeworld against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Vice President Dick Cheney noted the inevitable nearly one yearago. He told talk radio host Don Imus just minutes before theinauguration on January 20, 2005 that "the Israelis might well decideto act first" should they conclude that Iran had acquired"significant nuclear capability."
Since then, many things have happened. In February 2005, the U.S.announced it would sell 500 conventional "bunker busting" bombs toIsrael, that could be used to take out buried nuclear and missilesites in Iran. But as reality sank in of what an effective militarystrike against 60 to 70 Iranian sites would require, Prime MinisterSharon &endash; a long-time battlefield general &endash; had secondthoughts.
Unilateral Israeli action, without provocation from Iran, couldunleash a diplomatic, economic and military backlash such as theJewish state had never witnessed since 1948, Sharon argued. Aftermeeting with President Bush at his Texas ranch last April, Sharonmade a strategic decision &endash; against the advice of his owngenerals and intelligence staff &endash; to place his bets onU.S.-backed nuclear negotiations with Iran led by the European Union.
Almost no one really believed those negotiations would succeed.The Europeans expressed mounting exasperation as Tehran broke itspromises repeatedly, closing nuclear sites to inspectors and resumingbanned nuclear processing.
Faced with the impatience of his own military, Sharon's reasoningwas simple. Every other option was worse.
On Dec. 5, Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz,told foreign journalists in Tel Aviv that he believed diplomacy hadreached a dead end.
"The fact that the Iranians are successful time after time ingetting away from international pressure ... encourages them tocontinue their nuclear project," Gen. Halutz said. "I believe thatthe political means that are used by the Europeans and the U.S. toconvince the Iranians to stop the project will not succeed."
When asked by one reporter how far Israel was ready to go to stopIran's nuclear projects, Halutz quipped, "2000 kilometers." That'sthe equivalent of 1,250 miles, the distance by air between Israel andIran's main nuclear and missile sites.
One doesn't need secret intelligence information or an insidesource in Tehran to decrypt the intentions of Iranian president,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards commanders whosurround him. Over the past three months he has gone out of his wayto tell the world, in one forum after another, that his regimeintends to "wipe Israel from the map" and "destroy America."
But consider just a few recent developments that have not beenwidely reported outside of Tehran.
* On January 3, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps began a two dayseminar in Tehran devoted to nuclear-biological-chemical warfare andnew defense technologies, that included lectures by Iranian expertson electromagnetic pulse weapons, graphite bombs, and laser-guidedbombs. These are the same weapons many Western intelligence analystsbelieve Iran will attempt to use against us.
* On January 4, three battalions of the IRGC ground forcesbegan three days of NBC military exercises in Semnan province, notfar from Iran's main ballistic missile proving ground.
* In addition to a recent $1 billion arms agreement, announcedlast month, Russia is now negotiating with Iran's RevolutionaryGuards to modernize Iran's fleet of MiG-29 fighters withstate-of-the-art radar, electronic counter-measures, andreconnaissance systems, specifically designed to counter the threatof Israeli aircraft. A Rev. Guards buying mission will visitLukhovitsy and Kalayazin in Russia to view these new systems inFebruary 2006. The Russians have also agreed to sell Iran S-300anti-missile systems, believed by most experts to be superior to anycomparable system currently available on world markets.
* Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told IranianTV on January 3 that Israel will "suffer a great loss" if it attacksIran, noting that Israel has "no strategic depth" and is "within ourrange."
On the same day Larijani made those remarks, the Islamic Republicauthorities sent an official letter to the International AtomicEnergy Agency in Vienna, announcing their intention to resumeenrichment activities at a variety of nuclear sites across Iran onJanuary 9.
The resumption of enrichment activities, which could give Iran thespecial nuclear material needed to make nuclear weapons, has longbeen sited by Israel as the "red line" they would not allow Iran tocross.
Iran now appears ready and willing to cross that red line. Andwith Mr. Sharon sidelined from Israeli politics, Israeli militaryleaders are unlikely to bet on a prayer and a chance that Iran justmight be bluffing.
After all, as Iran's Larijani himself said, Israel is "within ourrange."
Copyright©2006, Kenneth R. Timmerman