Any residual doubt that Washington has decided to take no action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons dissipated Wednesday with the news that Undersecretary of State William Burns will be participating in EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's negotiations with Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva on Saturday.
That those negotiations will fail to end or even slow Iran's progress toward nuclear weapons capabilities is a certainty. Ahead of the talks, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated for the umpteenth time that Teheran will make no compromises on its uranium enrichment activities. And so far, Iran – as opposed to Washington – has been true to its word.
Given Iran's forthrightness, there is only one reasonable explanation for the administration's decision to send Burns to meet with Jalili: The US wants it to be absolutely clear to Teheran and everyone else that it has no intention whatsoever of attacking Iran's nuclear installations.
It makes sense that Washington considers it necessary to make this point clearly. In light of the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would constitute to US national security interests, it would have been more reasonable to assume that America would attack the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities preemptively than to assume it would allow Iran to go forward with its goal to acquire nuclear weapons.
A nuclear-armed Iran would place the US military's hard-won victories against Iranian surrogates in Iraq and its tentative success in separating Iraq's Shi'ite leaders from Teheran in jeopardy. So, too, given Iran's increasingly active support for the Taliban, an Iranian acquisition of nuclear capabilities would cast doubt on America's ability to defeat the resurgent Taliban.
The US's economic well-being would also be endangered by a nuclear-armed Iran. Teheran has repeatedly threatened to attack Saudi oil platforms and endanger the oil shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz. And a nuclear arsenal would give Iran unprecedented power to dictate price-setting policies for the OPEC oil cartel.
Beyond all that, a nuclear-armed Iran would directly threaten US territory in two ways. First, there is no reason not to think that Teheran would use Hizbullah cells in the US to detonate nuclear devices in US cities. Iran has already shown a willingness to use Hizbullah to carry out terror attacks in the West – most spectacularly in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Second, it is widely feared that Iran is developing the capacity to launch an electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) attack against the US mainland. An EMP attack is conducted by launching a nuclear bomb into the atmosphere above a country. It needn't actually hit the country. Simply by detonating a nuclear device at sufficiently high altitude, an EMP attack can destroy the electrical grids, communications systems and military-industrial foundations of a society. Such an attack would set the US back a hundred years.
Fears of an EMP attack against the US were sparked last week by Iran's test of an advanced version of its Shihab-3 ballistic missile. The day of the missile test, William Graham, who heads a congressionally mandated commission on the EMP threat to the US, gave testimony on the issue to the House's Armed Services Committee. Graham explained that Iran has already conducted missile tests from ships in the Caspian Sea. If it acquires nuclear weapons, it will apparently have the capacity to launch a nuclear warhead capable of carrying out an EMP attack against the US from a freighter in international waters off the US coast.
While any of these threats would be sufficient to justify a preemptive attack against Iran's nuclear installations, the US still has a reasonable excuse for not conducting such an attack: Iran has made clear that if it acquires nuclear weapons, the US will not be Teheran's first target. Israel enjoys that distinction.
And since the US is Iran's second target, the Bush administration has made clear that if Iran attacks Israel, the US will launch an attack against Iran. That is, the US will fight to ensure that Iran won't be able to attack it if America moves to the head of Iran's target list. But as long as it's only No. 2, it will take no action.
The US cannot be accused of being unfair to Israel by deciding not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. After all, defending Israel is Israel's responsibility, not America's. And on this point, news reports in recent weeks have made it clear that while the US will not attack Iran, it has given Israel a "green light" for a preemptive strike on the Islamic Republic's nuclear installations. And this is no small thing.
THE BUSH administration's willingness to stand back and allow Israel to attack Iran's nuclear installations to prevent a nuclear holocaust of the Jewish state compares well with how the administration of the president's father treated Israel in the 1991 Gulf War. At that time, Israel was under threat of Scud missile borne chemical weapons attack. Although Saddam Hussein ended up not attacking Israel with chemical weapons, the threat that he would was credible. He attacked Israel with Scud missiles almost every night for the duration of the war.
Despite this obvious casus belli, the first Bush administration not only refused to politically support Israel's right to defend itself against Iraqi aggression, it took active steps to prevent Israel from attacking Iraq's Scud missile installations. Then-president George H.W. Bush refused to provide Israel with the electronic codes that would allow Israeli and US jets to identify one another as friendly aircraft. In so doing, he left open the prospect that the US would shoot down IAF jets over Iraqi airspace if Israel dared to defend itself.
So, mindful of the precedent set by his father, President George W. Bush's decision to leave the door wide open for an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran is a positive development. But an open door is only significant if someone is willing to walk through it. And it is far from clear that the Olmert-Livni-Barak-Yishai government has any intention of doing so.
For an Israeli government to walk through that door, its leaders would have to be vested with a sense of national destiny and a modicum of responsibility and competence. But as Wednesday's bodies-for-murderers deal with Hizbullah demonstrated, the Olmert-Livni-Barak-Yishai government has no sense of national destiny and no competence to lead the country. What Wednesday's spectacle showed is that Israel's leaders' horizons are limited to the space between yesterday's news and tomorrow's headlines.
On Wednesday, Israel received the corpses of IDF hostages Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in exchange for baby-murderer Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah terrorists and 200 bodies of Palestinian and Lebanese murderers. Ahead of the swap, the Almagor terror victims' advocacy group published the names of 180 Israelis who were murdered by terrorists Israel released in recent years.
As the Almagor report showed, many of the terrorists Israel released – including Saleh Shehadeh, Nasser Abu Hmeid and Abdullah Kawasmeh – became senior terror commanders, responsible for building the terror infrastructure that caused the death of hundreds of Israelis. Others, such as Matzab Hashalmon, who was released in the 2004 terrorists-for-drug dealer-and-Hizbullah-spy Elhanan Tenenbaum deal, were quickly recruited as suicide bombers. Hashalmon murdered 16 Israelis when he detonated on a bus in Beersheva a couple of months after he was released.
The government knows for a fact that Wednesday's deal will lead directly to the murder of more Israelis and to the abduction and murder of more IDF soldiers. It simply doesn't care. The Olmert-Livni-Barak-Yishai government doesn't care about protecting
the public. It only cares about tomorrow's headlines. And Wednesday's deal allowed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai to give speeches where they waxed poetic about Israel's loyalty to its dead soldiers and to have their pictures taken as they leaned somberly over Regev's and Goldwasser's flag-draped coffins.
They looked so impressive in those photos that it was easy for the public to miss what they had just done. The public could have easily missed the fact that in their "deeply moral, and patriotic" decision to trade Samir Kuntar – who murdered four-year-old Einat Haran by crushing her skull on a rock after he executed her father Danny in front of her – for Regev's and Goldwasser's body parts, these politicians signed the death warrants of untold numbers of Israelis. And if they go forward with their pledge to release a thousand terrorists for IDF hostage Gilad Schalit, they will sign the death warrants of still more Israeli men, women and children.
THE GOVERNMENT'S devotion to its yesterday-to-tomorrow's-headlines policy horizon is fed by the local media. Disgracefully, the Israeli media's coverage of events is so mindlessly shallow that senior journalists simply refuse to make any connection between tomorrow's threats and today's decisions. That this is the case was born out in the media's grotesque treatment of Wednesday's corpses-for-murderers swap.
In the weeks leading up to the government's decision to accept this Faustian bargain, the media cast the issue as the personal affair of the Regev and Goldwasser families and ignored completely the ramifications of the deal for the Israeli people as a whole. In their puerile depiction of the story as a personal story, the media stooped to treating Kuntar as the personal enemy of the Haran family, instead of as the enemy of the Jewish people as a whole. Refusing to note the national repercussions of the deal, the media acted as though the entire story was a struggle between opposing families: the Regevs and Goldwasser on one side and the Harans on the other. Israel as a nation was nothing but an abstract, unimportant bystander.
Given the media's refusal to cover anything that they can't personalize and trivialize, the media are incapable of adequately reporting the danger that Iran's nuclear program constitutes to Israel as a whole. And since they will not concentrate on this basic reality, the Olmert-Livni-Barak-Yishai government feels no pressure to contend with the danger. It is a non-story. And non-stories produce no policies.
Aside from that, although a successful strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would win them considerable clout with the public, an unsuccessful attack would end their political careers. And their careers are the only thing Israel's leaders are concerned with.
This being the state of affairs in Israel today, all the open doors in all the world won't help Israel in its moment of crisis. Only two things can guarantee that Israel's leaders will act against Iran. Either someone will come up with a way to guarantee success – and this is not likely; or the government will fall and the nation will elect new leaders who understand their responsibility for Israel's national destiny and are capable of walking the nation through that open door.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.