Speaking to The Jerusalem Post about the growing threat of the swiftly advancing Iranian nuclear weapons program a few weeks ago, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz placed the burden of stopping this existential danger to the Jewish state on the US.
In his words, "The question is whether the world, under the leadership of the No. 1 power, the US, will allow the Iranians to achieve nuclear capabilities."
The answer to his question, apparently, is yes. The world, under the leadership of the US, probably will allow the Iranians to achieve nuclear capabilities.
Why is this the case? This week, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report stating that its inspectors found traces of enriched uranium in the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz.
Reacting to the disclosure, the Iranian government claimed improbably that the traces found at the site were simply a result of contamination of their nuclear devices that had been under prior ownership. Additionally, the Iranians said they would be willing to discuss entering into negotiations with the IAEA about allowing the agency unfettered access to their nuclear facilities. Such negotiations on starting negotiations could begin as early as next month, the Iranians promised.
Israel contends that the Iranian nuclear weapons program could reach the point of no return within the year. Current US policy regarding this urgent threat is two-pronged. On the one hand, the US is attempting to have the IAEA find Iran to be in breach of its signature on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Such a finding would turn the issue of the Iranian program over to the UN Security Council which could theoretically vote to levy economic sanctions on Iran or mount a military operation to destroy the Iranian program.
The second prong of US policy is to pressure governments like Russia, Pakistan, and China to cease their cooperation with the Iranian program and to pressure other states to stop economic cooperation with the Iranian regime until it comes clean and ends its nuclear weapons program.
Unfortunately, this approach has no chance of succeeding in preventing the Iranians from achieving nuclear capabilities. It was known that the Iranians were enriching uranium at the Natanz plant six months ago. If it took six months for the IAEA to discover traces of enriched uranium and the Iranians are but one year away from having enriched a sufficient amount of uranium to make atomic bombs, the chance that IAEA inspections could avert Iranian enrichment of sufficient quantities of weapons-grade uranium is low.
Add to that the fact that negotiations on unimpeded inspections could easily drag on for three to six months, and the Iranians will be able to announce they are vacating their signature on the NPT just as the IAEA announces that it has achieved agreement with the Iranians to allow for unlimited access to their nuclear facilities.
On the off-chance that the IAEA decides at its meeting next month that it is turning the Iranian nuclear program over to the UN Security Council, there is almost no chance the Security Council will take any concerted action. Ignoring for the moment the fact that Iran's closest strategic ally, Syria, is currently the rotating president of the Security Council, three of its permanent members are active supporters of the Iranian government. France has consistently rebuffed US pressure to end its economic cooperation with Iran. Russia and China have been implicated in assisting the Iranian nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.
The US is also now party to multilateral negotiations with the North Koreans over their illicit nuclear weapons program. Signaling willingness to placate the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang, the US dropped its own representative to the talks, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, after the North Koreans called him "scum" for remarks he made about the dictatorial nature of the regime.
In spite of its stated policy of not conducting bilateral discussions with North Korea, on the first day of the talks Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly spoke privately with his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Il. For their part, three of the four other nations participating in the talks – South Korea, China, and Russia – all support cutting yet another deal with the North Koreans. Only Japan supports the Bush administration's hard line on North Korea.
Yet Japanese opposition to nuclear proliferation is hardly consistent. Japan continues to rebuff US and Israeli pressure to end its $2.2 billion deal for oil exploration in southern Iran.
Put simply, in dealing with the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, American rhetoric doesn't match its deeds. It speaks loudly and carries a small stick.
US timidity in advancing its own national security interests in the face of international hostility is of course matched by the administration's addiction to the cause of Palestinian statehood. Standing next to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell equated opponents to Palestinian statehood with Palestinian terrorists. In Powell's view, burying the road map in the wake of the Palestinian massacre of 21 people in Jerusalem is not an option because as he put it, "The alternative is what?… Let the terrorists win? Let those who have no interest in a Palestinian state win? Let those who have no interest but killing innocent people win? No. That is not an acceptable outcome."
In the same statement, Powell recognized Yasser Arafat as the de facto leader of the Palestinian Authority. Powell's request that Arafat allow PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to make use of the Palestinian militias is what spurred Arafat's actions this week to sideline Abbas and Security Minister Muhammad Dahlan.
The Palestinian media this week has been full of reports and commentary stating that Powell's statement amounted to nothing less than the US reconferring legitimacy on Arafat. Palestinian sources say that given Powell's statement, there is no way that Abbas and Dahlan will be able to assert any type of authority over the PA.
This of course would be fine if Powell's intention had been to unmask the fiction of PA reform under Abbas and Dahlan. But of course the opposite is the case. The US is acutely interested in eternalizing this lie. "A new Palestinian leadership is emerging that understands and says, in Arabic and English that terror is not a means to Palestinian statehood, but rather the greatest obstacle to statehood," said US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
In so reacting to last week's massacre, the message the US effectively sends the Palestinians is that terrorism pays. Arafat has learned that when bombs go off in Jerusalem and the precious road map is in jeopardy, Washington knows who to call. As for the Palestinian people, they have learned that Abbas and Dahlan were repaid for their mealy-mouthed antiterror rhetoric with their removal from power.
What we see then is US policy in full-blown retreat. That the US is now considering allowing a UN-sponsored force to operate in Iraq is simply another example of this surrender of initiative to an international community that shares none of the US's views or goals.
Perhaps given its naive and premature sense of triumph, the US now believes it can indulge a strategy of delay, deny, and retreat. But Israel cannot engage in such irresponsible self-deception. International conferences will not slow or prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Concessions to the Palestinians will not convince the US or the UN to take concerted action against the Iranians. They will have no impact on Iran's desire to destroy the State of Israel. With 70 percent of our population concentrated in the kill radius of one atomic bomb, Is
rael cannot stand by idly and expect the US to ride in like a knight in shining armor to save us from destruction.
Iran has already made it clear that the threat of Israeli nuclear retaliation for a nuclear strike on Israel will not deter it from attacking. We owe it to ourselves to take this seriously. Our missile defense system, although the most advanced in the world, is not an impenetrable shield.
If our survival is important to him, Mofaz should not be trusting the Americans. He should be hunkering down with OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz right now and mapping out plans to destroy the Iranian nuclear installations. Time is not on our side and, apparently, neither is the US.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.