Back in 1979, Art Spiegelman designed a cover for the now departed New Jewish Times: an atomic mushroom cloud under the headline, “Next Year In Jerusalem,” Judaism’s promise that often doubles as a prophet’s threat.
It seemed surreal then but all too real now. Iran’s nuclear clock is edging to midnight. With Iran’s incessant threats that this is next year, Israel seems increasingly convinced that the only thing that can stop the clock is if Israel strikes before the clock strikes 12.
“Israel will almost surely launch a conventional attack on Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months,” writes Benny Morris, the Israeli scholar, in The New York Times (July 18). But if the attack is not perfectly successful, “the Middle East
will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.”
According to Morris, “Every intelligence agency in the world believes the Iranian program is geared toward making [nuclear] weapons,” war-ready within the next one to four years. Sanctions “have so far led nowhere…”
Morris sees Israel’s window of opportunity extending from Election Day until Inauguration Day, allowing for a last burst of diplomacy followed by “support from a lame-duck White House.”
Trouble is, writes Morris, given the distances involved, Iran’s widely dispersed and underground sites “and Israel’s inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely that the Israeli conventional forces … can destroy or perhaps significantly delay the Iranian nuclear project.”
Israel did seemingly knock out a Syrian reactor earlier this year but that did not require a sustained long-distance operation. Confidence within Israel is less than high, as one might expect, given Israel’s inability to win even low-tech wars against Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel’s immediate borders.
Once, Israel could look back at the granddaddy of nuclear take-outs, the 1981 strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, as inspiration. Now, in the shadow of a decade of military disappointments, Jerusalem Post Editor David Horovitz (July 10) recaps all the near-disasters that almost foiled even the fabled Osirak mission. He quotes the old U.S. Army maxim, that “no plan, no matter how perfect, survives first contact with the enemy.” That 1981 raid, writes Horovitz, “though perceived as peerlessly clinical and precise, was certainly no exception. And yet, compared to the challenge that Israel would face if it attempted something similar against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Osirak was a walk in the park.”
Another skeptic is Ralph Peters, military columnist for The New York Post (July 17), who warns that problem isn’t the military option but “trying that option on the cheap … When safe-at-home ideologues bluster, ‘Just bomb ‘em,’ they haven’t a clue how complex this problem is … As skilled as [Israeli] pilots and planners may be, the Israelis lack the capacity to sustain a strategic offensive against Iran — or to deal with the inevitable mess they’d leave behind in the Persian Gulf.”
In The Wall Street Journal (July 15), former UN Ambassador John Bolton warns that when Iran goes nuclear, the balance of power in the Middle East, and indeed globally, “changes in potentially catastrophic ways.”
“What will the U.S. do,” asks Bolton, “if Israel decides to initiate military action? …. We will be blamed for the strike anyway, and certainly feel whatever negative consequences result, so there is compelling logic to make it as successful as possible. At a minimum, we should place no obstacles in Israel’s path, and facilitate its efforts where we can.”
Yossi Klein Halevi — who as editor of New Jewish Times helped conceive that apocalyptic cover, writes in The New Republic (posted July 19) that Israel, for all its strengths “is a desperate nation … Even the most optimistic Israelis sense a dread we have felt only rarely — like in the weeks before the Six-Day War,” when Egypt, like Iraq, “promised the imminent destruction of Israel” while the United States (in 1967) was too preoccupied with an unpopular war to offer real assistance. We feel our security unraveling.”
Israel “couldn’t defend its communities on the Gaza border from eight years of shelling … The unthinkable has already happened: missiles on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands of Israelis transformed into temporary refugees,” in the 2006 war. “In the next war, there will be nowhere to flee: The entire country is now within missile range of Iran and its terrorist proxies. … With few exceptions, the consensus within the political and security establishment is that Israel cannot live with an Iranian bomb.”
With Sen. Barack Obama visiting Israel, writes Halevi, “we worry about the extent of support from [the United States] at what could be the most critical moment in our history. When Israelis discuss the timing of a possible attack, they often ask: If Obama wins the election, should we hit Iran before January? … We need to hear that under no circumstances would an Obama administration allow the Iranian regime to go nuclear — that if sanctions and diplomacy fail, the U.S. will either attack or else support us if we do.”
Well. A Rasmussen poll conducted July 17 shows that if Israel attacks Iran only 42 percent of Americans, a distinct minority, say the U.S. should help Israel, and 46 percent believe the U.S. should do nothing.
Columnist Pat Buchanan (July 15) noted the results of all the muscle flexing: “Oil prices shot from $136 a barrel to a record $147.” That’s “$25 million a day in fresh revenue” for Iran, $143 million more sucked out of the U.S. economy. … Every day the war drums beat, the mullahs get richer and we get poorer.”
Citing Under Secretary of State Nick Burns who says Iran is quite a bit away from a functioning nuclear missile, Buchanan says there is “no imminent crisis to justify war on Iran.”
Yet, he points out, a majority of Congress has endorsed House Concurrent Resolution 362, which Buchanan describes as a “virtual war resolution” demanding Bush initiate a blockade to halt all Iranian imports of refined petroleum products and impose “stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.”
Writes Buchanan: “A Democratic House that came to power denouncing the rush to war on Iraq is about to vote to demand that Bush commit an act of war against Iran.”
Behind the congressional sponsors of Res. 362, writes Buchanan, is “the Israeli lobby AIPAC, which is marching in step with Israel … Israel and its Fifth Column in this city seek to stampede us into war with Iran.”
Actually, Morris, Horovitz, Peters and many others on Israel’s side are pointing out the pitfalls. Iran is the one whose psychological bullying pushed a Jewish state, still traumatized by the last century, into a corner. But in the media war, as in all wars, no plan survives contact with fire.