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Iran's Nukes

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When Will Israel and Iran Reach the Point of No Return?

July 7th 2008

World Citizens - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

Ever since the Friday June 20th piece in The New York Times describing an Israeli air force training exercise into Iran, analysts and prognosticators have been busy commenting, speculating and, in many cases, downright fantasizing.

The front page piece detailed an exercise involving hundreds of Israeli fighter jets flying over nine hundred miles and refueling mid-air on a practice run into Iran in order to destroy Iran's nuclear capability. Now everyone is busy speculating if and when Israel will invade and attack Iran—for real, not merely as an exercise.

The truth is that Israel might invade Iran, but only when there is no other alternative, only if the international community falls down on its job and allows Iran to achieve independent nuclear capability. That time is not now. And should that time come, Israel will not announce it anywhere, not in the Israeli press, not in the international press, and certainly not on the front page of The New York Times.

The story was not released by Israel, the story was released by the United States. Publicly announcing Israel's ability to target Iran is not in Israel's best interests—it is in the interest of the United States. This story was pitched not by Israel in an attempt to place pressure on Iran, but rather by the United States, a public relations ploy, a way for Washington to apply pressure on Iran. True, Israeli defense and diplomatic channels have neither denied nor confirmed the activity, and they have probably collectively chuckled over the speculative effect this story is having, but it was not their leak.

Washington is telling Teheran that there is a third party and that party is acting independently. Washington is telling other European capitals to look out for Israel, because Israel can do it on its own—and Israel will destroy Iran's nuclear capability on its own if they do not hurry up and act to get Iran under control.

The training exercise that took place in early June, was not the first such exercise by the Israeli air force. It will not be the last. Israel needs to plan. Israel needs to be prepared for a worst case scenario. Israel needs to be ready to thwart an imminent attack.

At the point of no return, if it seems certain that Iran has gone beyond the threshold and is on the verge of having everything necessary to create their nuclear bomb—at that last possible moment—that's when Israel will attack, with a specifically targeted attack. Israel will not set out to destroy everything Iran has, that takes too much effort and the risks are too high. All Israel needs to do is derail Iranian nuclear productivity to set back the clock, to delay the process. A successful Israeli attack against Iran will be an attack that buys time to bring the weight of the world down upon Iran and ultimately destroy Iran's dreams of successful nuclear development.

When Israel hit the Syrian agricultural laboratory on September 6, 2007, the air force knew how to negotiate the mountain ranges of Turkey. They knew because they had practiced and practiced and practiced, and had permission from Turkey to fly over Turkish air space. Specifically, they had permission from Turkey to fly over their air space in order to enter and exit not Syria, but Iran. The Turkish government was not pleased, to say the least, that Israel chose to use their air space to bomb Syria without asking, but Turkey got over it, because Turkey realizes the need to keep Iran in check and Turkey knows that should all else fail, Israel will be forced into action.

Should international sanctions of Iran prove effective, Israel is less likely to attack Iran. Should the international community successfully limit Iranian nuclear development, an Israeli attack will be less likely regardless of the vitriol and intensity of Ahmadinejad's verbal attacks against Israel and the West. Should Iranian Supreme Leader The Ayatollah Khamenei lose confidence in Ahmadinejad and trust that Israel and the international community are capable of striking Iran and should he consequently decide to soften Iran's nuclear stance, even for the short term, the possibility of an Israeli attack is reduced.

Inner Iran and the international community factor into the Israeli decision-making process. But probably the most significant factor of all is the next President of the United States of America. Israel will not and cannot go into Iran without the permission of the United States, and that permission is handed down directly from the Oval Office. Israel will petition for carte blanche permission. They will probably get a conditional yes depending on the intelligence reports and urgency. That's the way it played out on September 6, 2007. Plans were in place and Israel wanted to hit the Syrian site during the summer. The United States said no, the United States wanted more intelligence, proof that more and more materials were arriving from North Korea. And then, when the United States was satisfied of the need and the urgency, Israel attacked.
Iran has said publicly that "the Zionists do not have the capacity to threaten the Islamic Republic." But Iranian leaders know Israel's potential and they are willing to walk the tight rope, to balance the odds. Iran wants to be in control. Right now, Iran has the most to gain from this conflict. The Iranians are getting tremendous pan-Muslim support by simply standing up to the United States and drawing Israel into the conflict.

Israel realizes how dangerous Iran is. Israel knows how costly an air attack will be. If the time is right, if Israel does attack Iran, know that, without a doubt, we will have reached the point of no return.

Micah Halpern is a Washington-based security analyst and the author of Thugs.


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