While Middle East winds are blowing away the road map, and Palestinian killing of Israelis continues, there is one bright spot to cheer the citizens. The president of the United States is taking seriously the potential threat of nuclear weapons from Iran. "We will not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon", George Bush said the other day.
For many years one of Israel's major concerns has been the threat of weapons of mass destruction launched from Iraq or Iran on ballistic missiles. Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the ayatollahs in Iran made no secret of their hostility to Israel while building an arsenal of ballistic missiles and promoting projects for the development of nuclear warheads.
During most of these years this threat to Israel seemed of little concern to the rest of the world. France's then prime minister, Jacques Chirac, sold Saddam Hussein the Osirak nuclear reactor, while in more recent years Russia's Vladimir Putin is selling Iran the nuclear reactor currently being constructed at Busheir.
North Korean ballistic missiles and related technology have been finding their way to the countries of the Middle East over the years. Their engineers and technicians swarm unhampered throughout the region helping to arm the enemies of Israel, whose warnings that a danger was developing that would threaten not just Israel, but also the rest of the world, remained ignored.
When it became clear that Israel had no choice but to deal with the impending danger, Menachem Begin in 1981 ordered the Israel Air Force to destroy the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, setting back Saddam's nuclear program by many years. At the time, Israel's action was met with withering condemnation around the world. During the Gulf War, ten years later, Saddam launched missiles against Israel's cities but had no nuclear warheads to arm them.
Only a few months ago, in anticipation of the U.S. military operation against Iraq, Israel prepared for the worst, but now it looks like for the time being, maybe forever, the threat from Iraq has been eliminated by.
But the threat from Iran is increasing day by day. The Iranians are investing vast resources, helped by the North Koreans and the Russians, possibly also by Pakistan and China, in developing intermediate range ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. Numerous appeals to Russia to halt its help the Iranian nuclear effort have been met by obfuscation. The financial rewards are evidently too good to turn down.
The North Koreans make a living by selling their deadly know-how to whoever is prepared to pay for it and so far have turned a deaf ear to all entreaties. There is little doubt that if the Iranian effort is brought to completion - missiles with thousands of kilometers range tipped by nuclear warheads - not only Israel will be endangered, but the entire world.
No wonder Israel is being asked if it is preparing a strike against the Iranian nuclear reactor, similar to that on the Iraqi reactor 22 years ago. Maybe some are hoping Israel will again do the dirty work for the rest of the world.
This time it is clearly a problem for the rest of the world, not just Israel. Also the Iranian nuclear program is dispersed through a number of facilities throughout Iran, not concentrated at a single location. It is going to take a wide-ranging diplomatic effort led by the U.S. and backed by a willingness to use force, to halt the danger developing in Iran before it is too late.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency last week said Iran is in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and urged it to agree to extensive and intrusive inspections of its many nuclear facilities. That is not likely to make much of an impression on the Iranians.
But when the American president says the U.S. will not allow Iran to proceed on this dangerous course it is likely to concentrate the minds of Iranian leaders. They, in any case, also need to worry about the mass student demonstrations in Tehran. The combined effort may yet put an end to the Iranian non-conventional threat - good news indeed.
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