The report on President Barack Obama's desk is dramatic. Its meaning: Iran has an advanced weapons team that is developing a sophisticated nuclear warhead. In contrast to previous American assessments, Iran has progressed not only in missile building and uranium enrichment, but also in weapon production.
Unlike previous American assumptions, it has transpired the West does not know everything that happens in Tehran's secret cellars. The argument that it will take Iran a long time to make the breakthrough to a nuclear bomb has lost its validity. So has the argument that the United States will know in good time of any secret Iranian move. The American intelligence picture and the Israeli intelligence picture are uniting. The time is up, says the united nuclear picture. The sanctions may be wreaking havoc on the Iranian economy, but the Iranian nuclear program is nearing its destination. Within about a year Iran will be capable of becoming a nuclear power.
The New York Times called on Israel this week to conduct a responsible discourse on the Iranian issue. The New York Times is right. But the Israelis are entitled to turn to the Americans now and demand the same thing. At this point the American discourse about the Iranian nuclear issue is not sincere, courageous and responsible enough. The American political system and part of the American media are not grappling sincerely and thoroughly with the Shi'ite nuclearization and its significance.
The post-traumas of Afghanistan, Iraq and the economic crisis have prevented America from taking a hard straight look at Natanz' centrifuges and Fordow's underground bunker. America has not fully comprehended Iran. Nor has it mobilized all its resources to stop Iran.
The American failure is tragic. Already a decade ago it should have understood that as a superpower its greatest challenge was to pave a third way, which would spare us all from the terrible dilemma of bombing or facing the bomb. Already five years ago Washington should have understood that its duty was to impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran, seal it hermetically in a closure and wave an intimidating military cudgel at it.
But America didn't understand because it was immersed in other painful matters. Its inaction can be explained, but cannot be denied. In all that concerns Iran, the United States did too little, too late and without sufficient determination.
The Obama administration has in fact done quite a bit in recent years. It led the campaign to impose sanctions, acted vigorously in the cyber realm and prepared a substantial military option. But all these moves did not involve paying a single political dollar. Nor were they accompanied by preparing public opinion for an economic or military confrontation that would exact casualties. Obama did a lot more than George Bush, but did less than necessary. He did not deter the Iranians or stop them, and has not been successful in facing them so far.
The dramatic report now lying on the desk of the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces is expected to make it clear to him that the hour of truth has come. Regrettably, the decisive test did not wait until after the November election but has appeared now. It is the U.S. president's full prerogative to decide that the Iranian nuclearization does not justify war. It is his full prerogative to tell Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates that he chooses a policy of containment and acceptance. But it is not the president's prerogative to deceive his allies and conceal the truth from his own people.
Obama must make it known right away if he is ready to stop Iran forcibly in 2013. He must state whether, when all hope is gone and all the diplomatic moves have been exhausted, he will stop the Iranian bomb with an American bombing.
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