Approaching an Iranian Winter

There is a real possibility that President George W. Bush will end his woeful second and final term of office with a bang, not a whimper.

Contemplate, if you will, this wild scenario: In November, after Senator Barack Obama becomes president-elect of the United States, outgoing president George W. Bush inflicts a severe blow on Iran. That could take the form of a naval siege, the flexing of American military muscle, or even an all-out air strike targeting Iran's nuclear program.

Under ordinary circumstances, people would reject out of hand such a wild scenario. The American public does not support the idea of opening a second front in the Middle East, and America's political, military and intelligence establishments are fearful. A military move, even a semi-military one, carried out by an outgoing president would be unprecedented and illegitimate; it would be perceived as the final insane trumpet call of a thoroughly off-the-wall administration with a committed religious outlook.

But these are not ordinary times, and the protagonists involved are not ordinary people. The logic that guides Bush and Dick Cheney is not always readily understood by public opinion in the West or even by the molders of that public opinion. This logic could lead the U.S. president and vice president to conclude that, if they do not act, neither will Obama. If Obama does not act, Iran will go nuclear, and, if that happens, evil will triumph. Therefore, the dialogue that the current Washington administration is conducting with history could lead it to do what few people believe it would ever do. There is a real possibility that Bush will end his woeful second and final term of office with a bang, not a whimper.

The above scenario is admittedly wild. If John McCain is elected president, there will be no need for it. If Obama is elected, and if that election reflects a commitment to prevent such a scenario, the chances of it becoming a reality will narrow. The various establishments in Washington might even thwart the thwarting of a nuclear Iran. Bush and Cheney might back off, give up on their plans and then fade into oblivion. Thus, this wild scenario has little likelihood of ever happening. But little likelihood is not zero likelihood. When we are talking about matters that could have fateful consequences, even a scenario with little likelihood of occurring deserves serious attention.

In the long run, such a wild scenario would be good for Israel just as it would be good for America. A nuclear Iran would endanger Israel's survival, Middle Eastern stability and the West's well-being. On the other hand, an Iran deprived of its nuclear weapons would ensure both Israel's future and a stable Middle East and would allow the West to continue maintaining its values and lifestyle for a considerable period of time.

However, in the short run, this wild scenario is fraught with danger. There could be a serious intelligence blunder; there could be a serious military blunder. In any event, the Iran of the ayatollahs is a power with a religiously committed leadership; it is very clever and powerful. If pushed into a corner, it might prefer to go out with a bang. Nobody today can say for sure what would be the nature and intensity of such a bang.

Any self-respecting state must seriously take into consideration any scenario that could mold its future, for better or worse. When so much is at stake, serious attention must be given even to low-probability scenarios. It is by no means certain that the coming winter will be Iranian; it is not even reasonable to assume such a possibility. However, this summer Israel must act as if the possibility of an Iranian winter is an imminent eventuality. At the political level, the implications are obvious: Decisions must be made without delay.

Israel cannot take the risk, if its security hangs in the balance, of being led by someone who has been deprived of all moral authority. Nor can Israel take the risk of being waist-deep in a national election campaign at such a momentous hour. A razor-sharp, clear decision must be taken: Either hold elections now or set up an alternative government immediately. By November, Israel must have a new, responsible leadership that the public can trust.

But more than a new leadership is needed. Israel requires a new agenda as well - an agenda of readiness and ever-increasing strength, of conciliation and solidarity. To effectively deal with the wild but low-probability scenario referred to above, Israel must mend its ways. It must do so even to deal effectively with scenarios that are not as wild but are more probable. The road to a better future will be a bumpy one and the path to peace might turn out to be bloodstained. Therefore, the concluding chords of the Olmert era must also be the chords of a new beginning.

After two years of "spins" it is high time for action. After two years filled with bitterness and spite, it is high time for extinguishing the flames of hatred, for lowering tensions and dressing wounds. Israel is not the hollow, rotting nation that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thinks it is. But to deal effectively with Ahmadinejad, Israel must get its act together - and quickly.