Don't Let Up on Iran

Israel cannot allow expressions of sympathy to suffice when it faces an enemy threatening to destroy it and aiming to arm itself with the means necessary to do so.

The effort to stop the "Iranian bomb" took on extra importance in the wake of the call by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to "wipe Israel off the map." The radical comment clarified the severity of the threat facing Israel and generated worldwide condemnation. But Israel cannot allow expressions of sympathy to suffice when it faces an enemy threatening to destroy it and aiming to arm itself with the means necessary to do so.

In the last year, there has been heightened international awareness of the increasing danger from Iran, and Western countries have carried out a pressure campaign on Tehran in an effort to keep it from enriching uranium, which could be used to create nuclear weapons. The negotiations led to the signing of a suspension agreement a year ago, but Iran did not meet the conditions. Over the weekend, Tehran rejected an additional compromise, whereby its uranium would be transferred to Russia for enrichment. The rulers of Iran stand by their "right," anchored in international agreements, to enrich uranium within the borders of their country.

Now the time has come for another decision. The International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors is to meet again next Thursday to discuss turning the Iran matter over to the UN Security Council, which can impose sanctions. Russia is persistent in its opposition to this and insists that diplomacy be given another chance. Russia rejects Israel's assessment that Iran is approaching the "point of no return," in which it will be able to produce the fissionable matter on its own and attain nuclear capability.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided to keep a low profile and leave the United States and its European friends to deal with the Iranian threat. Sharon is concerned that placing Israel on the front lines of the struggle will transform it into a direct confrontation with Iran and will give the Europeans a comfortable excuse to stop intervening. Israel is therefore satisfied with the quiet strengthening of its deterrent power and with talks with the Americans, Europeans and Russians. This position makes sense, but we must not allow it to be understood as silent agreement to pointless diplomatic efforts. It's important for Israel to make it clear that time is running out and that diplomacy must have a clear and final target date.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton reinforced this approach in the comments he made during his visit to Jerusalem. Clinton said diplomatic efforts cannot continue forever, and that they must be strengthened and lead to the imposition of sanctions on Iran, even if it is difficult to influence such a strong and oil-rich country in such a manner. He also discussed the possibility of a military strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities, and did not reject such an option, despite his assessment that the target is a far more complicated military challenge than either the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981 or the U.S. Army's capture of Iraq.

Iran today feels strong in light of the increase in oil prices and the political difficulties the American and French leaders have encountered. There's no doubt that in such circumstances it will be more difficult to pressure Tehran, but we must not stop trying. The Iranian bomb must be stopped before it becomes operational and fundamentally changes the balance of power in the Middle East.