The Iranian Threat / Safe to Leave the Bomb Shelters

Mossad chief Meir Dagan spread calm yesterday in his statements at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. His statements, in which he estimated that Iran would not have a nuclear weapon before 2009, were meant to balance the apocalyptic scenarios put forth by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and opposition head, Benjamin Netanyahu - who compared Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler.

Dagan is also heading the forum that is meant to lead Israel's efforts to block the Iranian program on the diplomatic level, so close attention should be paid to his statements. In his presentation yesterday, Dagan was prepared - his were not slips of the tongue - with slides showing the estimated progression of Iran's nuclear program. All was based on published material.

There is diplomatic significance to the timetable Dagan showed: if Iran is two to three years removed from the bomb, there is still time to stop it by diplomatic means. It is still possible to give Security Council sanctions a chance to work. A resolution on sanctions is expected in the coming days, and this will be backed with more robust action by the United States and the European Union.

Dagan also rejected talk in Israel that Iran will reach a "point of no return" in a few months. If there is no such point in the immediate future, then Israel has time to rally international support in blocking Iran.

This means that there is also no need to press President George Bush to rush an attack against Iran in order to prevent another Holocaust of the Jewish people. In any case, if Dagan is right, by the time Iran is close to having a bomb, there will be a different president in the White House, one who will be free of the trauma of Iraq.

There is no uniform opinion among Israeli officials. Some believe the international community's sanctions will be effective in curtailing Iran's nuclear program and lead it to seek a discreet diplomatic option toward an honorable solution. Others are disappointed at what they consider to be the international community's indifference to the Iranian threat.