Waiting to Bomb Iran

A possible attack on Iran will be complex and risky, and therefore we would do well not to ignore the threats, and to conduct a public debate on the question of whether this course of action is desirable for Israel.

While the debate in Israel was focused on the disengagement plan, an entirely different discussion was developing in the international media. They have become convinced in recent weeks that Israel is planning an aerial attack on Iran's nuclear installations, should it conclude that Iran is proceeding apace toward the development of an atomic bomb, and the diplomatic effort to stop it has failed.

This discussion is not taking place on remote Internet sites, but in learned analyses by the most important newspapers in the world, which are describing the anticipated Israeli bombing as a political fact that is influencing decision makers in Washington and Europe. Everyone knows that Israel considers the Iranian bomb the most serious threat to its existence and its regional status.

The newspaper articles recall the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reaction in 1981 as an example of what awaits the Iranians. They analyze the ability of the Israel Air Force to carry out such an operation, and warn that it will lead to terrible repercussions in the Middle East.

There is no question that the bombing of Iran will be much more complicated than the attack on the Iraqi reactor. The flight range is greater, the Iranian installations are scattered and protected, and Iran is capable of retaliating. But the interesting difference between Iraq and Iran is that at the time, the Iraqi operation was planned in secret and was carried out by surprise, and this time the ostensible preparations are being conducted almost in the open.

The belief that Israel's patience is running out have increased since July, when the British Sunday Times reported - based on Israeli sources - on the advanced preparations for bombing the reactor in Bushehr. The article, which was widely quoted all over the world and aroused Iranian counter-threats, seems to be Israeli psychological warfare.

The British papers are a well-known target of such deliberate leaks, but no investigation was begun in Israel about presumed revelations of operational secrets, and at the time, Iran seemed to be evading diplomatic pressure. Afterward came the tests of the Israel Arrow missile and the Iranian Shihab, and more belligerent declarations from Teheran, and additional articles about the anticipated operation.

Judging by an analysis of the articles, Israel has decided to sharpen the sense of urgency in the international community, in order to increase diplomatic pressure on Teheran to cease its enrichment of uranium. This goal has been achieved, at least in the declarations being heard from the United States and Europe, and in the decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It is possible that factors in the West, doubtful about the success of the diplomatic effort, prefer to have Israel act in their place. There are signs of that: Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who met with many of his colleagues at the UN General Assembly, heard a great deal of understanding from them about the Iranian danger, and serious doubts as to the chances of diplomacy. Nobody asked Israel to refrain from a belligerent act.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Israel is not planning a military operation in Iran, and speaks of developing improved means of defense and deterrence. But the foreign media were more interested in the threats against the Iranians by senior members of the Israel Defense Forces. "We will not rely only on others" (Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon), "We will rely on others until we have to rely on ourselves" (his deputy, Dan Halutz), "The operational capability of the air force has increased significantly since the bombing of the Iraqi reactor" (Commander of the Israel Air Force, Eliezer Shkedi).

Sharon is disturbed by the growing acceptance, particularly in Europe, of Iran's impending membership in the nuclear club. Meanwhile he is carefully walking on the edge, and is exploiting his tough-guy image to arouse international attention. But nor should we forget that the present political-military leadership - Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Ya'alon, Halutz - has few inhibitions about exercising military might. Operations that were once considered taboo, such as attacks on Damascus and assassinations of Hamas leaders, now seem self evident.

A possible attack on Iran will be much more complex and risky, and therefore we would do well not to ignore the threats, and to conduct a public debate on the question of whether this course of action is desirable for Israel.