Iran threat can’t be denied

February 3, 2012


One of several casualties of the vitriolic name-calling between Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich is what to do about Iran.

In interviews, Romney has spoken about tougher sanctions, but it’s been difficult to consider the candidates’ positions on Iran — or much else — with the childish talk about who is the bigger liar.

James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, testified Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Clapper said that while American sanctions are likely to have a greater impact on Iran’s nuclear program, they are not expected to lead to the demise of Iran’s leadership.

Clapper said, “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.”

Given the apocalyptic statements from Iran’s leadership, is anyone in doubt about Iran’s intentions? Clapper said Iran is expanding its capability to enrich uranium and that the end product can be used for either civil or weapons purposes.

Clapper acknowledged “Iran’s technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so.”

The central issue for Israel and the United States is this: can Iran be stopped by a pre-emptive attack, or must we wait until it launches — or threatens to launch — a nuclear missile at Israel, or explodes — or threatens to explode — “suitcase bombs” in U.S. cities?

In the English edition of “Israel Hayom,” the largest circulation Hebrew daily in Israel, former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger writes about the history of pre-emptive strikes that did not materialize and the consequences of waiting to be attacked before acting, http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1298.

Ettinger believes the reluctance to engage in a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran’s hands and threatens Israel’s existence” because it conveys “hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude pre-emption and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran,” which of course it cannot, anymore that the United States could have co-existed with Cuba when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles there during the Kennedy administration.

The history and consequences of American and Israeli reluctance to engage in pre-emption has been chronicled by Ettinger. Here are two of several examples: Oct. 5, 1973: Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir rejected the option of a pre-emptive strike against mobilizing Egyptian and Syrian troops. Meir didn’t want to appear as the aggressor and damage ties with the U.S., which was pressuring Israel to do nothing, probably out of fear the incendiary situation would be “inflamed.” Following the resultant Yom Kippur War, many came to view the cost of waiting as greater than it might have been had Israel attacked first.

In June 1981, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin considered a pre-emptive strike against Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Most of the intelligence and military leadership in Israel opposed action. Begin concluded, correctly, the cost of restraint would be greater than the cost of action. The surprise Israeli air strike took out the reactor under construction near Baghdad. The United Nations Security Council denounced the attack and the Reagan administration issued the pro forma denunciations of Israel’s actions, though there were reports the president tacitly approved. The results were favorable to Israel and the U.S., delaying further action against Saddam Hussein until Desert Storm in 1991 and his ultimate overthrow in 2003.

Now Israel and the U.S. are faced with another choice: a pre-emptive strike that would set back, or destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, or wait and see what might happen. Does anyone — other than Ron Paul — deny the disaster that might occur if Iran had a nuclear device and the capability to deliver it against targets in Israel and America?

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email is tmseditors@tribune.com.


uncleandyt 5 years, 10 months ago

The threat can and will continue to be denied.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 10 months ago

Not denied. Simply put in perspective.

Of course there's a "threat" of something happening. But even Cal said "deny the disaster that MIGHT occur".

The thing is, if there is a disaster, we don't know what it will be or who will be responsible for it. After all, there are a number of possibilities.

And then there's the "might" occur part. After all, I remember when the USSR used their nuclear weapons on...oh, wait. That never happened. It must have been North Korea...oh wait. That's never happened, either. Gee...as I recall, only one country has actually used their nuclear weapons. I wonder who that was. Maybe we ought to sanction or attack them??

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

During the U.S./U.S.S.R. cold war, things happened. Neither country just sat back and waited for the other to collapse. Korea and Vietnam, Cuban missile crisis, Berlin, etc. Were these smaller conflicts a way of blowing off steam, preventing a major conflict? Maybe speaking to each other helped?
The point is that at no time were we doing nothing. And doing nothing now might lead to very different results.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

The bigger threat to world (and regional) security isn't the denial of the Iranian threat, but rather the exaggeration thereof.

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

There's no "exaggeration" whatsoever if Iran makes The Bomb. But I do agree that all of this is a huge threat to the world and I'm praying diplomacy and non-violent sanctions will win the day.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 10 months ago

Running for office is much more fun than governing. All the presidents find this out soon enough. It's easy to talk tough to a crowd in a hotel ballroom to win some votes. Actually making it happen without making things worse is another matter. Politics can be fun; policy can be a drag.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

"Pre-emptive" self defense is in violation of international law.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

I have no idea - the better question is whether Israel and the US care about it.

Israel always does what they feel is in their best interests, of course.

On a personal level, if there's an "imminent" threat, you may act in self-defense, at least in this country.

That's not "pre-emptive" self defense.

These are tricky judgements, to be sure, but I think the idea is that we don't want nations to be attacking one another all of the time because they think other nations might attack them.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

You make statements like, we don't want nations to be attacking each other all the time. Of course that's true. But each country makes assessments based on levels of threat.
We in the U.S. may feel secure enough in our safety, knowing that some small country far away has little power to do significant harm. We have that pleasure. But a small country surrounded by much larger neighbors, with much greater resources and with the intent to destroy that small country may assess it's safety much different than how our very safe country does.
They may just look at international law and say it's contrary not just to it's safety, but to it's very survival.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

We've had this conversation before - I don't really want to rehash the whole thing.

We attacked Iraq, based on a threat assessment, as a pre-emptive self defense move, and it turns out we were most likely wrong about the threat.

International law means nothing if nations simply ignore it.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

What exactly is this international law concept of which you speak? There are many treaties and many courts out there. Some countries have signed on while others have not. Are sovereign countries accountable to courts and treaties to which they have not agreed to? Look at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many countries signed on to that, getting substantial benefits in return for an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons. Israel specifically did not sign that treaty and did not get the benefits. Countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea chose to violate their own word not to develop weapons. Many countries have kept their promise and not developed weapons. Into which category does Iran fall? Will India, Pakistan and North Korea be held accountable, maybe Iran? Should Israel be held accountable to a treaty that they didn't agree to and to one where they didn't get the benefits?

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

just google pre-emptive self defense, and you'll find sources.

That's what I did - one of the first ones I found stated what I have stated.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

"International law means nothing if nations simply ignore it" I looked up the definitions as well. There is much reference to the United Nations. I'm wondering if the U.N. has rules about the President of one member state threatening to annihilate another member state? To threaten to wipe it off the face of the Earth? I'll bet it does. Yet what are the consequences for such provocative statements? None? Where is this international law of which you speak? And if the threatened party interprets those statements as an imminent threat as opposed to someone sitting on a couch in Lawrence, Ks. interpreting the action as preemptive, who's to say you're correct and the threatened party is wrong? And why not blame the speaker of the threat?

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

As I said, I don't want to rehash our previous conversation on this - what's the point?

But, it seems to me that you should decide which you prefer - international agreements/rules that all nations abide by, or chaos?

Your criticism of lack of consequences for UN rules suggests you'd like the former, but much of your argument suggests the latter.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

The U.N., with all it's rules and guidelines sounds great. But the devil is in the details. There are 22 Arab countries in the U.N. There are 55 predominately Muslim countries and there are many others dependent upon Middle East oil. Expecting justice there would be great. But is it real? I've mentioned the case a few years ago where two resolutions were introduced condemning Israel and the Palestinians of killing children. The resolution condemning Israel passed and the one that condemned the killing of Israeli children failed. It's into this forum you expect justice? Yes, it would be nice. But is it real? Would you like to go to a court to find all 12 jurors were relatives of the plaintiff? Or all 12 relatives of the prosecutor?
Yes, we're rehashing things. You keep looking at the word in a way it should be, or in a way you think it should be. I keep speaking of the word as it really is. And when life and death decisions are being made, living or dying are very real, not some theoretical concept.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

Why keep rehashing the conversation then?

You know what I think, and vice-versa.

By the way, I think it's important to look at reality as well, and I'm not at all convinced that your version of it is correct, in many cases. You seem to operate from a fear-based model.

But, it's also important to look at how we think the world should be, or how we should act, etc.

One without the other is pointless - hey terrorists torture and kill people. Ok, so? Unless we have some way of determining how "we" want to act, that fact is useless.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 10 months ago

One country threatening another is like Missouri threatening to beat Kansas in basketball. It may happen, it may not. These threats from Iran are as worthless as the person uttering them. They cannot destroy Israel and they know it. So why get our defenses up and be ready for a pre-emptive strike. That is foolish and will get them (Israel) nothing.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

I think you underestimate those.

If Iran is really trying to build a nuclear weapon, and they have such extreme views on Israel, it's very possible they may try to attack them.

If they don't mean them, why on earth would they continue to use such extreme language?

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

While that may be true, jafs, when we're talking about a nuclear bomb attack I'm bettin' the country staring down the barrel isn't going to care much about that law. Nor should they.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 10 months ago

You are confusing theocratic with democratic. Did you know that Muslims have the right to vote in Israel? And, out of a population of about 8 million, 1.5 million of the citizens of Israel are Arabs.

But Jews are not allowed to vote in almost all of the Islamic countries in the Middle East, because they had their property seized before they were expelled from the country. I wonder why that is never discussed.

In a way, Israel is like the United States in that we allow Black people and women not only to stay here, but also to vote.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

It's wholly naive to assert that Arabs, no matter their religion, have any effect on policy, domestic or otherwise, in Israel.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

Israeli politics is very much linked to what is happening on the other side. To not see that is to not see at all.
There are many examples I could give, but just off the top of my head, look what happened when Sadat sought peace. The very hard line Israeli Prime Minister. Begin, was forced to do a complete 180 in his approach to Egypt. The resulting generation of peace has benefitted everyone in the region. It is very probable that a true signal of peace from the Palestinians will be met by a similar 180 by this equally hard line Israeli leadership.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

As usual, Robert Fisk writes with clarity, and with no agenda other than to describe the reality of what the warmongers on all sides would create.


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