By Arnaud de Borchgrave
Just days before the United Nations Security Council deadline for Iran to cease and desist enriching uranium, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave the West the Iranian bird. By inaugurating a heavy-water reactor, Iran instantly doubled its chances of acquiring nuclear weapons. Adding insult to injury, the military mullahs test-fired a new long-range missile — the Thaqeb, or Saturn, a submarine-to-surface weapon.
The new reactor runs on natural uranium mined by Iran and skips the difficult enrichment phase to produce plutonium, which gives nukes the power to obliterate entire cities. Of course, all these efforts, says Irans president, is to treat and diagnose AIDS and cancer patients. And — we almost forgot — to generate more power to improve agriculture. The fact Iran has sufficient oil reserves to generate electric power for generations to come is conveniently overlooked.
Iran is now confident neither Russia nor China will go along with meaningful economic sanctions. Moscow says sanctions have never worked, ignoring those that collapsed South Africas apartheid regime. The handwriting on the geopolitical landscape has convinced Israel and its core support in the U.S., from the neoconservatives to the Christian Right, that a military solution is inescapable.
Leading conservatives have said World War III — the ultimate clash of civilizations — has been under way since September 11, 2001. Some neocons say it started when the mullahs forced the shah into exile and seized power in Iran in early 1979 — and that President Bush and Britains Prime Minister Tony Blair are treading water among the appeasers. They remind Mr. Bush he vowed not to leave office without first ensuring that the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands and thus Iran cannot become a nuclear power. Their ideological guide Richard Perle goes so far as to accuse Mr. Bush, who knows Iran has pursued a secret nuclear weapons program for the last 19 years, of opting for ignominious retreat.
Overlooked in this calculus is Mr. Bushs burden of two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, and a much-diminished U.S. military. A third front against Iran, an ancient civilization of 70 million with global retaliatory capabilities (e.g., Hezbollah), is a frightening prospect that conjures up the nightmare of a return to the draft.
Mr. Bush believes deeply that Iran poses an existential threat to close ally Israel. Congress recently voted a resolution that said an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States. Mr. Bush also believes Iran is determined to sabotage American hopes of establishing a new democratic Middle East.
In Iraq, clandestine Iranian aid, from sophisticated Improvised Explosive Devices to funds and weapons to the two main Shiite militias, may be designed to maneuver the U.S. into a humiliating, Vietnamlike withdrawal from Iraq.
Given Mr. Bushs overarching dedication to winning the Global War on Terrorism, said one former senior intelligence analyst, the neutralization of Iran has become a sine qua non, equal if not higher on his list of priorities than victory in Iraq, another impossibility that he is unwilling to recognize, even privately, much less acknowledge publicly.
Mr. Bushs national security advisers have also pointed out that an escalating danger of U.S.-Iran military confrontation automatically intensifies internal and regional opposition to U.S. objectives in Iraq. The president keeps reminding private interlocutors to think of how history will judge this critical period 15 to 20 years hence. He sees personal and national humiliation if he were to leave office having acquiesced to an embryonic Iranian nuclear arsenal.
So odds makers bet sometime before the end of his second term President Bush will order a massive air attack on a wide range of carefully selected targets in Iran, in partnership with Israel, and against the advice of many of his advisers. Mr. Bush is convinced a nuclear Iran would pose an intolerable threat to U.S. national security and, as one former intelligence topsider put it, he is firm in his faith that God agrees with him on that point, and certain that history will eventually recognize and properly appreciate his courageous and visionary leadership.
This raises the question of congressional approval. As George Will said to CBS George Stephanopoulos two Sundays ago, when was the last time this president ever worried about getting approval in advance from the Congress or the public?
In any event, Israel is not taking any chances. Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said last week Israel would not be the first to attack Iran. Other Israeli voices say Israel will have to do just that. Israel recently added a new command to the IDF — the Iran Command. Its new commander is Maj. Gen. Elyezer Shkedy, Israels Air Force chief. He is responsible for all conflicts with countries not bordering Israel. The Jewish states strategic thinkers and military planners take the diminutive Mr. Ahmadinejad at his word when he says Israel must be wiped off the map.
Most worrisome for Israel is Hezbollahs recent military performance against the Israeli Defense Force in Lebanon. The perception is this Iranian surrogate resisted and repelled a mighty foe. The reality is Irans new-mown conviction Israel can be defeated. So Israel will now have to prove, yet again, that it cannot.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.