Obama Will Not Stop Iran’s Nuke Program — But Surely Israel Will Try

William Kristol argues persuasively that “President Barack Obama [has] made it clear that he’s resigned to a nuclear Iran.”

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:

If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t. …

North Korea has nuclear weapons. Now Obama is telling us that he intends to deal with Iran as we dealt with North Korea. So, as the Iranians follow in the footsteps of the North Koreans and move ahead to get nukes, we’re going to do nothing about it.

But Israel will.  An Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities now seems inevitable.

I’ve written at length about the difficulties Israel will face in attacking Iran’s weapons program, starting with the need to fly long distances over one or more hostile countries just to get to Iran.  But I don’t see Israel standing by while a nearby Islamic theocracy with a Holocaust-denying nutcase president develops both nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching Israel.  Kristol again:

The Obama administration knows that Israel is weighing military action against Iran. This accounts at least in part for the administration’s turn against Israel in recent weeks—its attempt to further isolate the Jewish state in order to put pressure on it not to act.

I think this gets it exactly backwards.  The Obama administration’s hostility to Israel makes an Israeli air strike more likely, not less.

Ahmadinejad Seems to Have a Death Wish

Just two days after Western leaders revealed that Iran has a secret nuclear facility, the Holocaust-denying nutcase who presides over Iran has started staging missile tests.  The missiles tested Sunday were short-range, but apparently Iran plans on Monday to test missiles capable of reaching Israel (not to mention American bases in the region).

It has become hard to imagine a peaceful ending to the Iranian nuclear problem.  I’ve gone back and forth on this, but it seems highly likely that Israel, which twice before has launched pre-emptive attacks on nuclear facilities in hostile countries, will do so again.  I wish I could be confident that our President would then stand behind one of our staunchest allies, but after Obama’s call at the UN for a “Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967,” I cannot.

Not very cheery thoughts on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  I wish my Jewish friends an easy fast.

Rethinking an Israeli Attack on Iran’s Nukes

London TimesOnline logoWill the Sunni Saudis side with the Jews against Shiite Iran?

The Sunday Times today reports that Saudia Arabia has quietly let Israel know that “that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.”  Israel’s Prime Minister promptly denied it.

But it makes sense, given that the Saudis and other Arab countries are fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran. This may affect my earlier belief that Israel would not attack Iran anytime soon.  Israel flew back and forth over Saudi airspace in its 1981 strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor, but flew low to avoid Saudi detection. I assumed it would be too risky to do the same for the much-longer flight to Iran, but if the Saudis were on board …

Ironically, Saudi cooperation in this way would increase the chance of a confrontation between Israel and the United States.  A glance at the map on the earlier post shows that a Saudi flight path means the Israelis would fly across the entire width of U.S.-controlled Iraqi airspace, whereas the Turkey route would send the planes over only the northern tip of Iraq.

Pace Bolton, I’m Betting Against an Israeli Air Strike on Iran’s Nuke Facilities


Osirak was quite a hike, and Iran is even farther

In today’s Washington Post, former UN Ambassador John Bolton stops just short of openly rooting for Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities:

Iran’s nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not.

The usual suspects are outraged. One HuffPo commenter said “I would take foreign policy advice from Ronald McDonald before I would take advice on where to buy a cheeseburger from John Bolton.” (Much as I disagree on substance, I gotta admit that is a pretty good line.)

John_R._BoltonBolton is nothing if not consistent — the day before the fateful Iranian election, he was in the Wall Street Journal openly speculating about how Iran might react to such a strike.  Out of six possible responses, he judged that increased Iranian support for terrorism was most likely, edging out a direct missile strike against Israel (because Israel might respond with nukes).

As a Bolton-loving, pro-Israel, Saddam-overthrow-approving neocon, I have to say that some part of me is rooting for an Israeli pre-emptive strike as well.  But they couldn’t do it without crossing U.S.-controlled airspace, and I don’t see that happening.

There’s nothing new about all this speculation, of course.  In 2007, two “MIT eggheads” published a detailed paper titled “Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities.” According to the UK Register:

Raas and Long skate over the massive diplomatic problems that would accompany an Israeli strike. The planes would have to fly over Turkey, Syria, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia: and/or American-occupied Iraq. Turkey and Jordan would be extremely angry, but conceivably might not shoot at the Israelis. Syria surely would. America probably wouldn’t, and arguably would have to be consulted in advance anyway, but all in all the Israeli airmen might have to fight before they even reached [Iran], and perhaps again before they got home. The two authors are surely correct to assume that Israel could never get away with more than a single lightning raid; international outrage would surely prohibit any sustained campaign.

Those three words — “America probably wouldn’t” — might seem like an understatement.  My initial reaction was of course America wouldn’t shoot at Israeli fighters.  I certainly hope we would not.  But the more I think about it, the more I think “probably not” is the right assessment.

The MIT eggheads opine:

Raas and Long suggest that a “strike package” of 50 US-made F-15 and F-16 jets — a considerable proportion of the IAF’s current strength — could potentially wreck Iran’s ability to build nukes, using conventional weapons already in the Israeli inventory.

Those F-15 and F-16 jets are the same fighters Israel used 28 years ago when they took out Saddam’s nuke facility at Osirak, according to the writeup in Wikipedia.  (Yes, yes, Wikipedia’s not authoritative, blah blah blah — but I tend to trust the Wikipedians when they cite footnoted sources, as in this case.)  A look at the map above immediately makes clear the logistical challenges of an Israeli strike on Iran, especially since the much-easier Osirak operation was dicey in the first place.

One of Wikipedia’s footnotes leads to the text of a 2001 speech by an Israeli Ambassador, in which he said:

Ten years later, Dick Cheney told me that if Israel not made this preemptive attack [on Osirak], the Gulf War may have yielded a different result.

Cheney — talk about the usual suspects!

And therein lies my point.  There’s a new American sheriff in town, and Mr. Obama is clearly less supportive of Israel’s security needs than his predecessor.  I’m no expert on military capabilities — I wouldn’t even qualify as a dilettante — but it’s inconceivable to me that Israel could carry out a strike against Iran without American acquiesence at the very least.  Remember that even before the war in Iraq, America was enforcing no-fly zones in the northern and southern portions of Iraq.

F-15Iran’s efforts to blame the U.S. for the recent rioting in Tehran are transparently silly, but that hasn’t kept them from making the accusation.  Obama has shown what I and others consider to be excessive concern with what Iran thinks about us.  So it stands to reason that even as I write this, American diplomats are telling Israeli diplomats to pay no attention to what that man with the white mustache says in the Washington Post.

Would Israel attack Iran even over the strenuous objections of the Obama administration?  It’s certainly conceivable.  The question is, how far would Obama go to deter an Israeli attack?  I don’t for a moment think that any American official is eager to shoot down an Israeli fighter — but would they scramble American jets to try to intercept and wave off the Israelis?  And if those jets get within range of each other, what would each side’s rules of engagement be?

Any such confrontation would “probably” (there’s that word again) not permanently cripple U.S.-Israeli relations, but I don’t think Israel will want to risk it at a time when even the chief of Mossad thinks an Iranian nuclear threat is still years away.  So I’ll be very surprised in Israel actually goes through with a strike on Iraq’s nukes, at least in the near future.  But if it turns out I’m wrong — if Israel does take on Iran — I know who’s side I’ll be on.

(Map and photos of Bolton and F-15 from Wikipedia)

Oliphant Takes Dehumanization of Jews into the Mainstream

Clifford May of the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies weighs in on the Oliphant cartoon:

Let’s not call the political cartoonist Pat Oliphant an anti-Semite or even an Israel-basher. Let’s just be clear about what he is doing: encouraging those whose intentions are genocidal. …

The symbolism here is unoriginal. Dehumanizing Jews in cartoons is a tradition that dates back at least to Germany in the 1930s and has been maintained in the Arab press ever since. Nor is it novel to equate 21st-century Jews with their 20th-century executioners. But until now, such images have rarely, if ever, been so legitimized in the mainstream media. A corner has been turned.

Read the whole thing.

Oliphant’s Cartoon Is Not Just Despicable, It’s Dangerous

20090326oliphantantisemite1At Israel Insider, Barry Rubin does the best job I’ve seen of describing precisely why Pat Oliphant’s recent cartoon — featuring a goose-stepping, headless swordsman pushing a Jew-shark-on-a-unicycle — is so powerful, and so powerfully offensive. Hat tip: Andy McCarthy.

Is the cartoon truly anti-Semitic, or is it “merely” anti-Israel? I say both, but whatever. The point is that the cartoon is a dangerous lie. It’s dangerous not just to Israel, but to America, to the West, and to any society that faces asymmetric attacks from Islamic fascists.

Like McCarthy, I think this excerpt from Rubin’s commentary spells out the danger (emphasis added):

Oliphant like many or most Western intellectuals, academics, and policymakers, still doesn’t understand the concept of asymmetric warfare. In this, a weaker side wages war on a stronger side using techniques it thinks can make it win. What are these techniques? Terrorism, indifference to the sacrifice of its people, indifference to material losses, refusal to compromise, extending the war for ever. This is precisely the technique of Hamas: let’s continue attacking Israel in order to provoke it to hit us, let’s target Israeli civilians, let’s seek a total victory based on genocide, let’s use our own civilians as human shields, and with such methods we will win. One way we will win is to demonize those who defend themselves, to put them in positions where they have a choice between surrender and looking bad. This cartoon is a victory for Hamas. But it is also a victory for all those who would fight the West and other democracies (India, for example) using these methods. Remember September 11?

In World War II — the “good war” — we faced enemies that commanded military infrastructure comparable to our own. The enemy was both willing and able to meet us on the battlefield, and was capable of inflicting severe damage. To my mind, that parity helps justify actions we took that otherwise would be morally ambiguous at best: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden.

Today’s enemies are financed by immense oil wealth, but have virtually no industrial base of their own. Hamas buys missiles that it could not possibly produce and shoots them from Gaza into Israel. For the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda took flying lessons at American flight schools, hijacked American jetliners and crashed them into buildings born of America’s industrial and architectural prowess.

Because today’s good guys are immensely more powerful than today’s bad guys, the bad guys have to change the context. They have to use our strength and our values against us. They count on the fact that we — America, Israel — will strive, at great risk to our own troops, to limit civilian casualties on their side. Israel could have killed every human being in the Gaza Strip with zero or close to zero Israeli casualties. Instead, Israel makes a practice of warning the human shields who live in houses that are targeted because they hold arms caches.

Meanwhile, Islamic fascists are more than willing to cause the deaths not just of our civilians, but of their own as well, because the PR exploitation of their own civilian casualties is a key weapon in their arsenal. The only thing Hamas values more than dead Israelis is dead Palestinians. Preferably Palestinian children. We face enemies who are willing to breed their own children for martyrdom.

Enemies practicing asymmetric warfare will always be able to inflict casualties, but the only way they can win is if they can persuade enough of us that it is somehow immoral to fight back. That’s why Rubin concludes that Oliphant — who in a different context would qualify as a classic example of a useful idiot — has scored a victory for Hamas.

Freeman Screed Shows America Dodged A Bullet

Chas Freeman — who would have been in charge of producing policy-neutral reports synthesizing the findings of America’s 16 intelligence agencies — described the opposition to his appointment thusly:

The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

Just the sort of dispassionate, nuanced assessment President Obama needs as he attempts to craft foreign policy in an uncertain world.

At least the firestorm finally made its way onto the front pages of the Times and the Post. Both papers accepted Freeman’s premise that the “Israel Lobby” had scuttled the nomination. Neither of them saw fit even to mention the opposition of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a member of the president’s party and second in line of succession to the presidency. According to Newsweek, in an article published way back on Tuesday, her concerns had nothing to do with Israel:

Pelosi’s objections reportedly focused on Freeman’s ties to China. A well-placed Democratic source said Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Chinese human-rights movement, was incensed about public remarks that Freeman once made that seemed to justify the violent 1989 Chinese government crackdown on democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. The source, who asked not to be identified, said Pelosi thought Freeman’s views were “indefensible” and complained directly to President Obama about his selection.

Perhaps Freeman, who believes America’s relationship with Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks, thinks the Israel Lobby also instigated the Tiananmen protests.

"A Sickness in the Soul of Middle-Eastern Islam"

I don’t agree with every syllable of Ralph Peters’s column in today’s New York Post, but this part works:

Israel hasn’t killed a single civilian in the Gaza Strip. Over a hundred civilians have died, and Israeli bombs or shells may have ended their lives. But Israel didn’t kill them.

Hamas did. …

Peace is the last thing Hamas terrorists and gangsters want. Peace means the game is up. Peace means they’ve disappointed their god. Peace means no more excuses. They couldn’t bear peace for six months.

This is a war to the bitter end. And we’re afraid to admit what it’s about.

It’s not about American sins or Israeli intransigence. It’s about a sickness in the soul of a civilization – of Middle-Eastern Islam – that can only be cured from within. Until Arabs or Iranians decide to cure themselves, we’ll have to fight.

Instead, we want to talk. We convince ourselves, against all evidence, that our enemies really want to talk, too, that they just need “incentives” (the diplomat’s term for bribes). The apparent belief of our president-elect that it’s possible to negotiate with faith-fueled fanatics is so naive it’s terrifying.

Yet, it’s understandable. Barack Obama’s entire career has been built on words, not deeds, on his power to persuade, not his power to deliver. But all the caucuses, debates, neighborhood meetings and backroom deal-making sessions in his past haven’t prepared him to “negotiate” with men whose single-minded goal is Israel’s destruction – and ours.

Pictures: Little Green Footballs

Gaza: A Time for War, a Time for Peace

At Pajamas Media, Middle East commentator Eli Bernstein examines Israel’s war against Hamas in the context of the ancient doctrine of a “just war.” He concludes, of course, that Israel has the right to use military force to protect its people. Further, he argues that Israel now has a moral obligation to continue its operation until Hamas’s ability to wage terrorist attacks is crippled:

An ethical exit strategy must be in place with a peace settlement that ensures the violated rights are enforced (Rights vindication). For the war not to be fought in vain, Israel must ensure the original just cause is rectified through a sustainable cessation of violence. Israel must therefore not agree to the unilateral ceasefire, proposed by the Europeans.

Bernstein’s closing paragraphs are particularly strong in describing the stark differences in the motivations of the combatants (emphasis added):

Israel as a democracy surrounded by rogue regimes has to balance its inherent abhorrence of violence with the violent zeal of the rogue regimes it is surrounded by. Israel cannot be expected to act like Sweden when its neighbours are neither Norway nor Finland.

As nations around the world increasingly confront the menace of terrorism and rogue regimes, the Western world will have to learn the unpleasant truth that there is a time for peace and a time for war. Bill Clinton’s pacifist stance on Rwanda caused more deaths than any act of war America has ever engaged in. The pacifist does not necessarily have the shorter sword than the warrior.

It is time the world stops the double speak of moral equivalence. Every Palestinian innocent life lost is a tragic undesired outcome for the Israeli side, whereas the loss of Israeli civilian life is the aim rather than an incidental outcome for Hamas. In the conflict between Israel and Hamas, there simply is no moral equivalence. It is time the world recognised this truth and spoke in one voice.