At Large
Israel Readies Iran Takeout

By George H. Wittman on 1.30.09 @ 6:07AM

There is no question among intelligence analysts that Iran is proceeding with the construction of nuclear weapons. The only real question remaining concerns the character of its intention to use the weapons.

Ultimately Iran seeks to be the determinant power in the region. Having the sole nuclear weapon capability in the Middle East -- other than Israel -- would give Iran the status it seeks. This weaponry combined with its already considerable political influence even in majority Sunni areas would raise Tehran to new levels of leverage among its neighbors.

The Persian nuclear weapon carries an implicit threat against Israel, but it also has a perceived defensive component. A nuclear-armed Iran would have the ability to threaten Gulf oil production, thus countering any American military efforts to coerce current or future regimes in Tehran.

Pakistan's nuclear missiles threaten only India and are thus perceived of no real threat to nearby Middle Eastern countries. A similar Persian Shia weapon would make Iran predominant among the entire community of mostly Arab Sunnis that make up the Islamic Near East. This new political status would challenge the historical dominance of this regional Arab majority -- something the Persian Shia have been seeking for centuries.

All this exists aside from any threat that may be implied against the State of Israel whose destruction as a rallying point for Moslems of all hues is often the only thing that unifies Islamic nations. Iran doesn't need to attack Israel; all it has to do is be armed in such a manner as to make such an attack plausible.

The driving force behind Iranian ambitions in the nuclear field is not the usual suspect, President Ahmadinejad. He is merely a loyal puppet for the truly powerful supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei has had an intense interest and involvement in Iranian military affairs for the last thirty years. He was the late Ayatollah Khomeini's representative at the Defense Ministry in the 1979 interim government and later went on to be deputy defense minister.

Even though both Rafsanjani and Khatami encouraged nuclear development during their terms in power as president, Khamenei's ascension to the post of supreme leader in 1989 made concrete the national commitment to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle and eventually make Iran's nuclear armament possible.

Israel, for its part, believes it cannot afford to have a nuclear armed, radically governed Iran as a perpetual danger to its existence. It calculates that it must destroy Iran's ability to wage nuclear war. There is nothing to negotiate in this regard except perhaps the timing of the Israeli action. The Israelis have shown a predilection for action over threat of action.

For Ayatollah Khamenei, the more his government can involve Washington in discussion/negotiations on the subject of Iran's nuclearization, the greater the lead time will be provided for weapon development. This is true whether or not Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani, Khatami or any other individual is president. The lessons of manipulating delay have been well learned from North Korea.

The time element, however, for accomplishing Iran's task of nuclear weapon development appears now to be a year or less. This is the projection on which the Israeli Defense Ministry is basing its plans. Tehran is fully knowledgeable of this and it is thus extremely important for the Iranians to get the Obama administration into talks as soon as possible in order to put deterrent pressure on the Israelis.

Jane's Defense Weekly has already reported that it expects the less-advanced American "bunker busting" bombs (GPU-27, 28) have already been delivered to Israel. The original request, nearly two years ago to over-fly Iraq to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, was turned down by Washington. All that did was to send the Israeli Defense Ministry back to its drawing boards for alternate attack routes and methods.

Ali Khamenei knows the Israeli attack on Gaza also carried and important warning for Iran that Israel will not wait to seek external approval of what its considers necessary military action. The only questions left, therefore, are how and when the Israelis will choose to interdict Iranian nuclear weapon development.

To ensure that there will be no Israeli preemptive bombing of Iranian nuclear weapon sites in the next 12-18 months, there must be a clear action by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei halting the creation of the Persian bomb. President Barack Obama has a very tight window within which to work his much heralded negotiating magic; otherwise a new Middle East conflagration will begin -- and soon.

George H. Wittman, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.