Ahmadinejad calls for “annihilation” of Israel;
Netanyahu warns U.S. time is running out to stop Iran
UPDATED: Twenty-two years ago today, Saddam Hussein stunned the world by invading Kuwait. The war erupted even though President George H.W. Bush’s administration assured Americans that Saddam was just “saber rattling.” Indeed, the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, had just left Baghdad to go on summer vacation. Mideast wars have a way of catching Washington by surprise and ruining vacations.
In this context, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is once again calling for the annhilation of Israel. “Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom,” the Iranian leader said in a Ramadan speech. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, is being as forthright as he can be. War may be coming very soon. He told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday that time is running out for the international community to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat. Yes, economic sanctions are seriously harming Iran’s economy — driving up prices, creating scarcity of certain products, etc — but Netanyahu is making clear that he doesn’t see the sanctions actually having any effect on changing Tehran’s feverish bid to build nuclear weapons. “However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them,” Netanyahu told reporters. “Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program.” What’s more, Netanyahu said, sanctions have “yet to move its nuclear program even a millimeter backwards.”
One sobering scenario to consider: Netanyahu may decide to strike Iran in September and/or October, prior to the national elections here in the U.S. Israel is awash with rumors of this possibility. Indeed, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy is telling reporters, “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks.”
Why? Here’s the logic of an autumn strike:
- If Mr. Netanyahu believes Israel has to hit Iran before Iran hides their nuclear program in impenetrable underground tunnels (possibly by the end of this year) then he may choose to launch the attack at a time when it’s most politically difficult for President Obama to oppose or undermine Israeli military action.
- Support for Israeli security is becoming a key issue in the 2012 campaign between President Obama and Governor Romney, and Netanyahu may calculate that the President would feel compelled to do everything he could to help Israel this fall in order to win votes for November.
- If Netanyahu does not strike this fall, and Mr. Obama wins re-election, Netanyahu has to consider the possibility that the White House would be even less inclined to support an Israeli strike next year. Indeed, Mr. Obama would not be facing another election and thus could, potentially, really turn the screws on Israel and take actions designed to block preemptive action.
- If Netanyahu concludes that Governor Romney is going to win in November, and if he believes Romney would be more supportive of a preemptive strike, the Israeli PM might choose to delay such a first strike until early next year when the Romney administration could be more robust partners in such an action.
My point here is not to be partisan or to say these assessments or calculations are necessarily right or wise, per se. I’m simply noting some of the thinking I believe is going on in Jerusalem as Mr. Netanyahu and his war cabinet make final decisions. And keep in mind another serious dynamic: What if the Assad regime in Damascus collapses and the rebels — or terrorist groups like Hezbollah or al Qaeda — get their hands of Syria’s chemical weapons? Or what if Assad decides to use chemical weapons against the rebels? Or what if Assad decides to launch a suicidal attack on Israel in a desperate bid to unify his country against the Jews? Mounting instability in Syria is a very serious concern for Israel right now. It is also possible that we could be approaching the destruction of Damascus as foretold by the ancient Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.