A Nuclearized Iran: Approaching the Point of No Return

(Atlantic Monthly) Jeffrey Goldberg - The U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade Iraq's airspace on their way to Iran. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down. If a strike does succeed in crippling the Iranian nuclear program, Israel will have removed from its list of existential worries the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism; it may derive for itself the secret thanks of the Middle East's moderate Arab regimes, all of which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel's; and it will have succeeded in countering the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which is a prime goal of the enthusiastic counter-proliferator who currently occupies the White House. Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy's nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting - forever, as it turned out - Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean-built reactor in Syria. Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability (often understood to be the capacity to assemble more than one missile-ready nuclear device within about three months of deciding to do so). The Iranian regime, by its own statements and actions, has made itself Israel's most zealous foe; and the most crucial component of Israeli national-security doctrine is that no regional adversary should be allowed to achieve nuclear parity with the reborn and still-besieged Jewish state. "You don't want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs," Netanyahu told me in 2009. "When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the world should start worrying, and that's what is happening in Iran." "Iranian leaders talk about Israel's destruction or disappearance while simultaneously creating weapons to ensure its disappearance." An Israeli official who spends considerable time with the prime minister told me: "In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, 6 million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them."

2010-08-11 09:20:16

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