In November of last year, I wrote an article speculating about whether or not the Israelis would take the matter of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons into their own hands by launching a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic. That column was written in response to a quote by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who, before leaving for Washington and a meeting with President Bush, warned that Israel had “various" options for dealing with Iran.
With Iran's rejection of a weak sanctions regime passed by the ineffective United Nations, and its continued pursuit of nuclear technology that would allow the production of atomic weapons, the subject of an Israeli first strike is worth revisiting.
It is no secret that Iran, and particularly Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would like to see Israel “wiped off the map. " Iran's quest for nuclear technology is part of a grand scheme to gain recognition as the most powerful nation in the Middle East. Iran's power, of course, would be backed by Iran's status as a member of the nuclear club, a status that would negate a major Israeli advantage over its Middle East neighbors.
Israel has maintained in the past that a nuclear-armed Iran is simply an unacceptable risk to Israeli national security concerns. But the reality is that Israel's options for dealing with Iran are severely limited. To begin with, the Olmert government is weak and vulnerable. Last summer's war with Hezbollah was a disaster, with the IDF unable to achieve anything more than a stalemate against the terrorist group and with none of Israel's strategic goals in the conflict accomplished. Public confidence in the government was severely weakened, and Olmert may not have the support he needs to take on Iran.
Second, unilateral military action by Israel would inflame Muslim passions throughout the region, creating problems for the United States in Iraq and increasing the likelihood of a wider regional war. I think it's safe to say that Hezbollah would once again be unleashed on Israeli civilians and the possibility of Syrian intervention in Lebanon could not be ruled out.
It is highly unlikely that President Bush would agree to support an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The consequences of such an act are just too severe. What is likely to happen is that the United States, which faces no good options for dealing with the government in Tehran, and Israel, which cannot act on its own, will be forced to accept a nuclear-armed Iran within the next decade.
The geopolitical balance of power in the region will change, and Israel will no longer be the sole nuclear nation in the Middle East. Iran is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack against Israel, despite the incessant bellicose rhetoric, because to do so would be to invite retaliation by Israel, and possibly the United States, that would guarantee the fall of the clerical regime in Tehran. Iran will, however, become more emboldened, and will challenge U. S. and Israeli interests throughout the region. Unfortunately, for the time being at least, there isn't much either country can do about it.