The options of deterrence and retaliation are not available in face of the Iranian terror regime, which sacrificed hundreds of thousands of its people during the 1980-88 war against Iraq. The only option available is that of prevention and preemption.
In 1981, the heads of Israel's Mossad and military intelligence, then Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Opposition Head Shimon Peres lobbied Prime Minister Menachem Begin against the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor. They contended that the chance of success was negligible and that the prospect of watching the pilots dragged beheaded in the streets of Baghdad was higher than welcoming the pilots back in Israel. They warned that the operation would cause a deep rift between Israel and the US with devastating political, economic and social consequences. They projected the collapse of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, an all out Muslim war on Israel – without US support – and a significant deterioration of the personal security of Jews around the globe. However, Prime Minister Begin demonstrated a pre-requisite to leadership, asserting that the cost of inaction (a nuclear Iraq) would dwarf the cost of action. He sacrificed short-term convenience on the altar of long-term national security.
In 1981, the US did not fully appreciate the severity of Iraq's nuclear threat. In 2009, the US is fully aware of Iran's nuclear threat. Would Prime Minister Netanyahu follow in the footsteps of Begin, or Peres, in face of a clear and present lethal, nuclear danger?
An Iranian nuclear cloud, hovering above Israel, would not require the launching a nuclear bomb, in order to wreck domestic and external confidence in the future of the Jewish state. Aliya (immigration of Jews) would come to a halt, emigration would surge dramatically, Israel's credit rating and growth projection would collapse, and oversea investors would stay away, causing economic, social and security devastation. Therefore, the Jewish state cannot await a smoking nuclear gun in the hand of Teheran; the Jewish state must prevent the nuclear gun from reaching Teheran's hand.
Ultimate leadership test
In 2009, Iran's nuclear infrastructure benefits from defensive means, which are superior to Iraq's 1981 defense capabilities: proliferation throughout Iran, deep and heavily fortified facilities and most-advanced Russian air defense systems. But, in 2009, Israel's offensive capabilities have improved geometrically, compared with 1981: destruction, precision, penetration and the capability to launch missiles away from the range of enemy radar. In 1981, Israel had only one-time offensive option, which was based on untested modifications of the F-15 and F-16. In 2009, Israel benefits from a number of offensive options, which are based on proved military systems and on superior human and satellite intelligence.
In 2009, the destruction of a few critical nuclear installations would paralyze, or substantially delay, Iran's nuclear effort.
In 1981, the American public and Congress shared the relative-indifference of the Free World toward Iraq's nuclear threat. In 2009, the American public and Congress are fully cognizant of Iran's nuclear threat to US soldiers in the Gulf and in the Indian Ocean, to the US mainland and to Israel. They push President Obama to adopt a more hawkish policy on Iran and they identify with Israel's right of self-defense. Would Israel leverage such attitude by the American public and its representatives in both chambers of Congress, their traditional solid support of the Jewish state and the power of Congress to initiate and stop the supply of sophisticated military systems, in order to enhance Israeli capabilities to prevent the nuclearization of Iran?
A unilateral military Israeli action in 1967 (Six-Day War) and in 1981 (bombing Iraq's nuclear reactor) triggered painful short-term condemnations and sanctions, but accorded the Jewish state with long-term strategic respect. The destruction of Egypt's pan-Arab clout and Iraq's nuclear capabilities reduced Middle East turbulence, dealt a blow to the USSR, bolstered the stability of Saudi Arabia and other pro-US vulnerable regimes, advanced US interests and upgraded Israel's posture of deterrence.
The elimination of Iran's nuclear threat would trigger similar results, in addition to a possible shower of Iranian, Hezbollah and Hamas missiles on Israeli population centers, accompanied by reinforced PLO terrorism. As severe as the cost of a military offensive would be, it would be dwarfed by the cost of avoiding military offensive: A nuclear attack on the Jewish state.
The Iranian nuclear challenge constitutes – for Israel's prime minister, cabinet and Knesset members - the ultimate test of leadership. Will they follow pragmatism, driven by tenacity and the long-term survival interest of the Jewish state, or will they demonstrate "pragmatism," driven by vacillation and short-term needs, which has characterized all Israeli governments since 1992, thus eroding the foundation of the Jewish state.
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, expert on Middle East and US affairs, Executive Director of "Second Thought"