The Iranian nuclear program was launched in the 1970s, under the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Surprisingly, it was Ayatollah Khomeini who suspended the plan for religious reasons. The trauma of the war against Iraq revived the Iranians, and as the ayatollahs' hold on the country tightened, the nuclear program gained momentum.
With power came arrogance. The regime sought to broaden its influence and establish its position not only among Islamic states, but also across Asia and the entire world. The Persians and Egyptians have been vying for hegemony over the region since the days of Cyrus the great.
While Israel was focused on two intifadas, the withdrawal from Lebanon, the Second Lebanon War, two operations in Gaza and repeated attempts to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, and as the Americans fought in Iraq twice, recuperated from 9/11, fought the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and hunted down Osama bin Laden - Iran was expanding its nuclear program. Now it is almost too late, but there is still hope.
We must not fall into the trap of determining different stages for dealing with the Iranian threat and list them in chronological order – with diplomacy being the first stage, sanctions the second and only then military action. There is no way to precisely define when the first phase begins and when it ends.
As long as the Iranians do not wave the white flag and announce the cancellation of the nuclear program, it cannot be determined that the diplomatic efforts, accompanied by sanctions, have exhausted themselves. This ambiguity can go on for years. Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear program continues to move forward. The nuclear program must be stopped, and in order to do so the international community must simultaneously impose sanctions, exert diplomatic pressure and initiate military action.
A diplomatic and military initiative requires a predetermined goal. Any mistake in setting this goal may result in failure. For example, setting the destruction of infrastructure or the collapse of the regime in Tehran as goals would be a mistake. Making due with delaying the nuclear program would also be an error. The sanctions, diplomatic pressure and even the destruction of infrastructure can delay the nuclear program, but not halt it altogether. The goal must be the termination of Iran's nuclear program. The international community must devise a plan that would give Iran's leaders no other choice but to halt the nuclear program entirely.
This is the first time Israel faces such a military and diplomatic challenge far from its borders. Until now, we have always fought at home or in the area, and we have always remained faithful to the philosophy that Israel will fight its own wars. But when the battlefield is thousands of kilometers away, cooperating with our allies becomes a necessity.
Some mistakenly interpret strategic cooperation and coordination with allies as a weakness, but they should be reminded that even the mighty US, which usually fights its wars far from its borders, always secures the cooperation of its allies before launching a military campaign. The US, the strongest country in the world, will never go to war without coordinating it with countries located close to the combat zone.
The entire world, including the US, Europe, Turkey, Russia and even (and perhaps most of all) the Arab countries are against Iran obtaining nuclear capabilities. There must be a way to get them all on board.
Waving swords to persuade other countries to impose sanctions was the right course of action in the beginning, but pursuing this policy today may be a double-edged sword. The international community may actually lose the will to act and leave the problem at our doorstep. The US is the key, and Israel must secure its full cooperation vis-à-vis the Iranian threat.
Major General (Res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu is a former commander of the Israel Air Force