Israel Confronts Iran
Taking the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Egyptian field marshall Mohamed Tantawi in Cairo, July 31, 2012


Conrad Black

The recent visits of Republican presidential candidate W. M. Romney (I am still having a problem calling a possible president Mitt; Millard Fillmore almost creates a precedent for Willard M. Romney) and defense secretary Leon Panetta to the Middle East have raised to a height of attention the perennial problem of a nuclear Iran. Romney made it clear he would support Israel if it attacked the Iranian nuclear program, and Panetta confirmed that military interdiction of the program remained an option. The widely respected former head of the Israeli secret security agency Mossad, Efraim Halevy, last week said that the Iranians have reason to be fearful of what could happen in the next twelve weeks, i.e., in the run-up to the U.S. election.

Though partisanship in the United States used to end at the water’s edge and national security should not be a political grab-bag, both parties are fluffing up their philo-Semitic CVs as we get into the last three months before Election Day. Not to miss the bus, President Obama ceremoniously signed the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Cooperation Act of 2012, which was passed by heavy bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. At least the Democrats are rising above their Brzezinski wing (if Zbigniew Brzezinski has a wing now) that wishes to intercept and shoot down any Israeli plane on its way to attack Iran. Brzezinski was in the Carter administration when it, as he said, “threw out the Shah like a dead mouse” (against Brzezinski’s advice), and since that was the origin of the world’s problems with Iran, he should think this through.

This sudden freshet of hypothetical bellicosity is a little more than the customary pre-electoral window dressing, as the Enhanced Cooperation Act promises Israel greater in-flight refueling capacity for its air force, and the latest and heaviest airborne ordnance, the ultimate bunker busters. Each of the latest “daisy-clippers” weighs 15 tons, and generates a blast wave of about 1,500 pounds per square inch. Two weeks ago, U.S. national security adviser Thomas Donilon visited Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and briefed him on the current U.S. posture toward Iran. The U.S. has quadrupled its minesweeping capability in the Strait of Hormuz, which is only 21 miles wide and the choke-point for oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. The Iranians have tried to mine it before, including from 1986 to 1988, when American minesweeping capability was by helicopter, the U.S. put its flag on Kuwaiti and other tankers, and President Reagan took the opportunity to sink much of the Iranian navy. The U.S. is also selling more than $11 billion of sophisticated military hardware, including a comprehensive Patriot anti-missile defense system, to Kuwait and Bahrain. Donilon allegedly assured Netanyahu that the reinforced heavy bombs could shatter the Iranian nuclear facilities.

Leon Panetta, a canny veteran of the Nixon administration, the House of Representatives, the Clinton White House, and the CIA, stopped in Cairo and met simultaneously with Field Marshal Tantawi, chief of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the new president, Mohamed Morsi, who are tussling rancorously between them for control of the Egyptian state. The secretary optimistically pronounced the new Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood president a sincere democrat, and went on to Jerusalem, where he assured the press that he and Netanyahu were discussing the preservation of peace.

The Israeli leader told the media that sanctions alone would not deter Iran from developing and deploying nuclear weapons, and that the Iranian leadership “thinks the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program.” Panetta emphasized that all options, including a military strike, are open, and added: “Israel’s effort to decide what is in their national-security interest is something that must be left up to the Israelis.” He was publicly handing Netanyahu a blank check, after accompanying him on a visit to Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile-defense shield south of Tel Aviv, and just ahead of WMR’s (Romney — it may not catch on like FDR, JFK, and LBJ, but let’s try) arrival to make competitively supportive undertakings. Netanyahu told the press, in Panetta’s presence, that, “with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best friends.” Given the genocidal belligerence of Iranian threats against Israel, it is hard to take issue with Israel’s right to preemptive self-defense.