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Crunch-Time on Iran Approaching By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 25, 2008

“Those who shamelessly call for the destruction of Israel will always—always—find France blocking their way,” French president Nicolas Sarkozy told the Knesset on Sunday, but it wasn’t clear what he could have meant.

“…shamelessly call for the destruction of Israel” sounds a lot like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders. But even after a year of Sarkozy—considered dramatically more pro-Israeli than most of his predecessors—France remains one of Iran’s major trading partners. Sarkozy has also announced a downsizing of the French military broadly criticized by French commanders.

For Israel and the Jewish people existential concerns are no stranger, and sometimes foreign leaders see fit to address these when speaking to the Knesset. For President Bush last month it was: “Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.”

Again, though the U.S. shouldn’t be compared to France for a moment, with Tehran continuing to march jeeringly and defiantly toward nuclearization after seven and a half years of Bush, Israelis could be forgiven for filing his words under Noble Rhetoric.

Friday’s New York Times report about a massive Israeli air force exercise in the skies of Greece—about as far from Israel as Iran is—underlined the fact that Israel is far from counting on any of these foreign avowals. This week speculation is peaking as to who—if anyone—is actually planning to hit Iran, when, and depending on what.

For former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton it depends on who emerges as the next U.S. president on November 4. He told Fox News on Tuesday that if it’s Barack Obama, he thinks it likely that Israel will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities between that time and the new president’s inauguration on January 20, 2009.

If, though, the winner is John McCain, said Bolton—who himself considers McCain much more realistic on Iran than Obama—there’s a good chance Israel will wait to see what happens and postpone a strike on Iran. Bolton said it was apprehension about Obama—still favored by a majority of American Jews, whose outlook tends to differ from that of their brethren in the Middle East—that was most likely to push Israel to go ahead and act.

The speculation can only be intensified by a surprise visit to Israel later this week by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. Already touring Europe, Mullen reportedly had a free day in his itinerary and decided to spend it in Israel.

Mullen was already here in December—the first visit to the Jewish state by a Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman in over a decade. That time he heard Israeli objections to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) published just a week earlier, and Mullen’s spokesman said “The discussion was centered on the mutual challenge that Israel and the United States, indeed the entire Middle East, face right now, and the shared recognition that there remains a potential for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and to threaten its neighbors.”

Mullen’s return so soon, and just after the Israeli exercise over Greece, could mean the U.S. is already past the NIE’s downgrading of the Iranian threat and closer to the Israeli perception—or that the U.S. is worried about Israeli intentions.

And yet another move fueling speculation was Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s extension for another year of Meir Dagan’s tenure as head of the Mossad. Dagan, known as a hawkish realist, is credited among other things with the intelligence feats that enabled Israel’s strike on the Syrian reactor in September.

DEBKAfile, the Israeli scoop site, has a considerably shorter timeline than Bolton and claimed the extension of Dagan’s tenure is “indicative” because “Israeli intelligence estimates the summer months are critical for acting against Iran’s nuclear advances…. If it is not stopped by September or October of 2008, it will be too late….”

As for Iran itself, it claims not to be impressed. On Monday its Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Israel “do[es] not have the capacity to threaten the Islamic Republic of Iran…. They have a number of domestic crises and they want to extrapolate it to cover others.”

He was right at least about the domestic crises, with Olmert’s government teetering and its ceasefire with Hamas already punctuated by a mortar and then a Qassam firing.

But as the strike on the Syrian reactor showed, even under flawed leadership like Olmert’s—let alone a more competent leadership that might, hopefully, replace him—Israel is serious about existential threats, has a long memory, and will act if it sees no other alternative.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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