As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prepared to leave the Middle East for a meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington, he warned that Israel had "various" options for dealing with Iran, options that he was not prepared to discuss. Of course, the use of such diplomatic language immediately creates the perception that Israel is considering a military strike in response to the Islamic Republic's continued defiance over its nuclear program. But what would prompt Israel to strike first?
For starters, the Israelis have been directly threatened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called the Jewish state a parasite that needs to be wiped from the face of the planet. He has openly called for Israel's destruction and wants desperately to rid the Middle East of its "Zionist occupiers." Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quoted on Haaretz.com, put the threat in context by comparing Iran with Nazi Germany: "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs." Referencing Ahmadinejad's assertions that Iran will never give up its nuclear quest, Netanyahu said, "Believe him and stop him....he is preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state."
The statements from Ahmadinejad give Israelis good reason to worry. The Iranian President has made his wishes known, and he is daring the global community to stop him. And, the Israelis rightly believe they cannot rely on the world's powers to protect their state. The United Nations has been "negotiating" the Iranian nuclear issue for the better part of a year now, with no tangible results. The Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Iran cease its enrichment of uranium, and then stood idly by as the deadline for compliance slipped away while France, Russia, and China sought more negotiations and downplayed the possibility of economic sanctions.
The reality for Israel is that the United Nations, based on historical performance, will probably not be able to accomplish anything meaningful in the confrontation with Iran. At least not until it gets its act together. Member nations must work together on this issue, and not independently based on what economic interests they may have with Iran. Unless that happens, further deliberations in the Security Council are a wasted effort.
Another problem for Israel is that the Olmert government is weak. The recent war with Hezbollah undermined the Israeli government's credibility with its population after the militant group fought the IDF to a stalemate, thousands of rockets were fired causing multiple civilian and military casualties, and Israel failed to achieve any strategic or tactical gains. Olmert is hanging on, but he is vulnerable. Throw in a Democratic sweep in the U.S. midterm elections, followed by the firing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Olmert becomes increasingly isolated as his most ardent supporters in Washington fall to the wayside.
Israel has had a relatively free hand to act in the past. But, given the current state of affairs in the Middle East, any preemptive Israeli military action against Iran would presumably have to have prior U.S. approval. The consequences of a military strike are just too severe for it to be otherwise. It is doubtful that the United States would grant such approval, for to do so would be to unleash instability and conflict throughout the region at a time when American forces are heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pressure is building and Prime Minister Olmert may feel compelled to act, to save his government and to save his country. Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. To do so would be to invite destruction at the hands of a madman intent on the Jewish state's destruction. So, what will happen next is anyone's guess.
Olmert may decide that he has no choice but to act without the American approval that President Bush would no doubt insist upon. If he does, the result will be a massive explosion of violence in the Middle East as neighboring Arabs join the Persians in a fight against Israel and the west. The United States would have no choice but come to the defense of its only real ally in the region. This is a situation nobody in their right mind wants to see come to fruition. The threat from Iran must be taken seriously, now more than ever. If the United Nations is not up to the task, the Israeli Prime Minister may have no choice but to handle the problem on his own. And then there truly will be hell to pay.