Two credible new estimates have concluded that we do not have months or years before Iran has the capability to produce nuclear weapons, but rather weeks.
If these estimates are correct, Israel must make an immediate decision whether or not to take military action against Iran to delay its nuclear progress. Unfortunately, that decision will have to be made under very poor conditions:
Any attack would be made not only without the participation or even the acquiescence of Washington, but against its violent opposition, since it would obviously render nugatory the negotiations that the US is about to undertake with the new Iranian government.
It would also have to be taken during a period of serious instability within the governing coalition in Jerusalem. This coalition, cobbled together by Prime Minister Netanyahu from very disparate parties with widely-divergent ideological, political and religious positions and constituencies, was fragile at best. The first big crisis within the government has now taken place over two issues, one religious and the other political
Fresh from its victory in the Knesset over a bill it introduced to permit newly-weds to register their marriage in any registry office and not only where one or the other lives, which was opposed only by the ultra-orthodox parties, Yesh Atid now proposes to change Israeli law to recognize civil marriages performed in Israel. This is totally unacceptable to the entire religious community in Israel, not just the ultra-orthodox. It therefore has little or no possibility of passing, which leads to the question, why was it done? The answer, apparently, was so that the party can say it tried to fulfill one of the planks in the party's platform during the election campaign.
Additionally, the second release of Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are self-admitted murderers, has awaked widespread outrage among the public. To soften the blow, Netanyahu has issued permits for construction in east Jerusalem, but that does not appear to have mollified those for whom the release was anathema.
The decision, which the prime minister has admitted was one of the most difficult that he had ever had to make, is apparently so that the US and the European countries, as well as segments of the Israeli population, cannot say that the almost certain failure of the peace talks with the Palestinian Authority was the fault of Israel because it did not honor its promise to release the prisoners in accordance with a set schedule. Not only Habayit Hayehudi but members of other parties in the government find the decision unacceptable, because following the first prisoner release, the Palestinian side did nothing to reciprocate. Indeed, the rhetoric of Palestinian officials has become even more strident and confrontational.
The conclusion from all this is that an Israeli military strike in Iran is highly unlikely, which in turn means that if the estimates are correct, Iran will soon have the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons. If that is the case, Israel and the countries of the Arabian peninsula, as well as Jordan, will have to decide how to deal with a nuclear Iran, on the assumption that the mullahs will decide to go ahead and begin to manufacture the devices. That decision is likely, since otherwise why would they have spent so much time and resources in gaining the capability?
An all-out nuclear attack in the Gulf or on Israel is very unlikely. What is likely is that the weapons will be used for purposes of intimidation, while work continues to miniaturize nuclear weapons to distribute to agents and/or proxy organizations such as Hezbollah. That is a horror story for another day.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 7, 2013
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