To bomb or not to bomb Iran was now a matter of time, according to the principal players, but none could agree last week on when the clock runs out. For Israel, it runs out before the U.S. elections on Nov. 4. After that Barack Obama may be the next president of the U.S. and Israeli powers that be fear he may disassociate himself from any Israeli military action against Iran.
When Israel's Shaul Mofaz talks, Washington listens . . . very carefully. "It is a race against time," he said recently, "and time is winning." The Iranian-born Mr. Mofaz, 60, is now deputy prime minister. He came to Israel at the age of 9 when his parents left their native Iran.
He took part in the legendary rescue mission in Uganda (1976); fought in the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the 1982 Lebanon War. From paratroop brigade commander, Mr. Mofaz kept moving up.
Superhawk Benjamin Netanyahu, when he was prime minister in 1998, appointed Mr. Mofaz the 16th chief of staff of Israel's armed forces. He served under four different Israeli prime ministers, and in 1997, Ariel Sharon appointed him defense minister. He may be Israel's next prime minister.
In Washington two weeks ago, Mr. Mofaz's private utterances and public statements were parsed for hidden intentions. Bush administration interlocutors made clear diplomacy — and economic sanctions — still had many arrows in its quiver. But three sets of sanctions voted by the U.N. Security Council are weak, designed as they were to keep China and Russia in the loop. Today, these two budding superpowers would veto stronger medicine.
China is now Iran's major trading partner. Russia is selling Iran anti-aircraft systems to defend nuclear installations against an Israeli aerial attack. The financial sanctions Mr. Mofaz said must be tightened were already being circumvented through the city state of Dubai, the new Hong Kong in the Persian Gulf where Middle Eastern headquarters for major U.S., European and Japanese corporations, and New York and Washington law firms, are now located.
Dubai is also a major entrepot port where goods arrive from all over the world for the planet's most modern city, which has its tallest building, twice the height of the Empire State Building. Some 300,000 Iranians, mostly businessmen, live there and scores of diesel-powered fast dhows (sailing vessels) run shuttle services to Iran, 100 miles away. Watertight sanctions against Iran in Dubai would quickly incur the wrath of the reigning Maktoum dynasty that is hell-bent on making Dubai the best and finest of everything in the world.
Money is no object. The six Gulf Cooperation Council's oil revenues will be cresting at $600 billion next year. Dubai is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), whose oil revenues this year are estimated at $100 billion. Construction projects now underway in Dubai: $300 billion. All the "Gulfies" are anxious to remain on good terms with the mullahs in Tehran.
Respectfully fearful of Iran, the last thing they want is to become a target of Tehran's formidable asymmetrical retaliatory capabilities against American targets following Israeli raids against their nuclear installations.
That was the message Dubai's top Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum delivered to President Bush at Camp David last week.
Hezbollah, Iran's auxiliary in Lebanon, according to Mr. Mofaz, already has rockets and missiles that cover most of Israel. One Iranian nuclear weapon in the nose cone of the mullahs' latest MRBM (medium range ballistic missile) aimed at Tel Aviv would effectively wipe out the state of Israel.
Iran with a nuclear weapon, said Mr. Mofaz, will "deepen and strengthen the global terrorist threat." Therefore, he explained, Israel will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear capability, "because Israel is not prepared to face a second Holocaust." Holocaust, of course, evokes the memory of Hitler's "final solution" that killed 6 million Jews, and is now seen in Israel as a mammoth Iranian sword of Damocles.
From right to left, the prevailing mood in Israel is hawkish and uncompromising on Iran's nuclear ambitions. Even liberal newspapers like Haaretz don't see a way out unless Iran abandons uranium enrichment and opens itself up to meticulous international inspection.
The mullahs' aim, therefore, with no ifs or buts, is what Mr. Mofaz called "the destruction of Israel." In 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, the world ignored the paranoid rants in "Mein Kampf" about the Jewish peril, a preview of coming horrors Hitler published nine years before.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inflammatory utterances on the stump, say Jews, are tantamount to talking about a final solution for the Jewish homeland.
Book-ending Mr. Mofaz in Washington were Defense Minister Ehud Barack and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, rivals to succeed the disgraced, corrupt Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who said he would resign next month. On Iran, there was hardly a sliver of daylight between the four on Israel's "existential crisis."
In early June, the Israeli air force conducted the largest exercise in its 60-year history, flying more than 100 fighter bombers 1,500 kilometers — the roundtrip distance to some of Iran's principal nuclear targets — with the assistance of midair refueling tankers and helicopters to rescue downed pilots.
The Bush administration's national security team (minus Vice President Dick Cheney) argues the clock won't run out until Jan. 20, 2009, when Mr. Bush turns the White House over to John McCain or Barack Obama. Some U.S. players maintain Iran is not a political monolith and the clock should be reset to the results of Iran's presidential contest next June when a less doctrinaire leader may emerge.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has belatedly engaged Iran with the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, and is opening a consular section in Tehran.
Hopefully cooler Israeli heads will prevail. An Israeli attack against Iran will automatically unleash the fury of the theocracy — against U.S. targets in the Gulf, mining and sinking tankers in the Hormuz Strait, the world's most vital oil route, with volleys of missiles. This would automatically involve the U.S. Which is why some Israeli hawks don't worry about the red light flashing in Washington?
If polls show John McCain with a substantial lead in the fall, a new Israeli government, led by Mr. Mofaz or, following elections, by Mr. Netanyahu, will know it can count on U.S. support. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a close friend of and adviser to Mr. McCain, agrees with the neocon refrain: Only one thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.
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