Jawing Toothlessly Away

Hillel Halkin, writing in the New York Sun, on the inevitable Israeli attack on Iran:

…This month’s air maneuvers, it might be said, were Israel’s plea to the world…

But the world is not going to oblige. The same countries that were too short-sighted and greedy to do anything significant about stopping Iran’s nuclear bomb program 10, five, or two years ago, when oil prices were low and Iran was vulnerable to economic and diplomatic pressures, are not about to lift a finger now. Even a year ago, when climbing oil prices had already ruled out the economic feasibility of an embargo on Iran’s oil, a sudden freeze on Iran’s assets and funds by Western governments could have caused Iran’s leadership to think twice. Now, while these governments have predictably wasted yet another year by jawing toothlessly away about the need for sanctions, Iran has reportedly transferred most of those assets and funds elsewhere.

Nor is President Bush likely to leave the White House in a blaze of penetration bombs by ordering a last-minute American attack on Iran. The Republican Party wants to win the November election, and the president knows that Americans fighting in another Middle Eastern country and $200-or-more-a-barrel oil is not going to help. Mr. Bush has talked more bravely about stopping the Iranians than any other Western leader, but what he has not done until now will not be done before his term is over — unless, that is, he chooses to do it between the elections and his successor’s inauguration in January, which would be a historically unprecedented use of lame-duck power that is hard to imagine.

And Senator McCain? If elected, he might be Israel’s last chance of not having to go it alone. But Mr. McCain himself doesn’t know at this stage what he would do, and he is currently behind in the polls. Senator Obama would be only slightly more likely to attack Iran than Vladimir Putin. He has already made it clear that he would rather talk to Iran’s government than fight them, and they will be delighted to discuss with him any subject he chooses while the centrifuges go on spinning in Natanz.

Of course, even a President Obama, let alone a President McCain, might be supportive of an Israeli attack should it take place. In general, as evidenced by the muted international response to the Israeli air exercise, the list of countries that might not mind seeing Israel stick it to the Iranians is a long one. Besides America, it might include quite a few European states and even some Arab ones. As long as they themselves don’t have to run the risk of a) military failure, b) retaliatory Iranian missile and terror attacks, and c) being blamed for astronomical oil prices, plenty of governments would permit themselves a hidden smile of satisfaction while voting to condemn an Israeli attack at the United Nations.

Israel has every right to feel anger at such hypocrisy. True, a nuclear Iran would be more of a menace to them than to others, but it would be a menace to nearly everyone. There is something genuinely revolting about a world that preaches the need for peacefully dissuading the Iranians from developing atomic weapons while knowingly practicing a policy that in the end leaves Israel no choice but to send its planes into the air.

Israelis also have the right to feel fear. A lot could go wrong with an attack on Iran. Iranian targets could be missed or insufficiently damaged; dummy objectives could be hit while the real ones are kept secret in the earth; Israeli planes could be shot down and Israeli pilots taken hostage; Israeli towns and cities could come under heavy missile and rocket fire not just from Iran, but from Lebanon, Gaza, and even Syria; Israeli casualties could run into the many thousands. Anyone who thinks that Israel is straining at the leash to get at the Iranians has not the slightest conception of its society. Israelis are good and scared of attacking Iran, as they should be. They are just even more scared of an Iran that could annihilate them, as Iranian leaders have repeatedly said they would love to do.

But Israelis also have the right to feel pride — pride not only that they have one of the few air forces in the world with the military capability to stop Iran, but also that history has chosen them, even if they would rather it had chosen someone else, to be in the front ranks of the campaign. Even now, it is not too late for them to hope that they will have partners. And if it is not a hope that has much to lean on, at least this time Jews can lean on themselves.

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