Originally published at Gatestone Institute.
The coming weeks probably represent the last opportunity for Iran and the international community to reach an enforceable deal that will dismantle Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, before Israel concludes that time has run out, that Iran has gotten too close to creating its first atomic bombs, and that the time for a military strike has arrived.
Despite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s well-planned and deceptive charm offensive at the United Nations last week, so far not a single uranium-enriching centrifuge has stopped spinning in the underground nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom. The heavy water plutonium facility at Arak is moving forward, and Iran has already amassed enough low-enriched uranium for the production of seven to nine atomic bombs.
The speech given by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the United Nations last week, in which he warned that Israel would act alone against Iran if it needed to, is an authentic warning, and serves a dual purpose.
First, the speech reintroduces a credible military threat and aims it squarely at the Islamic Republic.
This notice is important as deterrence against Iran has waned significantly since August, when President Barack Obama hesitantly climbed down from his commitment to carry out a military strike on Iran’s ally, the Syrian regime, over its use of chemical weapons to massacre civilians.
A diminished threat of military force leaves diplomatic efforts with Iran almost no chance of success: it leaves Iran with virtually no incentive to stop its nuclear progress, despite the painful economic sanctions it faces.
With no military threat, Iran might well conclude that the sanctions could disappear in the course of endless rounds of diplomacy, in which skilled Iranian negotiators would succeed in getting some of the sanctions lifted while giving up very little in return.
Many of America’s allies in the Middle East are very concerned about the lack of deterrence; and Netanyahu, keen to ensure that he has given talks with Iran all possible opportunities before taking matters into his own hands, has placed the military threat firmly back on the table, lest Iran forget that even if the U.S. will not act militarily any time soon, Israel most certainly will if it must.
The second purpose of Netanyahu’s speech was to put the international community on notice regarding the urgency of the situation, and to send the message that even if many in the West have fallen for Iran’s “campaign of smiles,” Israel has not, and if Israeli concerns are neglected, action will be taken.
Should the international community continue to allow Iran to buy more time for its nuclear program, as it has done for more than a decade, after Netanyahu’s warning, it will not be able to respond with surprise when Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites.
Israel’s leadership has long since concluded that a nuclear-armed Iranian regime — a regime that is doctrinally and theologically committed to Israel’s destruction, and that controls a state-sponsored terrorist network, active worldwide — is an outcome many times more dangerous than any military attack.
Israel’s defense establishment recognizes that stringent U.S.-led economic sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table. But senior officials, such as Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, have warned that merely arriving for negotiations and offering “sweet talk” is no reason to reward Iran by easing sanctions. On the contrary, easing sanctions now would guarantee that talks will fail.
Similarly, any agreement that allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium under the guise of a civilian energy program will simply enshrine Iran’s position as a nuclear breakout state. Only tangible, verifiable steps that will ensure Iran is pushed back by years from its current progress could be considered an accomplishment.
Against the background of these developments, it is worth bearing in mind that the core of Jerusalem’s defense doctrine holds that Israel cannot depend on any foreign power — even its most trusted ally, the United States — to deal with an existential security threat.
Israel’s clock, which gauges Iranian nuclear progress, ticks faster than that of America’s, due to Israel’s lesser strike capabilities, its smaller size, its closer proximity to Iran, and ultimately, because Israel is the openly and repeatedly declared number one target of Iran’s ambition to destroy it.