Washington Watch: On Iran - also try diplomacy
As George W. Bush prepares to leave town, one of the many pieces of unfinished business is his vow to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Instead, Teheran is far closer today to having a nuclear weapon than when he came to office.
His refusal to engage in any substantive dialogue with the Iranians unless they first accepted his terms may explain why all three presidential contenders have promised greater emphasis on diplomacy....
IRAN'S DANGER is more than a nuclear weapon that may be years away. It is its financing, training, weapons and diplomatic cover for a terror network that targets Israel. Teheran is also spreading its influence across the Middle East - with a U.S.-provided foothold in previous enemy Iraq - that threatens not only Israel but also American's traditional friends in the Arab world.
A nuclear weapon will be a potent instrument of blackmail for Iran and an umbrella for its terrorist allies.
The threat to Israel should not be underestimated, but Iran has much more reason to worry.
Iran's nuclear weapon is still theoretical; Israel's is not. Israel is widely believed to have several hundred nuclear warheads, and its delivery systems are far more advanced, accurate and diverse than Iran's.
Iran is developing ballistic missiles, with North Korean help, and they are believed capable of hitting Israel. Israeli long range Jericho missiles are accurate and reliable. Iran has nothing to match Israel's batteries of the Arrow anti-missile missiles.
Iran's air force is barely functional; Israel's is one of the best in the world.
Israel's German-built Dolphin submarines, according to some reports, may be equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, giving Israel a nuclear triad: airplanes, missiles and submarines.
That gives Israel a powerful deterrent: a second strike capability, a Cold War concept indicating the ability to launch nuclear missiles even after a country has absorbed a heavy first blow.
Israeli military officials have said they don't have the number of planes, missiles, aerial tankers and other systems needed to go after all of Iran's nuclear installations - which are widely scattered and deeply buried - even if they knew where to find them. But they do have the capacity to wreak enormous damage on the country's energy infrastructure and other assets.
THE AYATOLLAHS are perfectly willing to send thousands of children to die in a war with Iraq or suicide bombers to Israel, but you won't see any of them strapping on explosive belts themselves. They are not suicidal; their goal is not to die for the Islamic republic but to let others do the dying while they spread the Shiite revolution to the Sunni Arabs. They know that a nuclear attack on Israel will bring the kind massive retaliation that will leave their revolution in cinders.
For Israel, war against a nation state like Iran means no targets are off limits - unlike going after terror groups hiding among the civilian population in Lebanon or Gaza. Israel would have no compunction about visiting shock and awe on Iran, unfettered by delusions of converting it to democracy.
Iranian leaders seem to compete with each other in threatening to obliterate Israel, but when Israelis respond with their own bravado, the Iranians run crying to the UN, filing formal protests.
Every recent Israeli prime minister has considered Iran the one enemy which can pose an existential threat, and they have focused much of their diplomacy on trying to get the international community to take Iranian nuclear ambitions seriously as a global threat and not just as an Israeli problem.
The next American president clearly understands that, but also that the Bush administration's "no diplomacy" policy only made a bad situation worse.
And polls show the American Jewish community feels the same way.