In recent days, an internal Israeli debate about how to deal with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran has attracted attention in Western media circles. In playing up ‘divisions’ among experts on this issue, media have provided a largely incomplete account of what is actually unfolding in Israel.
Both in Israel and among the international community, there is consensus that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a severe danger to international peace and security and, therefore, that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. This is why the countries of Europe and North America have come together to impose increasingly stringent economic measures against Tehran, which they have done in addition to a series of sanctions imposed on the Iranian regime by the UN Security Council.
In the midst of these efforts, debate has ensued within Israel about how best to manage the looming Iranian threat. Although typical of the vibrancy of Israeli democracy, this debate is intense and may sometimes appear divisive, but it is important to emphasize that there is no disagreement among current and former Israeli defense and security officials about the serious danger Iran poses to Israel and the Middle East region as a whole. The wide diversity of opinion is evident, however, in discussions regarding how Israel should handle this threat in the coming months.
Some believe that, should Iran – despite sanctions and diplomatic efforts – proceed to defy the international community and further enrich uranium toward a nuclear weapons capacity, Israel might be required to take military action. Others argue that Israel can continue to wait, believing that Iran may be forced to make pragmatic policy changes in the face of biting global economic sanctions. Yet even experts advocating for a longer waiting period do not discount the possibility that, should Tehran develop its nuclear program to the point of no return, Israel may be forced to act against Iran.
Although there may be differences of opinion within Israel and internationally regarding Iran’s timeline for producing a functioning nuclear weapon, there is near-unanimous agreement both in Israel and among Western powers that Iran’s nuclear drive must be halted before Iran has the capability and technological know-how to create such a weapon. Containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option that any Israeli leader, from the political Right, Left or centrist position, is prepared to accept, nor is it an option any Western government has expressed willingness to accept.
In short, the Israeli debate is substantially about timing, not about the inherent threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. It is also about whether the Iranian threat is primarily Israel’s burden to bear (given that Israel is the only country Iran has repeatedly threatened with destruction) or, since other countries could also be targets of Iran, if Tehran must be countered by the international community.
In mid-April in Istanbul, following a 15-month impasse, the first (renewed) round of negotiations took place between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (a group known as the P5+1). It was decided that the second meeting would be held on May 23rd in Baghdad. The purpose of these talks is to provide an additional opportunity to persuade Iran to end its illegal nuclear program. As President Obama has stated:
In order to explain the dangers of a nuclear Iran, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has issued the following points to consider.
1) A nuclear weapon would empower the Iranian regime to continue, with full immunity, to abuse human rights and suppress the pro-democracy movement.
· Since coming into power in 1979, the Iranian regime has been governed by a council of religious leaders who have imposed their strict, radical version of Islam on the country.
· As a result, Iran today is one of the world’s worst abusers of human rights. In Iran, Christians are regularly imprisoned, women are executed by stoning for “adultery”, and gay citizens are publicly hanged. In the 1980s, the regime even ordered tens of thousands of Iranian children – roped together – to clear minefields.
· In an effort to defeat the pro-democracy movement, the regime has brutally repressed the Iranian people – and directly assisted in the repression of Syrians. Following the widely-questioned 2009 Iranian election, the regime killed dozens and arrested thousands of political opponents – many of whom were then tortured or raped. This past year, Iran sent hundreds of operatives (including snipers) to assist the Assad regime in its vicious crackdown on the Syrian people. This violence in Syria has resulted in some 9,000 deaths, including the murder of hundreds of children.
· These abuses have all taken place without Iran having a nuclear arsenal. Once Iran obtains a nuclear bomb, it will have a permanent shield to continue isolating the Iranian people and abusing human rights in Iran and elsewhere.
2) A nuclear weapon would provide a protective shield behind which the Iranian regime will be able to expand its violent activities – including terrorism – across the Middle East.
· The United States Department of State considers Iran to be the single largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
· Every year, Iran spends hundreds of millions and sends thousands of Iranian operatives to directly support terror groups across the region – providing funds, arms, training, and in-field guidance.
· These terrorist groups include jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Advanced weaponry from Iran has been funneled to the Taliban and terror operatives in Afghanistan for use against Canadian and other NATO forces. In 2011, top-level officials in President Obama’s administration publicly blamed Iranian support – which includes fighters and weaponry – to terror groups in Iraq for a rise in American fatalities.
· Iran directs its support largely to terror groups that have spent decades targeting Israeli civilians, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Having collectively murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians, these three organizations are listed as banned terror entities under Canadian law. Today, Hezbollah is largely in control of large swaths of Lebanon, where it is estimated to have approximately 40-50,000 missiles. Hamas, which controls all of Gaza, and Islamic Jihad are estimated to have a combined stockpile of 10,000 missiles. All three have made significant use of suicide bombings.
· Iran has been directly implicated in the murder of 85 civilians in Argentina, victims of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires – as well as repeated attacks against Israeli embassies around the world.
3) A nuclear weapon would position the Iranian regime – perhaps the most extremist in the world – as a permanent, existential threat to Israel.
· Iran’s leaders have repeatedly denied the Holocaust, suggested that 9-11 was caused by the United States government, and stated that Israel is a ‘cancer’ and a ‘rotting corpse’ that will soon be removed from the Middle East.
· The Iranian leadership is on record as stating that Iran cannot be deterred from a future nuclear war. Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani has openly stated that Israel is a “one-bomb country” that would be instantly destroyed with a single warhead, while a full-scale war would “just produce damages in the Muslim world.” This boast is based on the facts that Israel is densely populated, only 15 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, and geographically small – only approximately 2/3 the area of Vancouver Island.
· Moreover, the size difference between Israel and Iran is tremendous. Iran is approximately 80 times the size and 10 times the population of Israel. In terms of area, that’s comparable to the differential between the Island of Newfoundland and all of mainland Canada.
· Through its terror proxy groups, Iran has been at war with Israel for 30 years. Were Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, it would fundamentally change the nature of that war – putting an entire generation of Israelis under permanent threat of annihilation. An Iranian nuclear weapon would sharply escalate tensions and put the entire Middle East on the verge of an unprecedented and catastrophic regional war.