Yes, the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran's nuclear program is cause for concern. But President Obama must not allow Israel to drag the United States into a war with Iran.
Even if Iran builds a nuclear weapon, Israel can take care of itself. It has a robust nuclear deterrent. Any nuclear attack on Israel by Iran would be suicidal. With up to 300 nuclear warheads at its disposal, the Jewish state could turn the entire Islamic Republic into a smoldering cinder in a heartbeat.
Of course, such a nuclear exchange would be catastrophic for both sides, as well as for all of south Asia. But mutual assured destruction is what prevented the United States and the former Soviet Union from attacking each other during the Cold War. Because nuclear war is inconceivably terrible, it tends to focus leaders' minds. That should be the case for the ayatollahs no less than for Americans and Russians.
Israel rightly views Iran's nuclear weapons potential as an existential question. What the Israelis don't say is that, given Israel's nuclear arsenal, it is an existential question for Iran as well.
In other words, it is hard to believe that either side would risk its own existence by using nuclear weapons against the other.
Yes, Iran has made all kinds of statements about how the Jewish state must be destroyed. But would its leaders risk their own annihilation and that of their own country to accomplish that goal? Not likely.
So why would Iran seek nuclear weapons? Deterrence. Iran's leaders want to make nuclear powers the United States and Israel think twice about any military action against Iran. Would the United States have invaded Iraq if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons?
The latest IAEA report says that Iran has installed thousands of centrifuges for the concentration of nuclear fuel in a mountainside near the holy city of Qom. The facility is so deeply buried that it is doubtful that an Israeli air attack could destroy the equipment inside. Only the United States may have that capability.
The Israeli government argues that the window is quickly closing on the ability of even the United States to halt Iran's nuclear program. The United States says there is still time for diplomacy and sanctions to work.
It is doubtful that even a U.S. air war could halt Iran's program permanently. Only an invasion could do that. And invading Iran clearly is not in the national interest of the United States.
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