Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

John Bolton On The Possibility Of Israeli Airstrikes In Iran

Given the fact that everything points to us doing nothing, and the Israelis running exercises, his prediction could very well come true:

The Arab world would be "pleased" by Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

"It [the reaction] will be positive privately. I think there'll be public denunciations but no action," he said.

Mr Bolton, an unflinching hawk who proposes military action to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons, bemoaned what he sees as a lack of will by the Bush administration to itself contemplate military strikes.

"It's clear that the administration has essentially given up that possibility," he said. "I don't think it's serious any more. If you had asked me a year ago I would have said I thought it was a real possibility. I just don't think it's in the cards."

Israel, however, still had a determination to prevent a nuclear Iran, he argued. The "optimal window" for strikes would be between the November 4 election and the inauguration on January 20, 2009.

"The Israelis have one eye on the calendar because of the pace at which the Iranians are proceeding both to develop their nuclear weapons capability and to do things like increase their defences by buying new Russian anti-aircraft systems and further harden the nuclear installations.

"They're also obviously looking at the American election calendar. My judgement is they would not want to do anything before our election because there's no telling what impact it could have on the election."

But waiting for either Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, or his Republican opponent John McCain to be installed in the White House could preclude military action happening for the next four years or at least delay it.

"An Obama victory would rule out military action by the Israelis because they would fear the consequences given the approach Obama has taken to foreign policy," said Mr Bolton, who was Mr Bush's ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006.

"With McCain they might still be looking at a delay. Given that time is on Iran's side, I think the argument for military action is sooner rather than later absent some other development."

Thomas and I have been watching this problem unfold, and have wondered why we did not want to make these strikes. The simple answer is that we are concerned what Iran's retaliation in Iraq would be. The last thing we need is Hezbollah spilling over the border in droves to attack the Iraqis and coalition forces. That is why we believe the US will not make these strikes.

The Israelis, on the other hand, have fretted over this for the past couple of years. They have watched the world do nothing. They have seen the United Nations Security Council issue worthless, empty sanctions -- sanctions that Russia and China have refused to abide by. They realize now that it comes down to their actions; they cannot depend on the world to deal with this problem.

Can it be carried out? Mr. Bolton weighs in on the target package:

Mr Bolton, however, dismissed such sentiments as scaremongering. "The key point would be for the Israelis to break Iran's control over the nuclear fuel cycle and that could be accomplished for example by destroying the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan or the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

"That doesn't end the problem but it buys time during which a more permanent solution might be found.... How long? That would be hard to say. Depends on the extent of the destruction."

The enrichment facilities do need to be struck first. Israel likely has the intelligence as to other sites that could be hit that will set the Iranians back. But, in the same vein, the world must work to make sure no elements of the now-defunct AQ Khan network contribute to Iran's nuclear program. The last thing we need is Iran making a nuclear weapon with the enriched uranium they already have, and with the assistance of North Korea via necessary technology.

At this point in the game, the goal is to slow them down to a standstill, and force them to give up the program altogether. But to do that, the capacity for them to enrich the uranium must be stopped. That is the world's biggest concern right now. If Senator Obama wins, he will probably condemn Israel. If Senator McCain wins, he might issue a half-hearted condemnation publicly, but he will be thanking the Israelis privately -- just as much as President Reagan was thanking them after they bombed the nuclear plant in Iraq in 1981.



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