Tuesday, May 23rd

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You are here: Top Stories Cutting Terror Off at its Root
On a bright sunny day in Jerusalem, Israel's capital and one of its busiest metropolitan areas, the scene is calm as natives and tourists go about their respective business. Beach-goers and businessmen, students and soldiers all roam the streets trying to avoid tourist traps and erratic drivers. Suddenly, the ground rumbles and windows shake as three Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16I Sufa fighter jets streak through the sky with a deafening roar. This is a common sight in the Holy Land as IAF pilots patrol Israeli airspace with a heightened awareness.

“Historically, Israel has been faced with threats from all around,” said Michael Ganoe, Research and Projects Coordinator at the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Research Center Ltd. (MERCL). While threats from countries in the region have ebbed and flowed, Israel may be facing a new hazard – one which could have dramatic global consequences, the like of which the world has never seen. The threat? The Islamic Republic of Iran. While Iranian-Israeli relations were once positively secure, those glory days are now only visible through the rear-view mirror. After years of political stone-walling, propaganda and fiery rhetoric, tensions between Iran and Western powers – including Israel – have grown past economic sanctions into the prospect of more immediate military action. Could we really be on the brink of a nuclear arms race or worse, facing global destruction?

The Iranian nuclear program began in the 1950s while the Shah was still in power. Ironically, their first research reactor was provided by the United States as part of President Eisenhower's “Atoms for Peace” program. Iran's program halted prematurely, but then resumed in the wake of the first Persian Gulf War and subsequently continued advancing. Now led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran is on the path of what they claim is a peaceful nuclear program with promises of cheaper energy, medical treatment and agricultural advancement for their 75 million citizens. Considering their position as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran does have the right to conduct a peaceful nuclear program, making their stated aspirations not only legitimate but well within reach.

In past years, however, that has all changed and Iran's nuclear program frequently appears on UN and global intelligence radars. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN nuclear watchdog, originally reported that no evidence points to illegal Iranian activity. Now, the international intelligence community seems to know more than was ever shared with the public. Despite the initial reports indicating otherwise, military officials have disclosed to Congress the fact that Iran has the technical, scientific and industrial capability of producing nuclear weaponry.

Iran has over a dozen nuclear sites throughout the country, including ore mines, research facilities and power plants. Two sites – in Fordow and Natanz – are heavily fortified underground enrichment plants. Another site, the Parchin Military Complex near Tehran, is a furtive facility for manufacturing and testing explosives. These elements are at the center of the controversy and IAEA inspection of these three nuclear sites in particular has been limited or denied by Iranian officials.

Recent IAEA reports cited circumstantial evidence pointing to potential military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. Enriched uranium can either fuel a power plant or create an atomic bomb. According to officials, the vast number of centrifuges spinning in Iranian plants could produce uranium that has been enriched far more than any peaceful project would require.

Due to developing concerns surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions, the UN and other world powers are taking the necessary precautions to ensure the transparency and legality of Iran's nuclear program. The international community has used diplomacy, crippling economic sanctions, vilifying propaganda and isolation in an attempt to pressure Tehran into halt their nuclear projects.

For Israel, what separates hypothetical speculation from legitimate concern are the anti-Semitic rants pouring from both Iran's spiritual and political leadership. Further fueling the hypothesis of an alternate agenda, Ahmadinejad, a maligning ultra-conservative, has publicly and repeatedly called for the ouster of Israel from the annals of Middle Eastern history. The bigoted bureaucrat has also denied both the existence of the Holocaust and Israel's legitimacy as sovereign nation, only raising proverbial eyebrows higher. 

Be that as it may, Ahmadinejad's authority does not encompass Iran's nuclear program. All decisions – both clerical and political – are ultimately made by the Supreme Leader. While some have brushed off his remarks purely as rhetoric, Israel is not taking them lightly. “The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal,” Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu told an applauding crowd at a recent AIPAC convention, “A nuclear-armed Iran must be stopped.”

The waning international confidence in Iran has led Western powers, spearheaded by the US, to intensify intervention. While President Obama stalwartly stands behind his Israeli counterpart –  even sharing goals – their means of achieving results contrast starkly. “We've always disagreed at some point or another on tactics,” Vice President Joe Biden told pro-Israel lobbyists. “But ... we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen.”

These tactical differences, in many regards, could prove fatal. The US wishes to exhaust all strategic solutions in order to prevent the loss of international support. Alternatively, the Israeli government believes that US, UN and EU economic sanctions and other diplomatic formalities – applied ad infinitum – are ineffective and only buy Iran valuable time. But Obama needs to ensure civil security while also factoring in US special interests, and promoting peace and stability in a region housing many allies. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is showing more aggression and even hinted at the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear sites. As a former IDF soldier in a Special Forces Reconnaissance Unit, “Bibi” Netanyahu has witnessed close to six decades of Israel's struggle for survival and is not taking any chances. “I really believe that, looking at Netanyahu's past, he wants the sovereignty and security of the Jewish State to remain intact,” Ganoe told “The Suit.” The Prime Minister's now infamous remarks at the 2012 UN General Assembly of a “red line” on a cartoon illustration of a bomb proved his assertiveness as he voiced his stance to the international community.

If threatened, military action has always remained an option for Israel, even when it lacks universal approval. In fact, in the summer of 1981, Israel shocked the world by carrying out Operation Babylon – a raid on Iraq's French-built Osirak nuclear reactor during the time when the country was still under Saddam Hussein's rule. This pre-emptive strike received international condemnation, however, Israel claims it set Iraq's nuclear program back 10 years. Looking back, many remain at odds with the legitimacy and effectiveness of the raid. While Clinton approved it, many still have doubts. But what is known is that Saddam, who claimed Iraq's nuclear ambitions were strictly peaceful, still held deep resentment towards the Jewish state. Diplomacy failed and Israel attacked. Could history be repeating itself?   

Iran, residing cozily in Western Asia, is over 1000 miles from Israel's borders and has never formally attacked the Holy Land. A closer, more immediate threat is dangerously within striking distance. Lurking through the mountains of Southern Lebanon, Hezbollah, a group of guerrilla fighters, is determined to exterminate what they call the “Zionist entity.” Hezbollah – or Party of Allah – is an Islamic fundamentalist, para-military resistance movement recognized by Lebanon as a political party and by the West and the rest as a terrorist organization. The group was organized in the early 1980s as an adjunct to Yasser Arafat's PLO after Israel's invasion during the 1982 Lebanon War. It has since carried out numerous attacks in Lebanon, Israel, Argentina, Bulgaria, Panama and the UK. 

Israel views Hezbollah, and also Hamas in Gaza, as branches protruding from the Iranian trunk, one they may be willing to cut at the root. Widely considered a Persian proxy, Hezbollah was  jump-started in 1982 as a politico-military force with 1500 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and also received funding from Iran. According to US State Department documents, “(Hezbollah) receives substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic and organizational aid from Iran.”

The group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who studied in a religious seminary in the Qom Province of Iran,  frequently attends private meetings with Iran's current Supreme Leader. “Al-Arabiya,” the Saudi-owned media broadcast, recently reported that Nasrallah and Khamenei secretly discussed the “Iranian-Syrian defense system.” The civil uprising in Syria is only increasing tensions in the Middle East as forces loyal to President Assad have been trying to suffocate armed resistance in a bloody two-year war with casualties surpassing 70,000. Syria is Iran's key partner in the region, sharing both support for Hezbollah and enmity towards the Jewish state. Due to instability in the region, Israeli military officials are concerned over Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons reaching the hands of Hezbollah and other rogue militants.

For close to three decades, Israel has been hit hard by suicide bombers, kidnappings and sporadic mortar fire from Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah insurgents. Responding with targeted military operations, Israel has also fought two primary wars with Hezbollah, including the 18-year blood-bath in Southern Lebanon that ended in 2000. The two faced each other again in the summer of 2006. But as tensions rise, many fear the conflict is far from over.

At a recent Hezbollah rally, Nasrallah vowed to rain a barrage of long-range missiles on Israel and regional US Army bases if Iran is attacked – even if Israel acts alone. This could potentially throw America into another ugly war, raising the stakes even higher. The US – thoroughly exhausted from years of wars with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan – would naturally do everything in its power to avoid another armed conflict, favoring instead, a more peaceful diplomatic resolution with all parties. But that is not an excuse for cognitive dissonance. Obama must not forget that in the past Hezbollah and other Shi'a militant groups under the Iranian umbrella have attacked the US, including the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in 1983, killing 17 Americans. Six months later, suicide bombers exploded a truck full of explosives in the Beirut barracks bombing that killed 220 US Marines. The Islamic Jihad Organization, which a D.C. court has dubbed a pseudonym for Hezbollah, took responsibility for those attacks.

Iran's behavioral discrepancies, in combination with a constant logorrhea towards Israel and it's allies, only fuels fears that it has the will and resources to carry out a nuclear offensive. In its most recent act of defiance, Iran announced plans to install 3,000 advanced centrifuges in Natanz, which would cut the time needed to enrich uranium. Israel claims that as early as the summer of this year, Iran will have enough fissile material for a nuclear missile.

Israel's frustration over this long-standing conflict is apparent as they look to bypass Iran's regional pawns and go directly for the king to keep neighborly terrorism in check. But a nuclear armed Iran isn't a danger only to Israel. “It will be a threat not to the shores of the United States but to the individual citizen living abroad, to US consulates and embassies, to US allies in Europe, to NATO. Yes, it's a direct threat,” Ganoe told “The Suit.” “But Israel's policy should be dictated by their own interests and not the interests of the US or any other country.”

No global issue since the beginning of time has stirred up as much controversy and fear as the nuclear weapon. During the Cold War, the term “mutual assured destruction” or MAD was on many politicians' lips. The prospect of using another bomb on a country would be suicide, as the country attacked would certainly respond in kind, kicking off a world-wide catastrophe. Apocalyptic politics aside, there is a universal imperative to protect the lives and rights of humans on this globe we all share. But Israel – much like the United States as its closest ally – will not jeopardize the security of its citizens by ruling out decisive military action if threatened. Peace may come with a price but the cost is one that global powers must be willing to pay.
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