Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Michael Goodwin/ Bibi, not Bam, has Iran plan - Obama wasting time forces Israel to act

(Michael Goodwin-NYpost).Here's the nightmare scenario. Prime Minis ter Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel requests an urgent, private meeting with President Obama. At the White House, the two men sit alone and Netanyahu, looking grave, dispenses with pleasantries and gets to the point:

"Our intelligence services have determined that Iran is less than three months from making a nuclear bomb. Mr. President, as I have told you, no Israeli leader can let that happen because a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to our country.

"You previously asked that I not surprise you with any unilateral action. Therefore, I am here to inform you that we have decided to take military action against Iran. Based on weather conditions, our air force will carry out the raids in the next week.

"Furthermore, my military advisers all agree that we do not have sufficient conventional firepower to accomplish the mission. We are compelled to use tactical nuclear weapons. It is the only way we can be sure of success.

"Mr. President, I assure you that Israel fully appreciates the seriousness of this decision and the potential consequences. My Cabinet fully supports this decision. Opposition leaders also have been informed and they, too, agree this is the only responsible course."

If the scenario sounds too cinematic and far-fetched, consider this. It was suggested to me by one of Israel's top political insiders as the almost-certain outcome of the failed international efforts to get Iran to stop enriching uranium.

And his is not a lonely voice. The growing threat from Iran is Topic-A here, replacing the seemingly permanent conflict with Palestinians as the most pressing national issue. The Palestinian dispute drags on, but there is a sense of urgency about Iran's nuke program.

Ehud Barak, the defense minister and the government official most trusted on military matters, told top defense officials Monday that "all options are on the table and we mean it," according to a report in the newspaper Haaretz.

Unlike the Palestinian issue, political differences on Iran do not appear to be significant. Tzipi Livni, the head of the opposition party and a former foreign minister, used a speech on Israel-US relations to warn that time was running out for Obama to act.

"We understand that Iran is a threat to Israel," she told the 10th annual Herzliya Conference on national security. "But it is not only our problem. It is also a problem for the US as the leader of the free world."

That's not to suggest there is an eagerness for a military strike, especially one with nuclear weapons that might ignite a wider war.

But the belief that Israel will have to act because no one else will is fueling a damn-the-critics determination. That beleaguered feeling is not exactly new here, but it is especially sharp now because of the one-sided UN report accusing the Israeli military of committing war crimes in Gaza last year.

Outrage over the report, combined with the failure of the United States to get a new round of Iran sanctions through the same United Nations and a refusal of Obama to do anything on his own, is creating the sense that Israel is being backed into a corner.

"What is happening is that Obama is forcing Israel to take action by not doing anything to stop Iran," the political insider told me.

Amid growing certainty that Israel will act, speculation is shifting to what Obama would do. How would he respond to a Netanyahu heads-up that an attack was imminent?

After trying and failing to get Netanyahu to back off, we can assume he would consult his own national-security team and demand to know if Israeli intelligence was correct about Iran's bomb-making capability.

He would notify world leaders and probably try to get China and Russia to lean on Iran to agree to a halt in enrichment. He might even warn Iran himself that the attack was coming unless it stopped enriching.

Above all, we can be certain he would try to buy time to avoid a showdown, which is exactly what he has been doing for the last year.

That, by the way, is the same feckless policy that has produced this nightmare scenario.