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The Bomb and the Bomber

By Ari Shavit | The New York Times | 21 Mar 2012

If Iran goes nuclear it will change our world.

An Iranian atom bomb will force Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt to acquire their own atom bombs. Thus a multipolar nuclear arena will be established in the most volatile region on earth. Sooner or later, this unprecedented development will produce a nuclear event. The world we know will cease to be the world we know after Tehran, Riyadh, Cairo or Tel Aviv become the 21st century’s Hiroshima.

An Iranian bomb will bring about universal nuclear proliferation. Humanity’s greatest achievement since 1945 was controlling nuclear armament by limiting the number of members in the exclusive nuclear club. This unfair arrangement created a world order that guaranteed relative world peace.

But if Iran goes nuclear and the Middle East goes nuclear so will the Third World. If the ayatollahs are allowed to have Robert Oppenheimer’s deadly toy, every emerging power in Asia and Africa will be entitled to have it. The 60-year-old world order that guaranteed world peace will collapse.

An Iranian atom bomb will give radical Islam overwhelming influence. Once nuclear, the rising Shiite power will dominate Iraq, the Gulf and international oil prices. It will spread terror, provoke conventional wars and destabilize moderate Arab nations.

As Iranian nuclear warheads will jeopardize Israel, they will imperil Europe. For the first time, hundreds of millions of citizens of free societies will live under the shadow of the nuclear might of religious fanatics. The union of ultimate fundamentalism with the ultimate weapon will imbue the world we live in with a hellish undertone.

If Israel strikes Iran it will change our world.

An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will create the most dramatic international crisis of the post-cold war era. As the Jewish state and the Shiite republic exchange blows, the Middle East will be rattled. Tensions will rise between pro-Iranian Russia, China and India and anti-Iranian United States, Britain, France and Germany. As oil prices soar higher (to $250-$300 a barrel), financial markets will panic and the world economy will experience a real setback.

An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will unleash a regional war whose consequences might be catastrophic. Iran will strike back with all it has: Hezbollah, Hamas, Shahab missiles, strategic surprises. Iran will block the Strait of Hormuz and call upon all Muslims to come to its rescue. Although most Arab regimes will be secretly supportive of the Israeli operation, the Arab masses might rise.

Throughout the world, millions of Muslims will see the attack on Iran as an attack on their own dignity and pride. The religious struggle provoked by the Israeli action might go on for decades.

An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities might drag the United States into war. Israel has limited air power. Israeli cities are threatened by 200,000 rockets. If an Iranian-led counteroffensive sets Tel Aviv ablaze and kills thousands of Israeli civilians, the U.S. will feel obliged to intervene. Rather than initiate a well-planned and internationally backed American surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear project, America will become captive of an Israeli-Iranian war spiraling out of control. After getting out of the Iraqi mud and while trying to pull out of the Afghan desert, America will be bogged down by a highly charged and highly priced conflict with the Islamic Republic.

The pivotal international issue the West has faced in the first 12 years of the 21st century has been Iran. The cardinal strategic challenge of the last decade has been how to prevent two threats: (an Iranian) bomb and (an Israeli) bombing. Yet the West failed to rise to the challenge in time.

For years it made every possible mistake. First President George W. Bush focused on Iraq rather than Iran. Then President Barack Obama wasted precious time on idle diplomacy. Britain and France tried their best but the European Union dragged its feet before taking decisive action. The economic sanctions that should have been activated 10 years ago were activated only last year.

The crippling sanctions that should have been imposed back in 2005 are yet to be imposed. The assertive-diplomacy track was not seriously pursued when it could have been effective. The creative-political-solution track was never really explored. Western leadership did not endorse a comprehensive, resourceful, consistent and tough third-way-strategy that could prevent Bomb and Bombing.

Now we are witnessing a shift. Terrified by the prospect of an imminent Israeli strike, decision makers and opinion leaders in the United States and Europe have Iran on their mind. Last week Tehran was cut off from the SWIFT bank-transfer network. By July, all E.U. nations will stop purchasing Iranian oil.

Yet all this is too little too late. Within nine months the Iranians will be immune to an Israeli air strike. By Christmas, Israel will lose the military capability to stop the Shiite bomb. As it will be existentially threatened, the Jewish State will feel obliged to take action.

So the summer of 2012 now seems to be the summer of last opportunity. If in the coming months crippling sanctions are not imposed on Iran and Israel doesn’t get substantial guarantees that will ensure its future, anything might happen. All hell might break loose.

If the West doesn’t get its act together at this very last moment, it might soon face the dire consequences of its own impotence.

Ari Shavit, a senior correspondent for Haaretz and a member of its editorial board, is completing a book about Israel.


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