Israel‘s long-anticipated attack on Iran‘s nuclear program may come as soon as Friday. Yesterday, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Israel had eight days to strike Iran‘s nuclear facility at Bushehr before it would become operational. He revised the timeline to three days after word came that nuclear fuel would begin loading on Friday. We’re now down to two days and counting.
Action is needed. In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported for the first time “concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” The United Nations has called on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, but this month the IAEA reported that Iran has expanded these activities and is enriching uranium to higher, more dangerous levels. Last month, former CIA director Gen. Michael V. Hayden said Iran was moving forward with its nuclear weapons program and that a military strike to stop it “seems inexorable.” Two weeks ago, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff Adm. Mike Mullen told “Meet the Press” that the United States has a contingency plan ready should the inexorable become the inevitable.
It’s doubtful America will take action. The State Department’s response to the latest IAEA report on Iranian enrichment violations merely said, “We are hopeful that Iran will express a willingness to come to the table. We stand ready to have that dialogue.” Not exactly the kind of rhetoric that instills fear of consequences.
Israel is the only country likely to mount a military strike, and the Bushehr site is an exposed facility that could be taken out with conventional weapons. It’s located on Iran‘s west coast, less than a third of a mile from the shore; air forces would not have to spend much time overflying Iran to attack it. The plant also could be hit using sea-launched cruise missiles from Israeli submarines. With an effective range of at least 900 miles, the subs wouldn’t have to transit the Strait of Hormuz to mount the attack.
The strike needn’t happen before Friday. Mr. Bolton set that deadline because he was concerned that destroying an operational plant would create a radiation hazard, but a strike that left the site radioactive would hinder Iranian attempts to get it back up and running. Civilian casualties would be minimal because the site is located nine miles downwind of the city of Bushehr, and potential fallout would drift over either the Gulf close to Iran or the immediate area, which is arid and sparsely populated.
The most dangerous fallout could be political. Russia, Iran‘s nuclear sponsor, is likely to voice strong objections; the usual anti-Israel suspects will howl; and the United States may not be as sturdy a champion for Israel as it was in the past. But the time has come to demonstrate resolve in face of an imminent threat from Iran. The Free World depends on Israeli power.