Correcting an Error

After carefully reviewing some of the arguments by readers who wrote to me in response to my most recent opinion piece, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I erred in not fact-checking some of the claims I made in that piece, and apologize to the readers of these pages.

I have not changed my position that the planned speech by the Israeli prime minister is inappropriate and will be counterproductive to the very goals he is seeking to attain, and that the timing on the Iran sanctions bill is mistaken. However, as readers wrote to me, in my article I relied far too much on the assertions of the White House as to the reliability of the supposed “freeze” and “rollback” of the Iranian nuclear program.

Furthermore, while — much to the angst of many readers — I have defended some of this president’s very unpopular decisions and statements, if the reports of the proposed deal with Iran are even half-true, it is wholly indefensible.

However, it would appear that at this crucial time, it is imperative that Israel and its supporters avoid frontal attacks on the White House — which are inevitably counterproductive — and instead focus on behind-the-scenes lobbying.

The readers who wrote to me made two basic arguments; both are very logical and persuasive.

For one thing, there is ample reason to assume that the supposed Iran freeze is essentially a farce; it is unlikely that Iran is actually abiding by it. As one astute letter writer with expertise in this area put it: “Iran has a monumental, structured system including tens of thousands of local and foreign highly educated and trained expert crews. Not a one of them is out of work.”

Secondly, even if the “freeze” has some validity to it, it is very likely just bait to get the Western powers to agree to a bad deal, one that will see the lifting of crushing sanctions with little or no meaningful concessions by Iran. Instead of eliminating the nightmare scenario of an Iranian nuclear bomb, it will, at most, delay it temporarily. Even the most advanced forms of verification work only for the official nuclear sites, and Iran is perfectly capable of hiding nuclear facilities in remote locations, deep underground.

In reality, even within the Israeli intelligence community, there are sharp disagreements about the validity of the freeze, and even about how close Iran really is to having a bomb.

Last May, Brigadier General (Res.) Uzi Eilam, who for a decade headed the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, shocked reporters by saying that he does not believe that Tehran is anywhere close to having a bomb, and isn’t even sure it really aspires to get one.

“The Iranian nuclear program will only be operational in another 10 years,” declared Eilam at the time, in sharp contrast to what Netanyahu is claiming. “Even so, I am not sure that Iran wants the bomb.”

Netanyahu has been proven wrong before.

In 2002 (he was then a former prime minster), he lobbied hard for the “dismantling” of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, he wrote at that time about the Iraqi leader. “This is a dictator who is rapidly expanding his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, who has used these weapons of mass destruction against his subjects and his neighbors, and who is feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons.”

As we subsequently discovered, despite the staunch claims of then-President Bush, Saddam didn’t have any WMD, nor was he anywhere near having a nuclear bomb.

However, while it would be wonderful to be able to take the most optimistic assessments as fact, it seems more plausible to compare the Iran crisis to the ongoing saga of North Korea — which repeatedly deceived the rest of the world and ended up producing and testing several nuclear bombs.

With the lives of millions at stake, it would be a grave error to rely on rosy assessments, whether they come from the White House or within Israel. It is possible that Obama and Eilam are right, but we can’t take the chance of their being wrong.

At the same time, it must be noted that the critics of the current U.S. policy have failed to offer any viable alternatives.

While the sanctions on Iran were very painful, as long as China and Russia don’t get on board, it is highly unlikely that even the tightening of sanctions to an extreme will suffice to convince Tehran to totally abandon its nuclear program. For the Iranian regime this is a matter of national pride, and, like North Korea, they will starve their people to death rather than agree to the rightful demands of the West.

Due to the enormous complexity of Iran’s nuclear program — it is spread out in various locations — it would take much more than a single aerial attack to eradicate it. Air attacks will only be effective for the “known” sites, and since, as mentioned, Iran is suspected of having hidden sites, only a full-fledged ground war — which for many reasons is highly unrealistic at this time — would remove such a threat.

Perhaps the only thing that is certain is that the Jews of Israel and their brethren around the world are in need of Heavenly protection and great mercy.