Sunday, October 14, 2007

Israeli Strike on Syria Sends Message

The Israeli Air Force conducted a raid in Syrian air space last month, apparently targeting a complex believed to be a partially constructed nuclear facility. Shared intelligence between the US and Israel confirmed the existence of the facility, based on a North Korean design and fueling speculation of increased cooperation between Syria and North Korea. For their part, Syria would only confirm the destruction of a facility owned by the military but "currently unoccupied." (Jerusalem Post: Syria raid targeted unfinished reactor.)

According to the latest reports, the US was not in full agreement over the timing of the strike since the reactor was years away from being operational. One Israeli official, however, was quoted as saying the strike was intended to "reestablish the credibility of our deterrent power." Indeed, given the lack of threat posed by the facility in its current state, there can be little doubt that the strike was intended to send a message.

Israel has never permitted another Middle Eastern nation to achieve nuclear capabilities, and it continues to be their policy to act presumptively should any nation attempt to deploy a nuclear technology. The strike in Syria marks the second time Israel has destroyed a nuclear facility, the first being in Iraq in 1981 shortly before the Iraqi facility became operational. The timing of this strike is most curious, however, and should cause us to consider carefully the message Israel is attempting to send.

Syria is not the only country in the Middle East attempting to achieve nuclear capability. Iran, with Russian cooperation, is actively pursuing such a technology, despite opposition by the US, France, and the IAEA. The rare cooperation between France and the US will likely result in additional UN sanctions against Iran, but the signal from Israel is that time is running out for diplomacy. The message Israel sent was clearly intended for the West. Should Iran come close to deploying the technology to refine a weapons grade plutonium, Israel will eliminate the Iranian facilities.

This is not a message to ignore since a diplomatic solution is highly unlikely. A military strike against Iran could have world-wide economic implications. Through their control of the Straits of Hormuz, Iran can effectively halt the flow of oil to the West, something that would have severe consequences in Europe. Any action on the part of Israel must be taken in conjunction with the US and our allies since it will take US air and sea power to maintain the shipping lanes and prevent an oil embargo similar to the one that crippled the US economy in the 1970s. Israel cannot do this alone without causing a major energy crisis.

Unfortunately, it will ultimately be necessary to take military action in Iran. Since Iran has the support of Russia and China, a diplomatic solution cannot succeed. Neither is there sufficient time to impose economic sanctions against Iran since their facilities would be operational before the sanctions could have any meaningful effect. Remember, severe sanctions were imposed against Iraq for 12-years to no avail. Iran may have full nuclear capabilities within a year.

So military action in Iran will happen. The question is whether the US will do what we need to do despite the unpopularity of the decision. Will we lend the air and sea support that will be required or will we force Israel to go it alone? If we choose the latter, be prepared for another 1970s style energy crisis. There truly is only one right course of action in this case. Let's hope we have the wisdom to do what needs to be done.

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