Speculation about a potential Israeli strike against nuclear facilities in Iran gained momentum Sunday.
The Sunday Times has reported that Saudi Arabia would allow Israel to use its airspace for such an attack. By doing this, Israel would eliminate the need to get American approval to fly over Iraq.
Yet Vice President Joe Biden refused to condemn a potential Israeli strike on ABC’s This Week.
“We cannot dictate to a sovereign nation what it can and cannot do,” Mr. Biden said. Pressed further, he added: “Israel has the right to determine what is in its best interests.”
Though Biden refused to be drawn into speculation, the vice president’s statement will be welcomed by Israel. With President Obama openly trying to court the Arab world, many in Israel worry that Israel’s historic, intimate relationship with the US is deteriorating.
This appears to be one of the reasons Israel sought Saudi Arabia’s approval for an attack on Iran – it sought a plan that would not require American complicity. For its part, Saudi Arabia, which is a Sunni Muslim country, sees Shiite Iran as a rival and does not want Iran to gain nuclear weapons.
The Times of London reports that, at one point, Israel’s secret plans to destroy Iranian uranium-enrichment facilities at Natanz included low-yield nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs – the first use of nuclear weapons since World War II.
Admiral Mullen has said that the situation risks destabilizing the region, no matter what the outcome. If Israel attacks, potential Iranian counterattacks could put American troops in the region in harm’s way, he said in PBS in April. If Iran builds a nuclear weapon, rivals such as Saudi Arabia could be tempted to follow suit.
For Israel, however, the issue could be more clear-cut. A May poll by the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University suggested that nearly 1 in 4 Israelis would consider leaving the country.
The head of the center told Ha’aretz newspaper that the poll reflected an exaggerated fear among Israelis. “Iran’s leadership is religiously extremist but calculated and it understands an unconventional attack on Israel is an act of madness that will destroy Iran,” said David Menashri.
If Israel strikes Iran, the Iranian response against Israel could be severe. The terrorist group Hezbollah, which is affiliated with the Iranian regime, has some 42,000 rockets, according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It could target cities across Israel.
But hawks say the recent election in Iran – and the violent repression that followed disputed results – show that Iran’s leadership cannot be trusted. “It will be even harder to make the case that Iran's quest for nuclear power can be excused, trusted, understood, or explained away,” wrote Emanuele Ottolenghi, executive director of the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, in The Australian.