Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Bad guys will get hands on nukes soon

While talking to Israel’s consul general not long before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I realized that in his country, they commemorate such anniversaries just about every week. “We live in a tough neighborhood,” Asher Yarden, Israel’s consul general to Houston, said recently as he sat in front of a computer at an office in Little Rock. “Our neighborhood is not like Mexico or Canada.”

The neighborhood has become much more dangerous as Iran develops nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe out Israel.
The Iranian ayatollahs gave Hezbollah thousands of rockets, which the Lebanese militia fired into Israel this summer. What if next time, those rockets carry nuclear warheads? What if Hamas and al-Qaida get their hands on nuclear bombs? What if the next hijacked planes fly with nuclear bombs into skyscrapers in New York, or detonate in Chicago subways?

Yarden wouldn’t say what Israel would do if Iran continued on its nuclear path, but clearly the threat is on top of his government’s concerns. Yarden is a diplomat and is not involved in military planning, but even if he were, he couldn’t talk about any plans Israel might consider against Iran. But he did say, “We will do anything to protect ourselves. We’ll take any action necessary.”

Publicly, Israel hopes the United Nations will convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, but it doesn’t look like the ayatollahs will agree to that. The U.S. might eventually take out Iran’s nuclear installations, but Yarden hinted that Israel might act unilaterally to eliminate the Iranian threat, even if that invites the same kind of worldwide condemnation that was leveled at Israel when it bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facility in 1982.

If extremists get their hands on nuclear weapons, they could fire them in all directions. Suicide bombers and Hezbollah fighters would become insignificant if Islamic clerics send orders to fire nuclear missiles at Israel in hopes of restoring an Islamic kingdom in Jerusalem. The consul general was reading the headlines on news Web sites back home. The news was not good: Peacekeeping forces had still not arrived in Lebanon, where they were supposed to keep Hezbollah a good distance away from Israel. But several hundred French troops and those from other nations were on their way, and perhaps they’ll keep the peace between Israel and Hezbollah, at least for a while.

“Hezbollah always finds an excuse to attack,” Yarden said. “What’s important is to have Hezbollah disarmed and have the Lebanese army and the United Nations forces deployed.” But Israel doesn’t think much of the UN. “We have very low expectations of the United Nations,” Yarden said.

There’s an uneasy truce between Israel and Lebanon, but if Hezbollah acquires even more powerful weapons from its Iranian patron, the war could spread throughout the Middle East and beyond. Hezbollah is lying low right now, perhaps waiting for orders from Iran and its Syrian friends.

The militia had fired thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets into Israel for a month, killing more than 100 Israelis, but Lebanon suffered far more losses: More than 1,000 Lebanese dead and much of their country in ruins, while Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, hides in bunkers, afraid that Israel, or other Lebanese, might assassinate him.

Despite bragging about a strategic victory, Nasrallah knows this war has set Lebanon back at least 20 years. He recently told an interviewer that his group would not have kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12 if he’d known Israel would strike back with such tremendous force.

“We did not think that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not,” he said. But what if next time Hezbollah gets nuclear-tipped rockets from Iran?

One word that’s not in the Israeli vocabulary is fear. They might take comfort from Psalm 83: “Your foes are in uproar, and those who hate you have raised their head. They say, ‘Come let us cut them off from nationhood so Israel’s name will not be remembered anymore.’”

As an Israeli military officer recently told the New York Times, “This is the Middle East. One war ends, and the next one is already at the door.”