Word to the wise — is any­body lis­ten­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

Iran may have to learn a les­son the hard way, but what Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad won’t have to worry about is a Pearl Har­bor.

Ge­orge W. Bush, tak­ing flak 24/7 for the war in Iraq, con­tin­ues to warn the Ira­nian pres­i­dent that he may pay a fear­ful price if he con­tin­ues to build a nu­clear arse­nal.

Ehud Olmert, the prime min­is­ter of Is­rael, the only other coun­try re­garded as a cred­i­ble threat to Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s bul­ly­ing, says the same thing.

Nei­ther Mr. Bush nor Mr. Olmert are rat­tling sabers — or, more to the point, bunker-bust­ing bombs — and both Wash­ing­ton and Jerusalem take con­sid­er­able pains to say that diplo­macy and eco­nomic pres­sure are their weapons of choice. But diplo­macy, as nice and quiet as gov­ern­ments try to make it, is ul­ti­mately tooth­less if sol­diers are not at the ready to back up the diplo­mats and their teacups.

Both Wash­ing­ton and Jerusalem of­fer nu­ance and caveat to ac­com­pany the hard words, and pre­fer to talk about the diplo­matic and eco­nomic mes­sages they send to Iran — diplo­macy in the form of meet­ings and sooth­ing words in pub­lic, and eco­nomics in the form of tight­en­ing the screw of sanc­tions. But no­body much pays at­ten­tion to diplo­mats, and sanc­tions are held to­gether by a sieve.

Nat­u­rally, no­body in Wash­ing­ton or Jerusalem will say when they’ve had enough nu­ance and caveat, that it’s time to put mil­i­tary mus­cle be­hind the diplo­matic mum­bling. Sal­lai Meri­dor, the new Is­raeli am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, went to an on-therecord lunch Aug. 23 at the Nixon Cen­ter with a group of diplo­mats, an­a­lysts and jour­nal­ists to talk about “Is­rael’s chal­lenges.” The world must make Iran un­der­stand that it in­tends to take “any ac­tion nec­es­sary” to pre­vent a nu­clear-armed Iran. There’s no scarcity of nu­clear sci­en­tists who know how to en­rich ura­nium. As­sem­bling the weapon is the hard part. One of the jour­nal­ist guests asked the cru­cial ques­tion: “Will you know when that mo­ment comes?”

The am­bas­sador replied slowly and de­lib­er­ately. “I don’t have a def­i­nite an­swer,” he said. “We be­lieve they have not crossed that thresh­old. We should work on the as­sump­tion that it will hap­pen soon.” Per­haps, he said, in 18 months to two years.

Given the Amer­i­can tech­nol­ogy and abil­ity to pro­duce bombs pow­er­ful enough to break open bunkers buried deep in the ground, and given the abil­ity Is­rael has am­ply demon­strated to ac­com­plish dif­fi­cult feats of arms, a sane and log­i­cal man would ex­pect even Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad to take re­al­ity into ac­count. A re­li­gious cul­ture that preaches that it val­ues death, not life, has dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing the West.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad seems to imag­ine that it is he, and not the lead­ers of the West, who holds the best cards in his high-stakes poker game. “It is in your own in­ter­ests to dis­tance your­self from th­ese crim­i­nals,” he warned the Euro­peans in a typ­i­cal speech at a rally in Tehran not long ago. “We have ad­vised the Euro­peans that the Amer­i­cans are far away, but you are the neigh­bors of the na­tions in this re­gion. We in­form you that the na­tions are like an ocean that is welling up. If a storm be­gins, the di­men­sion will not stay lim­ited to Pales­tine, and you may get hurt.”

This kind of talk may be enough to make the French sell cheese to the Ira­ni­ans and throw in nu­clear tech­nol­ogy as a bonus, like a bank of­fer­ing toast­ers to de­pos­i­tors of new ac­counts. Ali Lar­i­jani, Iran’s top nu­clear ne­go­tia­tor, aimed sim­i­lar threats at the Is­raelis. “Iran has pre­pared it­self,” he said. “They will get a crush­ing re­sponse if they make such a mis­take [as tak­ing out Ira­nian nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity]. If there is truth in such talk, Is­rael will suf­fer greatly. It’s a very small coun­try within our range.”

Big talk, not oil, is the chief ex­port of Ara­bia and the re­gion. The big talk­ers could use­fully spend a lit­tle time read­ing be­tween the lines of what cer­tain oth­ers say. When ret­ri­bu­tion ar­rives, they can’t say it sneaked up on them.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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