“Thank God for Israel”

Some 40 of us had gathered around a long rectangular dinner table in Britain’s House of Commons, exchanging ideas from a day-long conference on Iran that had just ended down the street, when columnist Melanie Phillips bemoaned the West’s failure to forcefully confront Tehran over its nuclear program.

The West will keep dithering, she predicted, and in the coming months an impatient Israel – which faces the threat of annihilation from a maniacal regime – will bomb Iran’s nuclear sites, at least delaying (though perhaps not destroying) its nuclear weapons program.

The world will react with loud outrage and fulsome condemnation, leaving Israel even more isolated, even more the “Jew among nations.”

But, privately, she said, from the United States to Europe and across the Middle East, governments will breathe a collective sigh of relief – for Jerusalem will do what they lack the willpower to do themselves. And when Jerusalem acts, they will mutter privately: “Thank God for Israel.”

You could hardly draw a different conclusion after hearing presentations and partaking in discussion at “The Islamic Republic of Iran in 2009: New Course or Old Paradigms,” a conference sponsored by London’s Legatum Institute and Henry Jackson Society at which I had the honor to speak.

We reviewed the regime’s fanaticism; its brutality at home; its regional and global aspirations; its aggressive sponsorship of terrorism; its threats to Israel, Europe and the United States; the progress of its nuclear program; and where it stands in the aftermath of its controversial June 12 presidential election.

To be sure, we found some reason for hope. “The regime’s days are numbered,” we agreed, because the events of recent weeks have exposed its broad domestic illegitimacy. The regime is clinging to power through sheer brutality, and the momentum for popular insurrection continues to build.

But, while “regime change” at home could solve the nuclear problem – presuming a moderate alternative to Tehran’s current mullah-cracy would agree to shelve Iran’s nuclear program – no one would place bets that such an uprising would occur before the current regime reached its nuclear goal.

The tipping point of insurrection could be just months or a year away, or the regime could maintain power for another five years by continuing to arrest, torture and kill its domestic adversaries. That would give Tehran the requisite time to develop nuclear bombs and probably the know-how to mount them on missiles for possible use against Israel, Europe or the United States.

Besides, Western governments are doing little to encourage democratic change. If anything, by focusing on talks with Tehran, the United States was legitimizing the regime on the world stage and, worse, setting itself against the restless population in Iran from which that country’s next leaders will emerge.

Nor did the experts gathered in London place much hope in stronger sanctions to convince Tehran to scrap its nuclear pretentions.

Russia would likely block a U.S. request for much stronger sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, despite Washington’s recent decision to scrap a missile defense system in Europe to which Moscow had vehemently objected. And though the West could seek to stop nations and companies from selling Tehran the refined petroleum products on which it depends heavily, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez recently promised to compensate by selling refined petroleum to Tehran.

The West has vowed stronger sanctions for some time, but time is now running short. Iran is boosting its capacity to enrich uranium and developing increasingly sophisticated missiles. By dithering, the West forces the very decision it wants to avoid – accept Iran’s nuclear attainment or take military action to prevent it.

Would a Western leader step forward, in the manner of Winston Churchill, to force the civilized world to take action – to impose the needed pressure (even if that meant a blockade of Iranian ports) or to strike the nuclear sites?

No one could identify a modern-day Churchill, surely not one in Churchill’s own nation. For there, as we learned at the conference, Parliament had recently debated a resolution about whether Churchill had been a positive figure in Britain’s past. That such a resolution had even received a hearing on its way to defeat illustrates the timidity and moral confusion from which Britain now suffers.

So, where does that leave us?

On a fast track toward catastrophe – an Israeli strike, Iranian-backed terrorism against Israeli, U.S. and European interests in response, a huge spike in oil prices, and perhaps a full-blown regional conflagration.

The only thing worse?

An even greater catastrophe – an Iran with nuclear weapons with which to attack Israel, Europe and the United States, to achieve regional hegemony, and to unleash its terrorist clients for even greater mayhem – all with the self-confidence that its nuclear weapons will protect it from pressure from abroad.

“Thank God for Israel.”

On Posted on