Iran appears dead-set on constructing a nuclear weapon. The agreement to suspend uranium enrichment has been broken off, and Iranian officials are stonewalling the international community in classic Middle-East fashion. They claim that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes, and therefore the world has no right to interfere. The absurdity of that claim is obvious when one considers that Iran is sitting on huge oil reserves, which would be far cheaper and easier to use for electricity than nuclear power. One need only recall the December 13, 2001 speech by former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in which he said:
"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world…. Jews shall expect to be once again scattered and wandering around the globe the day when this appendix [i.e. Israel] is extracted from the region and the Muslim world." (www.iran-press-service.com)
So much for Iranian intentions. The United States and especially Israel have no intention of letting this come to pass. At the moment the United States is in a poor position to deal with the threat directly; not only would they have serious political and diplomatic fallout to deal with, but they do not appear to have the necessary troops free. This leaves Israel, which already has one destroyed nuke program to its credit (the Osirak project in Iraq). Israel has stated that it intends to destroy Iran's reactors, to which Iran reacted by threatening a "very strong" response.
There are three possible avenues for a response that I can see. First, a direct attack via the latest version of the Shahab medium-range missile. Second, a series of coordinated terror attacks in Israel by Hizb'Allah, Iran's proxy. Third, Hizb'Allah launching the 15,000-plus rockets in place on the Lebanese frontier (delivered by Iran) toward Tel-Aviv.
Israel and the United States appear to be dealing with each of these threats. To defend against rocket or missile attack Israel has the jointly-developed Arrow-3, derived from the Patriot missile. The United States and Israel are also cooperating on a ground-based laser system designed to destroy rockets and mortar shells, currently being tested at White Sands, NM. This would likely be deployed behind the Lebanese border against Hizb'Allah weapons.
The United States and Germany have also called for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and secured a UN resolution to that effect. (Break out the champagne, the UN did something right for once!) Syria seems to be flinching, and has withdrawn 3,000 troops as of this writing, leaving 15,000 to go. A Syrian withdrawal, laudable on its own, would also serve to weaken Hizb'Allah by removing some of its "institutional" protection, easing the way for the inevitable Israeli air strikes on the rocket positions.
Israel is also striking hard against Hizb'Allah cells in Israel and the Territories. Many of the recent assassinations have targeted Hamas terrorists linked to Hizb'Allah, in an attempt to disrupt cooperation between the two groups. (Cf. www.debka.com) Several Hizb'Allah agents in Israel proper have also been arrested in recent weeks. It remains to be seen how effectively Israel can shut down Hizb'Allah's terror operations.
Israeli intelligence is doubtless working overtime to find all of the Iranian nuclear installations. Israel just purchased 500 bunker-buster munitions from the United States, which seem earmarked for Iran. And the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been working for over three years to try to extend the range of Israel's planes to bring all of Iran in range, without refueling. As we begin moving into the endgame, questions remain. First: Will the MTHEL laser system be ready in time for the fireworks in the north? Second: will the Mossad find all of the critical nuclear sites? Third: Will Syria stand aside and let Hizb'Allah be crippled? Fourth: will the IAF be capable of the mission?
Whether you are a partisan of Israel, Iran, or neither, pray that Israel can succeed with its bombing mission. If not, Israel may well decide to fire its own nuclear weapons rather than allow its existence to be subject to the whim of Iran.