When G-8 leaders sat down to weekend talks in Canada prior to G-20 meetings this week, Silvio Berlusconi wasn’t designated the official group spokesperson. But when he was quoted in the press as saying the G-8 “fully believes” Israel will attack Iran, the Italian prime minister was echoing a sentiment most leaders are publicly furrowing eyebrows over and privately anticipating expectantly.
“Iran is not guaranteeing a peaceful production of nuclear power [so] the members of the G-8 are worried and believe absolutely that Israel will probably react preemptively,” Berlusconi told reporters following talks with other Group of Eight leaders outside Toronto.
G-8 leaders met for two days of talks focused on Iranian and North Korean nuclear aims and growing concern over continued development despite renewed sanctions. Referring to a fourth round of UN sanctions handed down against Iran last week, Iranian President Ahmadinejad termed the measures a “used handkerchief” fit for the trash.
In the face of Ahmadinejad’s open defiance and alarm over continued arms development, are European and other world leaders truly concerned over a potential Israel strike that might cripple Iran’s nuclear capability?
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program is something everybody else hopes someone else will take care of,” says Mark Heller, Tel Aviv University’s principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies. “And it’s a tacit admission on Berlusconi’s part that they — Europe, the U.S. and all the rest — are not really designed to stop an Iranian nuclear weapons program. I’m guessing that he and maybe many others in the G-8 and elsewhere — including in the Arab world — are hoping Israel will do that.”
The sense of urgency is growing because of increasing levels of uranium enrichment Iran is achieving, bringing the rogue state closer to having a nuclear weapon.
A U.S. National Intelligence report assessed that Iran suspended weaponization in 2003 but continued with enrichment. “They were turning enriched uranium into a nuclear weapon — essentially transforming a huge, unwieldy mass into a usable nuclear weapon,” Heller continues. “When that report was issued, everybody else including the Europeans — who are not normally given to hysteria — made light of the assessment and said they didn’t understand the basis for it.
“It is slowly dawning that there’s no chance of getting the ‘crippling sanctions’ Hillary Clinton once called for to threaten the stronghold of power in the Iranian regime. Conventional wisdom has become: either bomb Iran or there will be an Iranian bomb.”
So when an argument for more time to resolve the issue is put on the table, comments like Berlusconi’s indicate time is neither a luxury nor a neutral factor at this juncture.
“Attempting to put together sanctions packages prepared by Brazilians and Turkish prime ministers trying to appeal to the better sense of the Iranian regime … well let’s just say I don’t think Israel can do anything without close coordination with the U.S. and that’s the universal assumption. And if it happens, Israel will be condemned publicly and congratulated behind closed doors,” Heller concludes.