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.
American Foreign Policy Council Vice President Ilan Berman echoes much of Heller’s sentiment, calling a potential Israel hit on Iran a publicly divisive but strategically timely event.
“This is an interesting fork in the road with UN and U.S. sanctions. We’re no longer speaking in the future tense about seeing if sanctions work,” Berman comments. “The likelihood is that the economic pressure being applied is too little too late. Ultimately, though, Israel has to make a choice of whether or not they can tolerate a nuclear Iran in the region. Israelis have been deferring a decision for a long time but it’s a decision that can no longer be kicked down the road.”
No one has a timeline for a strike, but the proverbial regional ticking bomb is clicking away. As the status quo continues, a growing number of countries — Egypt, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia among them — are building their own responses to the Iranian threat. Allowing the situation to continue as is may create residual damage while a military attack could be the surest way of returning a power balance to neighbors, says Berman.
Berlusconi’s statement is an indication of the G-20 leadership’s understanding of just how much “Iran is out of the box,” Berman explains. “It’s not an issue of technology or a nuclear program; it’s about what the ayatollahs are ready to do with it.”
And so in hushed tones the U.S., Europe, and sections of the Arab world support a military strike against Iran, and the perception is that Israel will be the subcontracted hit man.
The message to Israel: Don’t bore us with the details. Do what you have to do and we’ll condemn you in public and applaud you privately.