(Jerusalem, Israel) — Israel is unlikely to launch massive airstrikes to neutralize Iran’s nuclear weapons program before the U.S. inauguration on January 20, 2009, barring dramatic new intelligence that points to an imminent Iranian attack.
That’s my sense of things here after spending nearly a week on the ground.
There is scant evidence of a country preparing for imminent hostilities. The Israeli political system is engaged in gearing up for elections next February 10th. What’s more, senior Israeli officials are still urging the U.S. to take the lead on stopping Iran. “We must unite our forces, led by the international community, led by the United States of America,” said outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in an address to some 4,000 Jewish leaders from around the world. He called for bilateral and international sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran and told American Jewish leaders: “Each and every one of us needs to play a role – lobby your government, lead your organization or identify a project that can exert additional pressure on Iran….It must become more costly to Iran to pursue nuclear weapons than to give [them] up.”
Last Thursday, I had the honor of addressing the World Likud Congress (pro-Israel political activists from the U.S., Africa and Europe) here in the holy city. I was on a panel of Israeli and Iranian experts on the threat posed to the Jewish State by the Ayatollah Khamenei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the current regime in Tehran. While I agreed with much that my fellow panelists said, I was struck by their lack of urgency for Israel to take action. One said that Israel shouldn’t strike unless its leaders can be absolutely certain that by doing so Iran will not be able to build the Bomb for at least another ten years. Another suggested Israel should not infuriate the incoming Obama administration by launching attacks on Iran without a clear green light from the new President.
I respectfully disagreed. First, let’s be clear: there is almost no scenario by which the Bush administration is going to launch attacks on Iran in the next sixty days or so and thus hand an on-going war to a new American President. Second, the Obama administration has made it crystal clear that it is not going to make neutralizing Iran’s nuclear threat via military means a priority, much less a top priority. Just the opposite: Obama intends to launch “unconditional” negotiations with Tehran. So waiting for the U.S. to “take the lead” is a non-starter at this point. Third, Israel faces an existential threat from Iranian nuclear weapons and it cannot afford to wait much longer. Once Iran has the Bomb, six million Jews here will be in supreme peril. There will never be a “perfect” time to strike Iran, and Israeli leaders will never be able to be certain ahead of time just how long their attacks will push Iran back from getting the Bomb. But is not buying five more years of security — if ten are not possible — still worth it? Fourth, Israel should never surrender its national security decision-making process to Washington. Did Jerusalem wait for the U.S. to act against the enemies of the Jewish people in 1967? Did Jerusalem wait for the U.S. to bomb Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981? Fifth, more than ever, Israel leaders like “the sons of Issachar” described in I Chronicles 12, “men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”
[UPDATE: President-elect Obama now says he supports the Saudi “peace” initiative. This would require Israel to go back to its 1967 border, re-divide Jerusalem, give up the strategically vital Golan Heights, and give away all of the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria and the strategically vital Jordan Valley.]
As I’ve written previously, war with Iran will be horrific at many levels. I do not wish for it. Indeed, I am praying passionately for the peace of Jerusalem, as the Bible teaches me to do. But the notion of Iran’s genocidal, apocalyptic leaders getting weapons of mass destruction in their hands is completely unacceptable. I am, therefore, resigned to the possibility that there may now be no other option but for Israel to launch preemptive strikes, since it is increasingly clear Washington won’t.
As I have no influence on such decisions, I am focusing on helping Israelis prepare for the next war. For much of the past week I have been with my Joshua Fund team here in Israel, working with local Jewish and Christian leaders to stockpile emergency relief supplies. I have also had the privilege of preaching at two Israeli congregations to encourage local believers here to continue walking with the Lord, loving their neighbors, praying without ceasing, and girding themselves for the dark days that very well may lie ahead. More on that in my next dispatch.