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Thinking the Unthinkable: Iran, Israel, Afghanistan

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It may well be time to start thinking the unthinkable on Iran, Israel, and Afghanistan.

Consider:

* Israel may be on an inexorable path to an air war against Iran.

* With conventional weapons said by some to be ineffective against Iran's increasingly underground and hardened nuclear development sites, Israel may come to use nuclear weapons against them.

* And as this melodrama between two governments dominated by conservative religionists plays out, the US and its NATO allies may be on the verge of being run out of Afghanistan in the wake of the latest debacle there.

Israel may well have painted itself into a corner -- a metaphor which doesn't quite work in a dynamic situation -- with regard to Iran.

The Russian military predicts a Western strike against Iran by summer.

If the present Israeli government really does regard Iran's progress toward nuclear weapons as an "existential threat" to their nation, what would they not do to prevent it? And if conventional bunker buster bombs won't work, or at least not yet -- the Senate approved an advanced version earlier this month, but it apparently won't be ready till late this year -- why would they not use nuclear bunker busters to stop the Iranian program.

And the Iranians certainly seem bent on moving forward with their program, which they publicly insist is for civilian purposes only, despite all the moves against them and despite offers of having nuclear fuel enriched for them.

Israel has placed itself firmly on the path of brinksmanship. It is evidently in an intelligence war with Iran already and threatens overt war.

If Iran continues on its course, as it gives constant, indeed, accelerating signs of doing, especially in the past week, Israel will be faced with a classic go/no-go decision.

Follow through with the implicit threat to attack (which seems much more than implicit reading the Israeli press, as I do). Or back down.

If Israel backs down, it will be seen as a paper tiger. For a tiny Jewish island in a sea of Islam, that would leave Israel in a weaker position than before. This is the danger of brinksmanship. If one is not willing to follow through on one's threats, the military power that one has is devalued. Which might well force Israel to make an aggressive move on another line of engagement. Which gets at another danger of brinksmanship.

Had Israel taken a different stance, things might be different. But this Israeli government, clearly the most right-wing in the nation's history, has adopted a very bellicose posture.

In a brand new article, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, in his meeting next week with Obama, will urge the president to publicly back an attack on Iran and describes an elaborate campaign by Israel to use conservative US interests and the Republican presidential campaign to push Obama to a more hawkish stance on Iran.

US Marine General John Allen apologized repeatedly last week for the desecration of Islamic holy texts at Bagram Air Base, but protests flared across Afghanistan, demonstrating that 10 years of exposure to US and NATO forces has not developed a relationship of trust.

But conventional weapons, even bunker buster bombs, which Obama provided Israel with in 2009, may well not work. Or at most, only set back Iran's program for a couple of years. Which would present the distinctly unappetizing prospect of ramping up more sequences of sanctions that may well not dissuade the Iranian leadership or of a series of strikes over a period of years to keep on severely retarding the nuclear program. Meanwhile, Iran would be working to upgrade its air defenses and further reduce Israel's air power. And of course there would be ongoing severe repercussions from all this warfare.

Congress agreed this month to fast track improvements in the biggest conventional bunker buster bomb, but that reportedly won't be ready until late this year.

While conventional weapons might not work, nuclear weapons might well be able to. Some critics say that nuclear bunker busters would not work, but it's hard to believe that there is not a way to make them work.

If Iran becoming a nuclear power really does represent an "existential threat" to the State of Israel, as many present Israeli leaders say, why would the Israelis not use all means at their disposal to prevent that occurrence?

Israel is not an "official" nuclear power, but has made plain its capability for many years. While it refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has pledged that "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Arab-Israel area." Whatever that vague statement means in practice, it's interesting to note that Iran is not an Arab nation.

In January 2007, the Sunday Times of London actually reported that Israel was planning to carry out a nuclear bunker buster strike against Iran's program. The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied the report and, of course, there was no attack. Then.

Last week was not a good one for those who insist that Iran is simply a benign, misunderstood nation.

The UN nuclear watchdog's mission to Iran ended abruptly when Iran refused to allow it access to key nuclear facilities. Then on Friday, it issued a report. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that, not surprisingly in light of the failed mission at the beginning of the week, it is not making progress in negotiation with Iran. And that Iran is accelerating its nuclear enrichment activities, violating UN Security Council resolutions and past accords with the the agency.

Iran's defiance of sanctions by the UN and international alliances, which are growing, has been very costly to the regime in Tehran. Popular unrest is growing along with unemployment and the costs of fuel and food. And moves by the Obama Administration and the European Union are causing a shift in Iran's oil customer base.

Meanwhile, Iran has been offered enriched uranium to run its plants both for purposes of electric power production and for medical isotopes. Which Iran has refused, choosing instead to pursue its own accelerating enrichment plans, increasingly away from the view of UN inspectors. In fact, in deeply buried and hardened facilities guarded by sophisticated anti-air defense systems.

At the least, it's highly suspicious.

As are any plans for a war.

Those who want a pre-emptive war, rather than a strategy of containment, have a very high hurdle of credibility to cross, not the least of it because they've offered little but hysteria.

And when you consider that the advocates of a war with Iran also advocated the war with Iraq -- which actually empowered Iran, in addition to being not only a massive distraction from the problem of jihadism which 9/11 brought into such tragically sharp relief but also a driving factor in the growth of jihadism -- that high hurdle becomes a pole vault.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday morning that the US is "fully committed" to its strategy in Afghanistan, despite a week of protests over the burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Base and the murder of senior US officers inside the highly secure Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul.

As for Afghanistan, with our commander there, Marine General John Allen, having to pull NATO advisors out of the supposedly secure ministries in the wake of Saturday's murders of two American officers, and the country in a convulsive uproar over the idiotic burnings of Islamic holy texts at Bagram Air Base, how much longer can we be in Afghanistan carrying out a mission which, even in its scaling down aspect, can't be carried out? We may be effectively run out of the country as a result of this latest debacle.

Stunning news from Afghanistan, where two relatively high-ranking US officers, a colonel and a major, were murdered early Saturday in a highly secure area of the Afghan Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul. The Taliban have claimed credit for the killings, apparently carried out by an Afghan officer. It came after days of protest across the country, including the killings of two Americans at a base in eastern Afghanistan, part of an upsurge of "green on blue" violence, as it goes down in the US military reports denoting attacks by Afghan personnel against their supposed US/NATO allies.

Just hours later, Marine General John Allen, ordered the end of all regular US/NATO advisory missions inside Afghan ministries. The fact is, if there is no such transitional advisory mission for US and NATO personnel in Afghanistan, there is no future mission there, as it's obvious we aren't staying indefinitely.

This may just have been our "Night of Allahu Akbar." That's what the Soviets called a stunning event which took place in Kabul in 1980 just a month after their invasion.

At dusk one night, an Islamic leader cried out "Allahu Akbar!" meaning "God is great!" And the cry was taken up across the city, until all across the Afghan capital, where the Soviets had supposedly secured their friendly government, the cry of jihad echoed over and over for hours on end across the night.

Many added an extra chant, in a sort of counterpoint: "Marg, marg, marg bar Shurawi!" Which means "Death, death, death to the Soviets!"

Of course, it ended and did not repeat every night as the Soviets tightened their grip on the capital city. But the message had been sent, and received.

I talked once with a former Red Army officer who was there and this very experienced Russian soldier described the experience as one of the most chilling of his life. It seemed, he said, as though the enemy could be anywhere and everywhere.

This is the situation in which our troops may be finding themselves, one in which they can seldom be sure if they are dealing with friend or deadly foe.

Our mission in Afghanistan has long since bloated beyond any especially clever use of power to disrupt and destroy Al Qaeda. We will be fortunate if our departure is accomplished in a decorous fashion, with some rudiment of alliance remaining. Leaving by helicopter from the roof of the embassy is not really the way to go.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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