Tehran’s unrelenting, belligerent pursuit of nuclear weapons is forcing the West’s hand. Unfortunately, few of the West’s current heads of state show the determination and courage necessary to live up to their commitment to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, some of the West’s leaders—particularly those in the Biden administration—believe diplomacy will ultimately prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear power.
It’s no surprise then that since coming into office in 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden, and European nations, have sought to revive the failed 2015 agreement that was supposed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Meanwhile, in Israel, the country that faces the most danger should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains steadfast, believing that only the credible threat of military force—or the use of force itself—will prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms.
Recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency noted that it found uranium particles in Iran enriched to 83.7% U-235, which qualifies as weapons-grade.
The window to act against Iran’s nuclear ambitions is quickly closing. The time to act seems at hand. But barring a fundamental change in the West’s posture towards Iran—a change that emphasizes an effective military deterrent rather than trying to talk the mullahs out of acquiring nuclear weapons—Israel will be forced to act on its own, without the West’s support.
Such an outcome would be a travesty—a failure equal to Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, avoiding decisive action, rather than confronting the greatest threat to world peace in a timely manner.
Iran has often and clearly declared its intention to defeat the United States and destroy Israel. It is on the brink of acquiring the nuclear tools to do so. It’s time for a Plan B.
Surely, we’ve reached the point for the United States, with its ally Israel—and other Western nations the United States can muster—to put definitive military action on the table. If military threats fail to dissuade Iran, the use of military force would be called for. The United States and its allies undoubtedly have the capability to destroy Iran’s nuclear assets without needing a ground war.
The larger question is whether Western leadership has the integrity to meet their commitments.
There’s no doubt that a nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat to many nations in the Middle East, and increasingly in Europe.
In September last year, the Iranians paraded a missile with a 1,400-kilometer (870 mile) range, which would make it capable of reaching any target in the Middle East, as well as parts of Europe. Some of Iran’s missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The United States and various Western powers—including Israel—have recognized this threat and vowed solemnly to oppose and in fact to prevent it. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September last year, U.S. President Joe Biden promised, “We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Meanwhile, Iran is now on the brink of a nuclear breakout—within striking distance of nuclear weapons. In fact, in late 2022, the IAEA reported that the Islamic Republic already had enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb. Fast-forward to today, and Iran’s uranium stockpile is large enough to implement at least five nuclear weapons within three to four weeks.
This threat is only mitigated by the fact that although Iran can produce nuclear weapons in a matter of days or weeks, it still cannot weaponize them. The Iranians have yet to manufacture a nuclear warhead for a missile. Experts believe that this will take one to two years. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking.
While the Biden administration and other Western powers prefer a diplomatic solution, time has proven that diplomacy is unlikely to deter Iran.
While the JCPOA was meant to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the agreement is fundamentally flawed. It does not prevent Iran from developing nuclear-capable missiles, rather it simply put a pause on its nuclear program so that it could be quickly restarted by 2031—just eight years from now—without any restrictions.
Nor does the agreement allow for surprise inspections, and it included sanctions relief amounting to billions of dollars that Iran’s mullahs could spend on terrorist activities. For these reasons, the Trump administration chose to abandon the agreement in 2018.
Unfortunately, since coming to power in 2021, Biden has sought to revive the deal. In the meantime, Iran has stepped up its nuclear program to the point where, by December of last year, the country had a uranium stockpile 18 times larger than that allowed by the JCPOA.
With every passing day, the threat of a nuclear Iran becomes greater, and the possibility of ameliorating it becomes more difficult and more dangerous. Diplomacy has failed.
We are about to reach a crossover point at which the danger of waiting to act is greater than the danger of acting. Israel will no doubt reach this point sooner than any other actors.
However, it doesn’t make sense for the United States and other Western powers to allow Israel to take on this threat single handedly—even though it may feel forced to do so. Israel acting alone dramatically raises the stakes and raises the danger— of failure, of a counterattack by Iran, of a Middle East conflagration.
The only sane solution is for the United States—and its Western allies—to threaten Iran with severe military repercussions if the mullahs continue their pursuit of nuclear arms. That time is here.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.
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