Israeli credibility on the line over Iran nuclear challenge


By Crispian Balmer and Dan Williams, Reuters

JERUSALEM — Israel risks a loss of credibility over both its “red line” for Iran’s nuclear program and its threat of military action, and its room for unilateral maneuver is shrinking. After years of veiled warnings that Israel might strike the Islamic Republic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out an ultimatum at the United Nations last September. Iran, he said, must not amass enough uranium at 20-percent fissile purity to fuel one bomb if enriched further. To ram the point home, he drew a red line across a cartoon bomb, guaranteeing him front-page headlines around the world. However, a respected Israeli ex-spymaster says Iran has skillfully circumvented the challenge. Other influential voices say the time has passed when Israel can hit out at Iran alone, leaving it dependent on U.S. decision-makers. “If there was a good window of opportunity to attack, it was six months ago — not necessarily today,” said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser. Pressure from Washington, he said, had forced Israel to drop its strike plan. Israel has long insisted on the need for a convincing military threat and setting clear lines beyond which Iran’s nuclear activity should not advance, calling this the only way to persuade Iran that it must bow to international pressure.

Serving officials argue that Netanyahu’s repeated warnings of the menace posed by Iran’s nuclear project have pushed the issue to the top of the global agenda and helped generate some of the toughest economic sanctions ever imposed on a nation. But some officials have also questioned the wisdom of his red line, arguing that such brinkmanship can generate unwelcome ambiguity — as the United States has discovered with its contested stance on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence chief who runs a Tel Aviv think tank, suggested last week that Israel had also got itself into a tangle, saying Iran had expanded its nuclear capacity beyond the Israeli limit, without triggering alarms.