There is only very limited time and all of it will be devoted to the real danger that Israel, and not only Israel, is facing today. Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. The leadership of Iran, the president and others, declare time and again, several times a week, that the Jewish state must be wiped out. The Jewish people cannot allow that someone who declares that the Jewish state will be wiped out, will have the means to do so. If we allow it to happen, it means that we have learned nothing from our very recent historical experience.
As you know, most of Israel’s economic and intellectual assets are concentrated in a very densely populated coastal plain, between the Haifa Bay and Ashdod. Not all our assets, but most of them. And as the former Iranian President Ali Rafsanjani, who is considered moderate and pragmatic, said, one nuclear bomb will end the story of Israel. Yet one atomic bomb cannot even scratch Iran, let alone the Arab world.
That’s why, given our historical experience, the Jewish people cannot allow it to happen – full stop. Now, the natural question is, are you going to do something militarily, as under the leadership of Menachem Begin, you did in May ’81? And here my answer is clear – it is not the preferred option. For us, war, or a military operation, is really the last resort. We want to avoid it, we don’t want to reach the point where we don’t have other options. It’s feasible, but we don’t want it to happen.
The point is that, while it is true that on the hit-list of Iran, Israel is the first name, we are not the last one. Iran is seeking not merely to become a regional power but a global one. It already has missiles capable of hitting Israel, the Shihab-3, with a 1,300 kilometre range which can already strike almost all of Israel. But with North Korean help, they are building missiles with 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 kilometre ranges.
Why? Because they seek to be a global power. Iranian leaders argue that the power of the West is declining and the Iranian sun is rising.
The Arab states, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, all understand this very well. And they are frightened, which explains initiatives like their attempt to renew the Saudi peace plan.
Iran is building a new Persian empire and it has already achieved successes in Gaza, and may take hold of Lebanon by next year. Hamas is essentially part of Iran – its training, its arms and its funding come from Teheran.
Israel is not approaching a collision with Iran, it is already in one. Teheran is fighting Israel daily. Every rocket that lands on Sderot, every suicide bomber Israel stops, every Hezbollah action is part of that clash. We are at war already.
Iran is also making difficult any Israeli rapprochement with the Palestinians, unleashing terrorist groups to change the atmosphere and foster hatred.
Intelligence estimates vary, but one is that Iran cannot get functioning nuclear weapons before 2010. That gives us some time to try and stop them.
The means should be economic sanctions.
Sanctions may, at the minimum, change the behaviour of the regime and may even lead to it abandoning the nuclear project. Beyond that, I hope it will increase the resentment inside Iran so that the regime will be weakened, to the point of being toppled.
At the moment, there are two UN Security Council Resolutions imposing sanctions, which to be frank, are rather meek. Yet they are working. We see it in the debates in Teheran – the factions are engaged in blame-shifting, and expressing real concern.
Now imagine what would happen if the sanctions were made serious. This means above all targeting the petroleum and energy sectors.
Iran is the fourth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, but it does not refine the oil, and therefore has to re-import close to 50% of its petrol and other refined petroleum products.
When an Iranian cabinet decision was made in May to impose a smart-card rationing system for petrol (which did not even include a rise in price), as many as a thousand petrol stations were burned by angry members of the public. That is a third of the total number of petrol stations in the country. Imagine what would happen if sanctions on imports of petroleum products were imposed, driving up the price and creating shortages. This would be a major blow to an already unpopular regime.
In addition, virtually all knowledgeable estimates agree that Iran’s oil industry is dilapidated and on the verge of collapse. Without foreign investment and technical assistance to refurbish it, production will decline to the point where Iran will not be able to export a single barrel of oil by 2013.
The sort of additional UN sanctions needed will not occur because China and Russia will block them. However, this need not matter if a number of key countries, such as the US, Britain, Canada and Australia take a decision to refuse to do business with anyone who exports petroleum products to Iran. This would likely be enough to drive up the price and exert strong pressure on the regime.
At the moment, there are already some moves afoot to use such informal sanctions to change Iran’s behaviour. The US, by itself, is already succeeding in reducing Iranian access to international finance. Moreover, there is a spreading movement for divestment in the US, with legislation passed in eight states now forbidding public funds to invest or have dealings with firms associated with Iran’s energy sector. Many additional key states, such as Texas, are now considering following suit.
The US will clearly have to lead any efforts to impose sanctions that will make a difference. But countries like Australia can play a significant role.
Ultimately, the solution to the problem which the theocracy in Iran poses is not through external intervention, but through the hope that the Iranian people will take their fate in their own hands. A secular democratic Iran, even one that sought nuclear weapons, would not be so problematic for Israel, or the rest of the region.
Dr. Ephraim Sneh is a member of the Israeli Knesset representing the Labor Party. He had a distinguished military career with the IDF and retired with the rank of Brigadier-General. Since being elected to the Knesset in 1992, he has served in a variety of posts, including Minister of Health and Minister of Transportation. Until June of this year, he served as Israel’s deputy Minister of Defence. The above is a rapporteur’s summary of Dr. Sneh’s remarks at an AIJAC breakfast in Melbourne on August 17, prepared by Tzvi Fleischer.