President Obama reaffirmed his pledge never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon today in Israel while also urging his listeners to give diplomacy more time to succeed. But the one person in the world whom the president needs to persuade to listen to reason on the issue apparently has other ideas.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in a message aired on Iranian TV that if the West attacked Iran, it would violently retaliate against Israel:
“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.
Iran’s threats can be dismissed as mere boasting intended for a domestic audience. The Iranians aren’t believed to have the capability of attacking Israel in this manner, let alone leveling cities. But the willingness of the ayatollah to speak openly about an act that could only be described as genocide only makes the argument for the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities all the more defensible, if not necessary.
The statement is clearly intended as a riposte to Obama, who said both yesterday and today that the U.S. would do whatever was necessary to stop Iran, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who said yesterday that Israel reserved the right to “defend itself, by itself.” Khamenei is prepared to continue to negotiate with the West on the nuclear question. But he is counting on the president and his negotiating partners in the P5+1 group backing down about Iran’s continuing nuclear development, which makes the prospect of a diplomatic solution seem highly unlikely.
The concessions made by Western negotiators in the last round of talks with Iran about allowing Tehran to keep its nuclear toys and to drop sanctions appears to be encouraging the Islamist regime to dig in its heels even further, certain in the knowledge that President Obama is all talk and no action. After more than four years of feckless attempts at engagement and dead-end diplomacy, convincing the Iranians this is mistake is a formidable task. But if the president means what he says, the escalating threats from Iran make it easier for Americans to understand what the stakes are in this conflict.
Khamenei’s talk of destroying cities makes the notion of containing a nuclear Iran—a policy that President Obama has explicitly rejected but which continues to draw support from foreign policy “realists” who support him—indefensible. For all of the common ground on the issue between Israel and the United States that has been on display this week, the question of how long the West has until it will be too late to take military action to forestall the threat is one that remains unresolved. If, as the president said last week, Iran had a year or more before a weapon could be produced, his caveat that he didn’t want to “cut it too close” with that margin should be taken to heart.
For years, apologists of Iran and critics of Israel have portrayed this issue as one that Jerusalem has blown out of proportion. But the blithe threat of annihilation of cities by the fanatic religious leader of a country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons illustrates the reality that, if anything, advocates of action on Iran have soft-pedaled rather than over-hyped the danger.