“So where’s the good news?”, moderator Howard Joffe asked when the final panelist completed his talk. And, indeed, the audience of 175 at the March 29 Middle East Institute was hard pressed to find a cheerful note in even one of the three presentations.
The theme of the 40th annual seminar on Mideast affairs mounted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern NJ was “Nuclear Iran: The Imminent Threat to Israel and the World.” And not one of the panelists disputed its premise.
Aaron Jacobs, associate director of the American Jewish Committee’s Washington office, citing the “drive to accumulate nuclear weapons” as Iran’s primary concern, said that Iran is “on its way to nuclear capability,” and will be able to “change the global balance of power” once it achieves it.
Iran will threaten Europe even without nuclear weapons, according to Jacobs, who went on to say that acquiring those weapons would allow Iran to “trigger a regional arms race.” To prevent this, the U.S “should take a leadership role, but not act alone.”
Israeli action against Iran is unlikely because it would not be productive, according to Jacobs. “The use of limited military force against Iran would pose a host of problems,” he said. “But unlimited military force is not possible at this time.”
Jacobs would like to some form of action from the United States that would “terminate Iran’s attempt to secure weapons of mass destruction and threats against Israel.”
Speaking from a regional perspective, Daniel Kutner, Israel’s counsel general in Philadelphia, said that Iran “has mastered the ability for nuclear enrichment and can make an atomic bomb.
‘Iran has more than 5,500 centrifuges working,” said Kutner. “Already able to stockpile uranium, Iran is quickly approaching the status of nuclear power.”
This poses a threat to U.S. allies in oil producing countries, according to Kutner. “If they can trust the U.S., they are more apt to confront Iran, but if they feel isolated, they may become conciliatory to Iran.
Kutner views Lebanon and Iran as “connected by an umbilical cord.” He also views Syria as an ally, and says that the Palestinians are “on board with Iran.” Jordan and Egypt are moderate regimes, according to Kutner. “The have no diplomatic relations with Iran, yet,” he said. “But they are fragile U.S. allies. … Everything can change if Iran becomes a nuclear power.”
Jonathan J. Schanzer, deputy executive director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, is convinced that “Iran already has one crude nuclear weapon if not more,” and wants to test its first weapon on Tel Aviv.
“A nuclear explosion in Israel would wipe out a third of the state’s population,” he said, pointing out that an Israel-Iran standoff is “not like a cold war.” Both the USA and the USSR were sane, he pointed out. “Neither wanted a nuclear war.” Iran may very way want a nuclear war, “and we need to move forward knowing that confrontation is possible,” Schanzer said. But it could be that “Iran’s threats are just a diversion,” he speculated, turning his own earlier theory on its head.
“Does Iran really seek war , or is it a diversion? Perhaps Iran has set up a chess board, he speculated, with Israel as king surrounded by Hamas to the South, Hezbollah to the North and Syria to the Northeast. “All deadly pawns.”
Is the nuclear plan “a red herring?”, Schanzer asked. Could be. “Iran already has a war machine in place.”
“So where’s the good news?”
The program was held on the Weinberg Jewish Community Campus, with breakfast hosted by the South Jersey Men’s Club.