How will world handle militant Irans nuclear threat

jerusalem | When the International Atomic Energy Agency convenes in Vienna later this month, it will be under intense pressure to take action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Since the last IAEA meeting in September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” his scientists are threatening to produce weapons-grade uranium and Tehran’s talks with E.U. representatives on the nuclear issue remain deadlocked.

All this has led to international calls for steps to stop Iran going nuclear.

The most likely IAEA action will be to refer Iran’s violations of its nuclear commitments to the U.N. Security Council, a move that could result in stringent economic sanctions. But for that to happen, China and Russia, as permanent members of the Security Council with veto powers, would have to go along. So far, it’s not clear that they would.

In Israel, there have been calls for a more assertive anti-Iranian policy in the wake of Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel’s destruction. And while Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is careful to say Israel is not considering any military option “today,” he does not rule out a military strike in the future if diplomacy fails.

“I believe we should make our best effort to achieve the maximum we could achieve by diplomatic channels,” Mofaz said in a recent interview with Newsweek.

Calling Iran to account for its nuclear plans won’t be easy.

Battered and bruised by the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has no stomach for a direct confrontation with another huge Muslim state. Moreover, it’s relying on Shi’ite Iran to help set up a Shi’ite-dominated democracy in Iraq.

The United States therefore would prefer to sit back and watch the European Union negotiate an agreement on the nuclear issue with Iran.

The trouble is that with only two weeks to go before the next IAEA board meeting in Vienna, the Iranians and the E.U. aren’t on speaking terms. In the absence of a diplomatic agreement, the United States and Europeans are likely to push for a strong IAEA resolution, referring the issue to the Security Council.

In its last resolution, passed in late September, the IAEA found Iran guilty of “noncompliance,” and warned that next time it might well refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

According to Mofaz, Iran is still at least a few years away from the point of no return in uranium enrichment, which would enable it to produce a nuclear bomb.

Therefore he feels there still is a limited window of opportunity for diplomacy — but he implies that if Iran gets closer to producing a bomb, that window will close.

Clearly, the prospect of a nuclear bomb in the hands of a regime led by Ahmadinejad and the fundamentalist ayatollahs worries the entire international community, and Israel more than most. The question is whether Iran’s nuclear drive can be stopped by anything other than force — and, if it comes to force, will it only be Israel who is ready to use it?