The time has come today

Much of Israeli Defense Minister Barak’s comments to Fareed Zakaria on CNN over the weekend had the formulaic quality of official public statements, but their urgency seemed to me a slight departure. The “time has come” to deal with Iran, he said, placing the military option to retard Iran’s nuclear program in an ominous silence. “I don’t think that that is a subject for public discussion,” he said. “But I can tell you that the IAEA report has a sobering impact on many in the world, leaders as well as the publics, and people understand that the time has come.”

What time has come? The Obama administration continues to hold out hope that additional sanctions against Iran will have the desired effect. Does anyone really think so? Perhaps if the desired effect is continued dithering, which may well be the case.

Here I think that Barak’s description of the applicable timeline (omitted from the otherwise good AFP account of the interview) warrants attention:

BARAK: But I don’t think that Israel is the only main issue on the table. It’s Iran, its behavior, its intention, the prospect of a – a kind of a nuclear Iran and what – what should and could be done about it on time.

It’s true that it wouldn’t take three years, probably three quarters, before no one can do anything practically about it because the Iranians are gradually, deliberately entering into what I call a zone of immunity, by widening the – the redundancy of their plan, making it spread over many more sides, with many more –

ZAKARIA: But do you think –

(CROSSTALK)

BARAK: — elements and —

ZAKARIA: In three quarters, in three – in a year, they will reach a point of no return?

BARAK: Not in the sense of – not in the sense of having a nuclear device. People ask, when they will have – when they will (INAUDIBLE) –

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: But you’re saying that, at that point, it become impossible to – to block it, because there are so many redundancies in the program?

BARAK: Yes. I cannot tell you for sure, nor can I predict whether it’s two quarters or three quarters. But it’s not two or three years.

Reading the New York Times story on the new sanctions announced against Iran, I am struck by how unimpressed even Times reporter Mark Landler is:

The Treasury Department named the Central Bank of Iran and the entire Iranian banking system as a “primary money laundering concern” — an unusual and symbolically important step, but one that is short of formal sanctions, which would probably be resisted by China and other Asian countries that import oil from Iran. The Obama administration is also worried that such a step could drive up oil prices while the economy is fragile.

Still, the administration sought to portray the measures as a major increase in pressure on Iran’s leadership, which they called on to return to the bargaining table over its nuclear program.

As if to emphasize that these actions are more of the same ineffectual gestures to which we have become accustomed, Secretary Clinton ritually invoked the empty words:

“The message is clear,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in announcing the steps. “If Iran’s intransigence continues, it will face increasing pressure and isolation.”

Oh, no, not that! I’m sure the mullahs are quaking in their boots.

I don’t think the prospect of a nuclear Iran is one that we can live with. It seems to me a prospect even less palatable than the prospect of higher oil prices.

One message is clearer to me than the one Clinton recited. It’s the ancient judgment that Churchill invoked against the Western democracies in 1938: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

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