As Gerard Baker wrote recently in the Times of London: “Those who say war with Iran is unthinkable are right. Military strikes, even limited, targeted, and accurate ones, will have devastating consequences for the region and for the world. There are many fearfully powerful arguments against the use of the military option. But multiplied together, squared, and then cubed, the weight of these arguments does not come close to matching the case for us to stop, by whatever means may be necessary, Iran from becoming a nuclear power.”

Born to a blacksmith, educated as a revolutionary, trained as a killer and attacked as a mystical fanatic, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the personification of everything there is to fear about a nuclear Iran. He has stated, not once but on many occasions, and not privately, but publicly in many world forums, that Israel is a cancer that will be “wiped off the map”, that “the Holocaust was a myth”, and that “if there is to be a Jewish State, it should be in Europe or Alaska.”

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The religious ideology of the Islamic republic is tied to the belief that Iran’s Supreme Leaders (Ayatollahs Khomeini, and later Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) are just temporary guides pending the return of the Imam Mahdi, who vanished more than a thousand years ago. Ahmadinejad has linked himself to a mystical movement that believes the way must be prepared (through Armageddon) for the return of the Mahdi and that is precisely what he is doing.

Nor are his threats new. Several years ago, Iran’s former President Rafsanjani stated that “the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam” (showing an appalling ignorance on the ramifications that would necessarily flow from a nuclear exchange). And speaking to Hamas leaders in Damascus in late January, Ahmadinejad confirmed that the Middle East conflict, for the Islamic government of Iran, has become “the locus of the final war” between Muslims and the West.

So why should we take this Iranian rhetoric seriously? Because, such rhetoric comes from the same Islamic regime that, twenty years ago, sent Iranian children scurrying across Iraqi minefields with yellow plastic “keys to Paradise” made in Taiwan hanging around their necks. Thousands were sacrificed as “martyrs for Allah.” While many may not believe that Almedinejad intends to carry out his threat (by the way, the world didn’t believe Hitler in Mein Kampf or Saddam Hussein’s stated intentions to invade Kuwait either), the Israelis, the Americans and now even the Europeans are convinced that he does. A “balance of terror” deterrence philosophy may have worked during the Cold War, but we live in the post-Cold War era and the Iranian mullahs are not the Communists.

There is certainly enough evidence to support the fact that Iran is buying time and pursuing a nuclear weapons program with a vengeance. The Iranians have brought in Russian, Chinese, Pakistani, and North Korean technology to develop a nuclear weapons infrastructure that far surpasses their need for civilian energy. They have broken the seals on their critical nuclear reactors, announced that they have attained nuclear fission production capability, made fools of IAEA inspectors (not to mention the Europeans and Americans), enhanced their uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, accelerated the development of their heavy-water production plant at Arak, produced uranium hexafluoride gas (a critical component in nuclear weapons production) at a site near Isfahan in central Iran and the IAEA recently revealed Iran was also developing uranium enrichment byproducts in a project called “Green Salt.” According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) on February 16, 2006, the reformist Internet daily Rooz also reported for the first time that extremist clerics from Qom had issued what the Daily called “a new fatwa” which states that “shari’a (Islamic law) does not forbid the use of nuclear weapons.”

Consequently, there is little doubt within intelligence circles (nor has there been for some time) that Tehran’s goal is to confront the world with an irreversible nuclear fait accomplis and to use its nuclear shield to exert Iranian Islamic hegemony throughout the region. Secure behind its nuclear shield, it will accelerate its campaign of terror around the world by proliferating weapons of mass destruction to its international terrorist affiliates.

Worse, it will ignite a nuclear arms race in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, each of which has been working diligently for the past several years to develop it’s own nuclear capability. Had Saddam Hussein delayed his invasion of Kuwait until he resurrected his damaged nuclear program, Kuwait would now be an Iraqi province and perhaps Saudi Arabia as well. Weapons of mass destruction controlled by the world’s least stable and most erratic dictatorial and Islamic regimes would be a recipe for Armageddon.

But all this is not occurring in a vacuum. Iran is fully aware that a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear facilities is imminent. Having learned from the 1981 Israeli air strike that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor, the mullahs are racing against time to dig a network of tunnels and upgrade Iranian air defenses with Russian ground-to-air missiles to protect their nuclear facilities from another pre-emptive strike. They are spreading their nuclear facilities around the country burying many of them in hardened bunkers in the sides of mountains and in some cases, under populated areas contrary to all international Conventions. That, however, may not be enough. As nuclear expert Edward Luttwak has noted, some of these Iranian installations may be thickly protected against air attack, but “it seems that their architecture has not kept up with the performance of the latest penetration bombs.”

Furthermore, the mullahs know that in September 2003, Israel’s foreign intelligence service (Mossad) began reorganizing its international infrastructure by enhancing its “Delta-Force” capabilities suggesting not only sabotage but regime change as well. They know that in early 2005, the first shipment of F-15I long-range strategic bombers arrived in Israel (including a separate shipment of “bunker-buster bombs”) from the U.S. and others have arrived since that time. They fully understand that these bombers are capable of traveling well over a thousand miles without refueling – an absolutely critical strategic necessity if long-range targeted bombing over their territory is undertaken.

And one can assume that Iran’s scientists have read Jane’s Defence Weekly and have noted the recent Israeli purchase of several new Dolphin-class diesel submarines from Germany each having both stealth capability and the ability to launch tactical nuclear missile payloads at hardened targets. Israel has also perfected its Arrow II anti-ballistic missile defense system using every existing missile in the Iranian arsenal as “targets” despite the fact that Israeli intelligence continues to believe that Iran is not yet able to produce a shaped nuclear warhead for its Shabab-3 missiles. Nevertheless, the Israelis are taking no chances.

Then there is the not-so-secret air base being built near the northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk thought to be one of the more important staging areas for the coming pre-emptive allied strike. Turkey has also allowed the U.S. to pre-position an estimated ninety tactical nuclear weapons on its territory. These weapons can and will be deployed against Iranian targets if needed.

In response, on June 16, 2005 the high command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Air Force ordered Iran’s Shahab-3 missile units to move their mobile missile launchers on a daily (rather than a weekly) basis as had previously been the case. Even the mullahs new “Martyrs’ Division” (the Jerusalem Corps) has suggested that it “should carry out a hundred suicide operations simultaneously and aim a hundred missiles against Israel and the U.S. bases in Qatar and Iraq, as well as a number of oil and economic installations in the region, prior to being attacked so as to paralyze the American forces and their allies.” The mullahs have also threatened to close down the Straits of Hormuz through which 25% of the world’s oil moves.

Launching a pre-emptive strike, therefore, is not without its attendant risks. Iran has fully-trained and equipped terrorists that may have established themselves in the USA, Venezuela, Mexico and possibly Canada. These operatives may have weapons of mass destruction and plans to bomb American targets to create fear and mass panic in the hope of damaging the American economy. In 2003, the French government issued over 5,000 visas for Iranian “students” to “study” in France in an effort to placate its own Islamic community and curry favor with Iran. Many of these Iranian students, have since obtained French passports and used them to emigrate to Canada, Venezuela and even the U.S. How these potential fifth columns will react in the event of an allied pre-emptive strike is problematic.

Nevertheless, in the end, as Jeff Jacoby wrote recently in the Boston Globe, there is no longer an alternative to military action (or to regime change, although he does not say it) and the clock is approaching the midnight hour. “The radical Islamists in Tehran,” he wrote, “bankroll the world’s deadliest terrorists. They foment violence in Iraq. Fanatic, apocalyptic, totalitarian, the mullahs who rule Iran see their destiny as waging jihad and extending theocracy across the entire Middle East.”

Faced with these considerations, the West has made its decision. Perhaps that explains why Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz responded as he did to a reporter’s question last month: “How far would Israel go to stop Iran’s nuclear program?”

“Two thousand kilometers,” he replied.