Herzliya, Israel (CNSNews.com) - Israel will have to decide whether to go it alone in a military operation against Iran's nuclear program before the end of President Bush's term, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said here this week.
"For the next year the United States will essentially be a bystander in international affairs on the subject [of Iran] -- quite tragically but almost inevitably," Bolton told the annual gathering of the Herzliya Conference this week. The conference dealt with Israel's national security.
Unclassified portions of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released in December said Iran had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in 2003. That NIE has destroyed the diplomatic strategy of the Bush administration, Bolton told Cybercast News Service, because the findings make it "almost impossible for President Bush to contemplate the use of force."
The NIE also said that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium and would have enough for a bomb by 2010 at the earliest.
The U.S. has been leading the international campaign against Iran, claiming it is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to obtain atomic weapons.
Since the release of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, Israel has gone to great lengths to convince Washington that its assessment is flawed. Pointing to the Iranian ballistic missile program and its continued pursuit of uranium enrichment, Israel says that Iran most definitely is still pursuing nuclear weapons.
"The NIE has given Iran almost a free path toward a decision to create a nuclear weapons capability, and that I think -- unfortunately for Israel -- heightens the likelihood that they (Israel) will come to a decision point in the very near future about whether to use their own force to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon capability," Bolton said.
While the U.S. is not likely take any military action of its own as long as President Bush is in office, Bush would support Israel, Bolton said.
"But I don't have confidence -- depending on which way the election comes out -- that a successor president would do the same," Bolton said. "That's one of the reasons I think the time pressure on Israel to make a decision on the use of force is likely to grow much more intense as 2008 proceeds," he added.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week she still thinks the standoff with Iran can be resolved diplomatically. She spoke a day after foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council - the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany agreed to step up sanctions against Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated on Wednesday that the new sanctions are not particularly tough.
But U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who was visiting Israel on Thursday, disputed the Russian's comments, saying the upcoming resolution would be "punitive."
Burns said the U.S. expected a "successful vote" on this third sanctions resolution, which is intended to let Iran know that "it has no future in continuing its enrichment program."
Bolton, who said he favors the idea of regime change in Iran, said he didn't see "any possibility" that "substantial" sanctions would emerge from the Security Council.
Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz told Cybercast News Service that he does not think sanctions alone will stop Iran unless they are accompanied by "a clear ultimatum."
When asked if Israel was prepared to deal with Iran alone, Steinitz, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, declined to answer. But in general, he said, it would be wrong for Israel to have to resolve the issue on its own.
"This is not a regional threat. A nuclear Iran will produce a global threat to the entire Western free world. It's not up to Israel to address this threat alone," he said.
Steinitz said he had not lost hope that the U.S. would fulfill its role as the leader of the free world, and he said he is confident that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney understand the scale of the Iranian threat and America's "historical mission to prevent nuclearization in Iran."
"Let's hope they will take action and will give the Iranians a very clear deadline or ultimatum in order to change their mind," he said.
In the past, Steinitz has said that the only way to avoid taking military action against Iran is to be willing to do so (and to make sure that the Iranians understand that is the case).
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz -- a former Defense Minister -- said earlier this week that the next two years would be "critical for stopping Iran through diplomatic means."
He also said the likelihood of military action against Iran had increased because of the "deterioration of efforts to stop Iran diplomatically."
During a speech at the Herzliya Conference, Steinitz drew a parallel between the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the international community's approach to Iran.
Like Little Red Riding Hood, world leaders are looking at the wolf (Iran) in disguise, sensing that something is wrong but refusing to draw the conclusion about Iran's true intentions.
The international community is ignoring the signs -- the long-range missiles, heavy water plant and centrifuges, Steinitz said.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.