Cal  Thomas

One of several casualties of the vitriolic name-calling between Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich is what to do about Iran.

In interviews, Romney has spoken about tougher sanctions, but it's been difficult to consider the candidates' positions on Iran -- or much else -- with the childish talk about who is the bigger liar.

James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, testified Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Clapper said that while American sanctions are likely to have a greater impact on Iran's nuclear program, they are not expected to lead to the demise of Iran's leadership.

Clapper said, "We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so."

Given the apocalyptic statements from Iran's leadership, is anyone in doubt about Iran's intentions? Clapper said Iran is expanding its capability to enrich uranium and that the end product can be used for either civil or weapons purposes.

Clapper acknowledged "Iran's technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so."

The central issue for Israel and the United States is this: can Iran be stopped by a pre-emptive attack, or must we wait until it launches -- or threatens to launch -- a nuclear missile at Israel, or explodes -- or threatens to explode -- "suitcase bombs" in U.S. cities?

In the English edition of "Israel Hayom," the largest circulation Hebrew daily in Israel, former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger writes about the history of pre-emptive strikes that did not materialize and the consequences of waiting to be attacked before acting.

Ettinger believes the reluctance to engage in a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities "is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran's hands and threatens Israel's existence" because it conveys "hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude pre-emption and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran," which of course it cannot, anymore that the United States could have co-existed with Cuba when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles there during the Kennedy administration.

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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