It is remarkable how quickly discussions about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons turn to Israel. "Well," worriers are reassured, "Israel will never permit Iran to go nuclear. Remember Osirak?"
Very well. In 1981, Israeli planes streaked across the desert at low altitude and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, a facility built by the French and partially manned by Italians. The world's response was volcanic. "An unprovoked attack" and a "grave breach of international law" declared the British Foreign Office. The French called it "unacceptable" and pointed out that Iraq had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Then U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim (not yet unmasked as a former Nazi) called the Israeli raid a "clear contravention of international law." The Soviet Union denounced the "barbarous attack." And the U.S. State Department spokesman called the air raid ''a very serious development and a source of utmost concern.'' Israel was condemned by the U.N. Security Council with the U.S. voting aye. (Though at a press conference, President Reagan could not resist defending Israel's actions, pointing out, for example, that Iraq had maintained a state of war with Israel since 1948.) The New York Times called the Israeli attack "an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression . . . Israel risks becoming its own worst enemy."
Israel's explanation -- that it was acting defensively because it believed Iraq was attempting to obtain nuclear weapons -- was rejected by nearly everyone.
Yet today, many seem to hope that the world's favorite scapegoat will again take matters in hand and destroy a looming threat. Perhaps they plan to denounce Israel again and sleep soundly thereafter.
But there is a problem with this tidy scenario. The Iranians have learned from Iraq's mistake -- they've thought of little else -- and have hardened and dispersed their nuclear facilities all over the vast territory of Iran. The sites are buried deep and well disguised.
In other words, from the world's point of view, there is no easy fix. "Let the Israelis do it" won't work.
For more than two years, the Europeans, with America's blessing, have been exhorting the Iranians to forego nuclear weapons. Shocking though it may seem, this has not worked. Last week, Iran announced that the country is removing the seals from its Natanz plant -- a direct violation of an agreement with Britain, France and Germany.