Paul Greenberg

Gosh, what a surprise: According to the United Nations, Iran seems to be at work on developing a nuclear weapon. I am shocked -- shocked. Goodness, what target do you think the mullahs and their nutcase president, the all too imitable Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might have in mind?

Speaking at the G-20 Summit, French President Nicholas Sarkozy made a pretty good guess. He warned the nuke-rattlers in Teheran, "If Israel's existence were threatened, France would not stand idly by."

Free translation from the French: If Israel's existence were threatened, France would stand idly by.

It's the first lesson in diplomacy: Some words are for public consumption only. Indeed, they may be taken to mean the opposite of what they say. Some people use language to communicate their intentions; diplomats use it to conceal theirs.

All it takes to interpret M. Sarkozy's words is a little familiarity with the games of French diplomacy -- and with the history of successive French republics, now up to five excluding Vichy. Not to mention the late unpleasantness known as the Dreyfus Affair.

If Israel's existence were threatened, as it regularly is, France would surely not be the only country the world could depend on to stand idly by.

The French would doubtless be joined by the rest of the West, as in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. ... Moral support might have been plentiful when war erupted in the Middle East, even military aid, but the world was not about to intervene. At least not on Israel's side. And there is no reason to think the next crisis in the Middle East would be any different from those that have gone before.

Inescapable conclusion: The only people who'll go to war to defend Israel are the Israelis. Maybe that's why they've emerged victorious from every threat (so far). They've learned to depend on themselves. Or should have by now. It's also why they're considering a strike against the existential threat posed to their state by Iran's fast-developing nuclear program.

The mullahs' dream of a nuke of their own becomes closer to reality with every turn of those centrifuges in the vicinity of Teheran. The Iranians have just about completed dispersing and hardening the sites of their nuclear facilities. A little computerized virus like the Stuxnet worm, whether Israeli or American in origin, has been able to delay the threat, not end it. Soon enough it will be too late to end it.

Once the fanatics in Teheran have a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it, does anyone think they will hesitate to use it against Israel, which they're fond of referring to as a "one-bomb state"? Time grows short. It's passing as quickly as Iran's centrifuges are whirling.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.