The Red Line Must Stand

President Obama and Congress must convey that they mean business.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

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The Saudis see Rouhani less as a reformer than as a consummate regime insider committed to the radical Islamic Republic, whose campaign is focusing on moderating its style more than its substance and who seeks to delude the West while it continues to "smile and build a bomb." It was Rouhani who previously boasted that by creating a "calm environment, we were able to complete the work [of the nuclear facility] in Isfahan."

The Iranians believe Americans are easily charmed by smiling clerics, and Rouhani understands this. In 2007, he said, "We should talk carefully so as not to provoke the enemy. We should not give them any excuses." Who is the enemy? The U.S. is the enemy. As Rouhani wrote in 2003, "The fundamental principle in Iran's relations with America – our entire focus – is national strength … especially in the field of advanced technology."

As for the Israelis on the front line, they worry that the U.S. will agree to something much less than is necessary. They too want to see the complete halt of uranium enrichment, the closure of nuclear facilities, the removal of all enriched uranium, and a halt to the plutonium reactor project. Their attitude is informed by searing knowledge of the attitude of the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who when asked what exactly is his job answered, "My job is to set Israel on fire." As The Wall Street Journal recently noted, they remember Rouhani as "the man who chaired Iran's National Security Council between 1989 and 2005, meaning that he was at the top table when Iran masterminded the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people, and of the Khobar Towers in 1996, killing 19 U.S. airmen." Not to mention that "he would also have been intimately familiar with the secret construction of Iran's illicit nuclear facilities in Arak, Natanz and Isfahan, which were not publicly exposed until 2002." Ahmadinejad has gone, but Israelis have heard and will never forget the earlier regimes' promises to erase their country "from the page of time."

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

The Israelis will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe it off the map. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it plainly at the U.N.: "Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone." Netanyahu himself has exposed the behavior of Iran at the U.N. over many years – its role in global terrorism, its internal oppression, its connections with President Bashar Assad of Syria and that country's genocide – while pointing out the absurdity of the suggestion that Iran is developing nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes when they're concealing them deep underground at Qom. The Israelis want Iran's nuclear program dismantled without compromises, without partial deals. If the world does not mobilize behind this outcome, Israel will do everything it can to forestall an existential threat. The Israelis point out that there is no regime in the world willing to sacrifice so much, especially in its economy, for nuclear electric power when it has so much oil and other energy.

Netanyahu has implored President Obama to return to the red line he drew during the presidential debate before Iran closes in on "critical capability." That's the point at which it could make a dash to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one or more bombs before the International Atomic Energy Agency or Western intelligence knows that it has done so.

We have major economic interests at stake. A nuclear Iran could well raise oil prices, as described late last year in The Wall Street Journal by former Sen. Charles Robb; Dennis Ross, former special assistant to the secretary of state; and Michael Makovsky, the former director of foreign policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. They estimate that oil prices could rise by 10 percent to 25 percent in the first year and by as much as 50 percent within three years, causing gas prices to jump so dramatically that unemployment in the U.S. would rise by as many as 1.5 million people.