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Two Ways of Buying Time. One Way Works.

Defense secretary Robert Gates has been given the assignment of placating the anxious with "severe" new sanctions on Iran. So we are told inferentially in an article by Brian Knowlton in Sunday's New York Times. In any event, Gates, assures us that Tehran will now be faced with "several additional sanctions," although he certainly can't promise that either Russia or China will be in on the punitive regime.

Although we aren't taking "any options off the table" (by this he means military options), Gates thinks "there is still room left for diplomacy." Less and less room, given the news about the facility at Qom which--shall we say?--blew up in President Obama's face.

But Gates also has taken on the task of pooh-poohing any military option (which, of course, he hasn't taken off the table), blah, blah, blah. Here exactly is what he said: "There is no military option that does anything more than buy time." So there!

This is likely to be the administration's fail-safe excuse for not itself doing anything concrete against Tehran's bombs and missiles. And it will use this rationale also to persuade Israel from defending itself.

But, if it comes to that, Israel is not likely to listen. It has had its own experience with how long the time you buy will last.

On June 7, 1981, several Israel air force F-16s, accompanied by F-15 interceptors, took out an Iraqi uranium-powered nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad. Twenty-two years later--and not for wont of trying--the Iraqis still did not have a nuclear facility, as poor George Bush can tell you.

Yes, Iranian nuclear facilities are more dispersed and more intricate. But Israeli military might (to say nothing of American military might) is also more sophisticated, more intrusive and more capacious than in 1981. I'd be happy with a 20 years delay in Iranian nuclear arms development, and even in a decades delay. With such a devastating defeat the regime would probably collapse. That's when the diplomatic option might really work.