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Wake up — it’s almost midnight

Over the weekend The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had sent a secret memo to the White House saying the Obama administration does not have a well-prepared strategy in place should Iran cross the nuclear “threshold.” Sources said Gates intended the memo as a “wake-up call,” but we wondered if it was something more ominous: an acknowledgement that the world may be unable to thwart Iran’s ambitions.

As president, George W. Bush sought, with increasing frustration, to enlist other world leaders in a program of meaningful sanctions. That effort has continued under Obama, with slightly more success, as has a program of preventing corporate interests from profiting off of Iran’s military and petroleum sectors. But without ironclad commitments from China and Russia, even seemingly far-reaching sanctions have no bite. President Obama tried engaging Iran’s leadership, but learned quickly that you can’t reason with extremists.

That leaves the military option, but what kind of option is it, exactly? U.S. military leaders, from Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen on down, are not even sure a military strike could effectively cripple the nuclear program, while the unintended regional and global consequences of such a strike — not to mention the political implications at home and the impact on an already over-extended military — may be worse than the alternative.

The subject has left Jewish communities with a dilemma. They continue to sound the alarm over Iran, not just as a threat to Israel, but to the entire world. Organizations have pushed hard for meaningful sanctions. They took heart when President Obama said “all options are on the table” when it comes to thwarting Iran — and while they want the military option on that table, they don’t want to be accused of pushing America into a war.

If some Jewish leaders sound strident on this issue, it is because they sense that we are rapidly approaching a point of no return. It is not acceptable to say “nothing can be done” when faced with so dire a threat. Gates said the purpose of his memo was to “contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.” The time to make those decisions is now.

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