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In a Der Spiegel interview, the IAEA chief suggested that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would give the mullahs a pretext for building a bomb.

El Baradei’s  assessment is in line with Israeli intelligence that Iran has all the components in place but has not taken the final step of making the nuclear bomb.

El Baradei, a long-time associate of Hosni Mubarak, is probably voicing the Egyptian dictator’s fears. An Israeli strike on Iran would have to go through Egypt and Saudi Arabia. If Israel failed to annihilate all Iranian stocks of weapons-grade uranium, the ayatollahs might well retaliate against their Sunni detractors. Iran can nuke Saudi Arabian oil fields without fear of retaliation, and in fact would profit by doing so: with the Saudi oil supply ceased, the world would line up for Iranian oil.

Lacking American bunker-buster bombs, Israel’s options for the assured destruction of Iran’s hidden nuclear stocks are tactical nukes or a massive number of Tomahawk-type missiles, both of which are rather problematic to use for political reasons. Other sites can be destroyed through a conventional air assault.

Under American pressure to stop arms smuggling into Gaza, the Egyptian government bribed the Sinai Bedouin chieftains to intercept the smugglers. The problem is the Bedouins are the smugglers, and they receive more money for smuggling than for stopping it. The practice is on the brink of failure in Iraq, where the Sunni tribal chiefs got used to massive American bribes and constantly threaten to switch sides for better pay.

The Egyptians also legalized smuggling of commercial merchandise into Gaza to leave the tunnel operators a decent income despite the ban on arms trafficking. The problem is, Hamas uses separate tunnels for arms smuggling. The commercial tunnels run grenades or bullets at most, while explosives and rockets are delivered through Hamas’ exclusive tunnels.