Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Israel, Iran & U.S. Interests

Yesterday there was a widely read article in The Atlantic titled, "Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran—Or I Will." In it, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu lays out Israel's case for why Iran's nuclear weapons program is an intolerable threat, and pressures the U.S. to do something about it, going so far as to threaten an Israeli attack should U.S. action prove ineffective. I'm a huge supporter of Israel, and I fully understand and sympathize with Israeli fears of Iran's nuclear program. If I were an Israeli, I would also feel that a nuclear Iran was a deadly threat that must be destroyed by any means necessary.  But the U.S. perspective is much different.

My analysis is probably going to break with other right-wingers in this situation. As much as I would love to see the Israelis destroy Iran's nuclear program, I do not think an Israeli attack at this time is in the U.S. interest. Nor do I think it is wise for an Israeli prime minister to attempt to pressure the U.S. The U.S. is not going to attack Iran, especially not under the Obama administration. We have already attempted to use sanctions to force Iran to abandon its program. They aren't working, and they won't work. Negotiations are not going to work either -- we can't trust any agreement the Iranians make. They will at some point achieve nuclear capability. There's a very slight chance that a negotiated agreement might persuade them not to actually build and deploy nuclear warheads -- but I wouldn't count on even that much. As I've argued before (here, here & here), a policy of nuclear deterrence is the only realistic option if Iran gains nuclear weapons as expected.

Most military analysts do not believe that Israel is capable of completely destroying Iran's nuclear program (unless Israel launches a nuclear first strike) -- a task that would be difficult even for the U.S. This is why I do not support an Israeli attack. An Israeli strike is unlikely to destroy Iran's nuclear program, and certainly will not destroy its military capabilities. So what will it do? It is highly probable that any Israeli attack on Iran will result in a major Iranian response, possibly touching off an all-out war in the Middle East. The U.S. is in the process of winding down its operations in Iraq, while refocusing efforts on Afghanistan & Pakistan. The last thing we need right now is wider war involving Israel and Iran, which could destabilize the entire region and require a massive U.S. commitment that we cannot afford.

The U.S. should privately make it very clear to the Israelis -- and hopefully we already have -- that we will not support an Israeli attack on Iran, and that they will have to trust our efforts to impede the Iranian nuclear program. Between the U.S. & Israel, deterrence will have to keep Iran in check should they obtain nuclear weapons -- because there is no realistic military option at this time. We should also remind them that they are the junior partner in our alliance, and that they do not set U.S. policy. And we should request that they refrain from making any public statements that might indicate otherwise.

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