President Obama recently invited me to the Oval Office for a discussion about Iran. The President reiterated to me in private what he had previously said in public: namely, that he would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons; that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option; that sanctions and diplomatic pressures would be applied and increased first; but that, as a last recourse, the military option would not be taken off the table.
What the President said is now the official American policy with regard to the threat of a nuclear Iran. It is clear that sanctions and diplomacy alone will not convince the Iranian mullahs to halt their progress toward their goal of an Iran with nuclear weapons. The only realistic possibility of persuading the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions is for them to believe that there is a credible threat of an American military attack on their nuclear facilities. Unless this threat is credible, the Iranians will persist. And if the Iranians persist, and the Israelis do not believe that the American threat is credible, the Israelis will undertake a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It is crucial, therefore, for America’s military threat to be credible and to be perceived as credible by both the Israelis and the Iranians.
Enter J Street. J Street is a lobby in Washington that advertises itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” But its policy with regard to Iran is neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace. It is categorically opposed to any “military strike against Iran.” It is also opposed to maintaining any credible military threat against Iran, through “legislation, authorizing, encouraging or in other ways laying the ground work for the use of military force against Iran.” This is according to their official policy statement that can be read at http://jstreet.org/policy/policy-positions/iran. They favor sanctions and they recognize that “Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would pose a very serious threat to America and Israeli interests.” But they believe that diplomacy and sanctions alone can deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. By advocating this path, they are totally undercutting the policy of the Obama Administration. They are sending a message both to Iran and to Israel that there is no credible military threat, and that if Iran is prepared to withstand sanctions and diplomacy, they will have nothing further to worry about if they move forward with their nuclear weapons program.
The Obama Administration has tried very hard to persuade Israel that there is no space between the American position and the Israeli position on Iran. Whether or not this is true, there is a hole the size of a nuclear crater between Israel’s position, reflecting a widespread consensus within that country, and J Street’s position. Virtually every Israeli wants the United States to keep the military option on the table. This includes “doves” such as Israeli President Shimon Peres. Former United States President Bill Clinton also believes that the military option must be maintained. Virtually everyone, Israelis and Americans alike, hope that the military option will never have to be exercised. But the best way to make sure that it will not have to be exercised is to keep it credible. As George Washington put in his second inaugural speech: “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”
J Street, in addition to undercutting both mainstream Israeli and American policy toward Iran, has also mischaracterized the views of those it cites in support of its benighted position. It cites Former Mossad Chiefs, Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy as opposing any “military strike against Iran.” It cites these two security Israeli security experts in the context of opposing an American strike and an American threat to strike. Yet Dagan has explicitly stated that he would favor keeping the American military option on the table. This is what he has said: “The military option must always be on the table, with regards to Iran, but it must always be a last option.” This is quite different from the misleading manner in which J Street has characterized his views. The same is true of Efraim Halevy. When I read the J Street reference to Halevy, I immediately called him and told him how J Street had characterized his views and asked him if that was a correct characterization. His response: “That’s absolutely false.” He told me that he had repeatedly stated that the United States must keep the military option on the table as a last resort, though he hoped that it would never have to be used.