The counter-argument is this: Iran’s regime is irrational and wants to destroy Israel even if the resulting counterattack would kill millions of Iranians and wreck the country. Yet while that analysis should not be totally ruled out, it is far from a certainty. Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons to make itself invulnerable to the costs of its non-nuclear subversion and support for terrorist and revolutionary forces. And a lot of what the Iranian leadership says is demagoguery to build support for itself at home, and to convince the masses to ignore its incompetence and mismanagement.
Yet given the points made above, even the Iran as irrational analysis–and even assuming it to be correct the probability of being right about Iran ever trying to launch a nuclear attack is far lower than 100 percent–does not justify an Israeli attack at this time.
And, finally, Israel has other options.
The alternative is this: As the Iranian regime works hard to get nuclear weapons and missiles capable of carrying them, Israel uses the time to build a multi-level defensive and offensive capability.
These layers include: U.S. early warning stations and anti-missile missile installations in the Gulf; Israeli missile-launching submarines; Israel long-range planes whose crews have rehearsed and planned for strikes at Iranian facilities; different types of anti-missile missiles capable of knocking down the small number of missiles Iran could fire simultaneously; covert operations, possibly including computer viruses and assassinations, to slow down Iran’s development of nuclear weapons; improved intelligence; help to the Iranian opposition (though the idea of “regime change” in the near future is a fantasy); and other measures.
If and when there was a clear Iranian threat to attack Israel, then Israel could launch a preemptive assault. And if no such threat ever materializes, Israel need never attack. Any future Iran-Israel war will happen if Iran’s regime makes it unavoidable, not in theory but in actual practice.
Note that attacking a limited number of missiles and launch facilities, that must be located closer to Israel within Iranian territory, is easy. Attacking multiple nuclear facilities buried deep in the ground anywhere in Iran is hard.
Ah, but what if Iran gives small nuclear devices to terrorists? Well ask yourself two simple questions:
1. Would an Israeli attack on Iran ensure that this didn’t happen? Answer: Not at all.
2. Would an Israeli attack on Iran ensure that Iran would definitely give nuclear devices to terrorists and try to strike against Israel as quickly and as frequently as possible? Absolutely yes.
Does this Israeli strategy assume that Iran’s regime is “rational” and “peace-loving” and will be deterred by Israel’s ability to strike back?
Absolutely not. Indeed, quite the opposite. No such assumption is required. Israel will simply be ready and alert based on the assumption that Iran might attack some day. But such a war, however possible, is not inevitable. And since Israel cannot prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons by attacking, there is no point in doing so.
Whether you hope for or fear an Israeli attack on Iran, it isn’t going to happen.
At the same time, a new theme in the America mass media–for example here and here–is that the United States is headed toward war with Iran either by electing a Republican president, the inevitable weight of events, or through having sanctions so effective that a cornered Iran will attack. The fact is that neither country wants to have an armed conflict and such a battle is easily avoidable. Ironically, those who claim Iran is going to attack are using the crazy Tehran regime concept that they reject when it comes to nuclear weapons. And the “watch out for the warmongering Republicans slogan” is part of the election campaign.
Warning against tough sanctions is a way of avoiding tough sanctions. The argument boils down to saying that sanctions better not hurt Iran or else the consequences will be disastrous. We will be hearing the same argument soon about Hamas, Hizballah, Egypt, and maybe even Libya or Turkey. The effort to use U.S. leverage will be said as triggering war or an anti-American explosion among Muslims. Thus, for example, whatever the Egyptian regime does toward Israel or its own people, we will be told that reducing U.S. aid is not an option.
Going to war with Iran is a mistake and the hysteria on this issue, including claims the regime is about to fall, that it can easily be brought down, or that an Iranian nuclear attack on others is inevitable, should be reined in. That’s precisely why sanctions and other measures should be applied to the fullest extent possible.
And there isn’t going to be any war unless Iran’s regime tries to use them or make a big mistake. It could, as Egypt did in 1967 or Saddam Hussein did in the late 1990s, rattle “nuclear sabers” enough to convince Israel that an attack is imminent. Even if it did not intend to attack, Tehran could push too hard and trigger an Israeli attack. By the same token, some Iranian attack on Western forces or on oil traffic in the Gulf–more likely triggered by a local commander without regime permission–could produce a slide into war with the United States.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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