January 20, 2012

Israel should plan to attack Iran... QUIETLY.

Much has been made lately of Israel's open secret that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants authority from his Cabinet to attack Iran's nuclear facilities when the time is right and before Iran achieves the capacity for delivering a nuclear warhead. Israel faces many obstacles both before and after such a hypothetical attack; for starters, the one world leader who I know was once open to the idea has since been overheard calling Prime Minister Netanyahu "a liar".

All but advertising to Iran's leadership and the rest of the world that Israel is prepared to launch a military strike undermines the case for further sanctions. It bolsters Iran's warped regime domestically. Most significantly, it completely misses the point. As I blogged in November 2010, the sanctions are useful and important as part of an overall strategy to convince Iran to stop its nuclear pursuits to enhance the case for any eventual military action. But the reason to prepare for military action is not to CONVINCE Iran to stop its program. The goal of military action must be to actually STOP Iran's program. No convincing needed. 

The whole point of what would effectively be the "nuclear option" -- unleashing a violent Muslim and Arab backlash, Western sanctions against Israel, full-scale crackdown against all change agents in Iran, and more -- is to stop Iran from having or using a nuclear weapon after all else has failed. An attack on Iran is too important a decision to be reduced to a PR strategy, or a tactic for Republican victory in the U.S. elections.

To the extent that Israel's official policy of denying the existence of its own sophisticated nuclear arsenal has succeeded, it's been because it retains some sense of strategic mystery. When Ronald Reagan was President, the Soviets truly believed he might push the button, and that was a far more effective deterrent than any specific White House threat or declaration -- but in this case, an attack will not be to DETER Iran but to PREVENT it from holding or using nuclear weapons. And let's face it: In the moment of decision, the logistics and consequences of any attack against Iran's facilities may be prohibitive or even impossible.

It gets worse. 

If Iran does reach a milestone in its nuclear program and Israel does not attack, this may now be seen as weakness and a concession on Israel's part, and Netanyahu's failure to get Cabinet approval will also undermine any remaining credibility he has internationally.

The primary goal of Iran's nuclear program has always been not to destroy Israel (though that would obviously be fun for them). The goal has been to be a dominant regional power and to put Israel in its place. How better than for the world to watch Israel flinch. Six decades of fairly consistent Israeli discipline, resolve, and results-oriented fighting -- all down the drain?

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