Thinking Logically About Iran


It is easy for us to say, in the safety and comfort of America, that Iran’s leaders do not literally mean what they say or that Iran will behave rationally. Israel cannot take that chance.

— by Steve Sheffey

A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East and threaten the U.S. and its allies, but for Israel, a nuclear Iran would be an existential threat that it cannot allow.

There is no question that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. A few years ago, Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren wrote an article citing French philosopher Andre Glucksmann’s observation:

… by threatening to destroy Israel and by attaining the means to do so, Iran violates the twin taboos on which the post-World War II order was built: never again Auschwitz; never again Hiroshima.

The international community now has an opportunity to uphold that order. If it fails, then Israel will have no choice but to uphold its role as refuge of the Jewish people. A Jewish state that allows itself to be threatened with nuclear weapons… will forfeit its right to speak in the name of Jewish history.

More after the jump.
Iran’s leaders have repeatedly urged the destruction of Israel. Israel’s neighbors have repeatedly attempted to destroy Israel through conventional war, terrorism, economic boycott, and delegitimization.

It is easy for us to say, in the safety and comfort of America, that Iran’s leaders do not literally mean what they say or that Iran will behave rationally. Israel cannot take that chance. Those of us who want to avoid war with Iran must understand that at some point, Israel may conclude that it has no choice but to act militarily.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) wrote in a letter joined by 77 of his colleagues:

Iran is, in fact, accelerating its nuclear efforts. Tehran continues its large-scale installation of advanced, higher-speed centrifuges that will enable significantly more rapid production of weapons-grade uranium. Iran is also pursuing the plutonium path and has begun production of heavy water to feed its Arak reactor.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, pointed out last week that 17 different countries peacefully produce nuclear energy without uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Iran’s intentions are not peaceful. There is no peaceful reason for Iran to enrich uranium.

Former head of the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin, explained why Israel can’t live with a nuclear Iran and why the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (the idea that Iran will not destroy Israel knowing that Iran would in turn be destroyed–MAD) offers little comfort:

It’s not an issue of MAD. Israel is a very very small country. It is not Israeli experts who say this. It’s an Iranian ex-president, Rafsanjani, who said in 2001 that Israel is a one-bomb country and that a proud Iranian or Islamic nation can absorb two or three bombs.

But it’s much more than that. There is the issue of miscalculation, unintended escalation — the fact that unlike in the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, we don’t have mechanisms to de-escalate. We don’t have a telephone hotline between Jerusalem and Tehran. We don’t have embassies like the U.S. embassies that helped defuse the Cuban missile crisis.

The most problematic issue has nothing to do with Israel. It’s nonproliferation in the Middle East. It’s the fact that the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Turks will go for nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, and all I have said about miscalculations, unintended escalations, nuclear weapons to terrorists will be multiplied tenfold — it will be a nuclear nightmare.

And let me remind you that the terrorists in the planes that flew into the towers in New York City on September 11 were not Iranians. They were Saudis and Egyptians. So the idea of everyone having nuclear weapons is not a good idea.

Neither we nor Israel can allow a nuclear Iran. That is why it is so important to use a combination of economic sanctions and a credible U.S. military threat to achieve a diplomatic solution that does not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Talk of appeasement is irresponsible and unhelpful. There is no indication that President Obama will agree to a deal that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Yet, the right-wing echo chamber is reverberating with talk of appeasement and Chamberlain. Steve Chapman was right when he wrote:

When you hear this sort of analysis, you have to wonder why they can’t find a cautionary tale younger than 75 years old. They act as though Chamberlain has a big fan club in Washington, urging statesmen to follow his pathetic example.

References to Munich are not a framework for thinking about negotiations with Iran or any other nation; they’re a substitute for it. The implication is that only a dupe would try to resolve such matters except with military force…

The question about any settlement is not whether it’s perfect, but whether it’s better than an air campaign that would embroil the United States in another unpredictable Middle East conflict — while spurring Iran to redouble its nuclear efforts.

It would be as foolish to insist that any deal is bound to be terrible as it would be to assume it will be wonderful. The only way to find out what is achievable is to negotiate, with our eyes open. The lesson of Munich, after all, is to avoid bad deals, not to reject good ones.

Yes, there is a risk that Iran will not live up to the terms of a negotiated agreement. Maybe an agreement will only delay, but not eliminate, the possibility of a nuclear Iran. We can’t be sure. Even the most stringent verification procedures are not foolproof. But the military option doesn’t come with guarantees either.

We won’t be certain after a military strike whether and to what extent we shut down Iran’s nuclear program. The best we can hope for with military action is a delay of 3-5 years in Iran’s nuclear program, depending on how effective the strikes are.

There is no perfect solution, negotiated or military, short of regime change or invasion and occupation of Iran — neither of which is a realistic possibility. Military action might be necessary. But military action is the option most likely to have unpredictable consequences, which is why we must exhaust all other options first and weigh those options against realistic alternatives, not perfection.

Iran is finally coming to the bargaining table because tough international sanctions have forced Iran’s hand. Now is not the time to ease up. Talk is nice, but time is short — we must keep up or increase the pressure until Iran takes actions that are, in the words of the White House, “transparent and verifiable.” At the same time, we must be careful to leave the President with the flexibility he needs to negotiate.

Every administration, Democratic and Republican, resists congressional efforts to tie its hands in the foreign policy arena. Congress is not institutionally capable of directing complex international negotiations at a micro level.

There is no question that the Administration’s goal is to prevent a nuclear Iran, and there is no question that it would prefer not to use force — which means any negotiating tactics it chooses will be designed to maximize the likelihood of an acceptable diplomatic settlement.

For that reason, Congress — and those of us who advocate for Israel in Congress — must be careful that even as we press for continued and stronger sanctions, we do not press for self-defeating measures that would rob the administration of the ability to offer an occasional carrot along the way if that path is more likely to achieve our goal.

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  1. burrowsx says

    The use of nuclear weapons against Israel would defile Rachel’s Tomb, the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa, and countless other Muslim holy shrines. Such a nuclear attack would certainly provoke Israeli retaliation against sites in Iraq and Iran holy to Shia, and possibly attacks against Mecca and Medina.

    Israel is a small country. An attack on Tel Aviv to avoid direct attacks on Jerusalem would not avoid contamination of Jerusalem. Land claimed by Palestinians would also be contaminated — uninhabitable and untillable even with adequate water.

    A nuclear armed Iran is even more of a paper tiger than a nuclear United States or Russian Republic. Iran may have crazies who would blow themselves up, but its government makes rational threats. Its brutality to diplomats and to its own people is based on its own military control of its own territory — as disgusting as that brutality may have been and continues to be.

    I am frankly tired of reflexively folding into a crouch every time some Israeli patriot shouts “jihad.” If you want to know why young Jews are not joining synagogues, perhaps we should consider our reflexive support of pre-emptive aggression, which many of us would not support by our own government in the United States.

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