The Magazine

Should Israel Bomb Iran?

Better safe than sorry

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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There is only one thing that terrifies Washington’s foreign policy establishment more than the prospect of an American airstrike against Iran’s nuclear-weapons facilities: an Israeli airstrike. Left, right, and center, “sensible” people view the idea with alarm. Such an attack would, they say, do great damage to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Tehran would counterattack, punishing “the Great Satan” (America) for the sins of “the Little Satan” (Israel). An Israeli strike could lead to the closing of the world’s oil passageway, the Strait of Hormuz; prompt Muslims throughout the world to rise up in outrage; and spark a Middle Eastern war that might drag in the United States. Barack Obama’s “New Beginning” with Muslims, such as it is, would be over the moment Israeli bunker-busting bombs hit. 

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An Israeli “preventive” attack, we are further told, couldn’t possibly stop the Islamic Republic from developing a nuke, and would actually make it more likely that the virulently anti-Zionist supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would strike Israel with a nuclear weapon. It would also provoke Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to deploy its terrorist assets against Israel and the United States. Hezbollah, the Islamic Revolution’s one true Arab child, would unleash all the missiles it has imported from Tehran and Damascus since 2006, the last time the Party of God and the Jewish state collided. 

An Israeli preemptive strike unauthorized by Washington (and President Barack Obama is unlikely to authorize one) could also severely damage Israel’s standing with the American public, as well as America’s relations with Europe, since the “diplomacy first, diplomacy only” Europeans would go ballistic, demanding a more severe punishment of Israel than Washington could countenance. The Jewish state’s relations with the European Union—Israel’s major trading partner—could collapse. And, last but not least, an Israeli strike could fatally compromise the pro-democracy Green Movement in Iran, which is the only hope the West has for an end to the nuclear menace by means of regime change. This concern was expressed halfheartedly before the tumultuous Iranian elections of June 12, 2009, but it is now voiced with urgency by those who truly care about the Green Movement spawned by those elections and don’t want any American or Israeli action to harm it.

These fears are mostly overblown. Some of the alarmist scenarios are the opposite of what would more likely unfold after an Israeli attack. Although dangerous for Israel, a preventive strike remains the most effective answer to the possibility of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards having nuclear weapons. Provided the Israeli air force is capable of executing it, and assuming no U.S. military action, an Israeli bombardment remains the only conceivable means of derailing or seriously delaying Iran’s nuclear program and—equally important—traumatizing Tehran. Since 1999, when the supreme leader quashed student demonstrations and put paid to any chance that the Islamic Republic would peacefully evolve under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Iran has calcified into an ever-nastier autocracy. An Israeli strike now—after the rise of the Green Movement and the crackdown on it—is more likely to shake the regime than would have a massive American attack in 2002, when Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program was first revealed. And if anything can jolt the pro-democracy movement forward, contrary to the now passionately accepted conventional wisdom, an Israeli strike against the nuclear sites is it. 

There are many voices out there—“realists” in America, Kantians in Europe—who believe this discussion is unnecessary since Iran doesn’t really pose an existential threat to Israel, America, or anyone else, and whatever threat it does pose can be countered with “strategic patience” and the threat of Israeli nuclear retaliation. Tehran may support anti-Israeli terrorist groups, but there is no need to overreact: The regime is as scared of Israel’s military power as Israel is scared of mullahs with nukes. America’s preeminent job should therefore be to calm the Israelis down—or, failing that, arm-twist them into inaction. 

 

Anti-Semitism run amok

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