Thursday, April 16, 2009

Should Israel Bomb Iran's Nuclear facilities?

I will begin with the answer: No.

Iran's nuclear ambitions are worrying, and represent a negative development in the region. Iran is ruled by extremist ideology, with an explicit goal to eliminate the Jewish State. They oppose reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. They have demonstrated their ability to fight Israel via their proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah. Some past statements made by various Iranian politicians have raised the issue of a nuclear attack on Israel.

Proponents of an Israeli attack on Iran point to the successes of its operations in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2008.

Nonetheless, it would be against Israel's interest to attack Iran for several reasons:

1. Diplomatic: The Iranian nuclear issue is in the international limelight, and efforts to deal with the issue are being lead by the US. Any Israeli attack conducted without coordination with the US would sabotage these efforts and lead to a severe strain in relations with the US and European allies. Israel would pay a high price in terms of support from the US vis a vis its policy in this region.

2. Tactical: The world has changed. Iran is not Iraq or Syria. It has a large sophisticated army with significant capabilities, and most importantly, has Russian backing. The world is no longer unipolar, and the US does not have military or diplomatic hegemony. The regional balance of power has changed, not in our favor. Therefore the effectiveness of a potential military attack on Iranian facilities would be limited in scope and in time. The Iranians would be able to rebuild quickly, with the help of the Russians, unlike the Iraqis who needed the French. The Iranians would most definitely be able to retaliate, either directly or through their proxies. Israel has vulnerable strategic sites throughout Israel that could easily be hit in such an exchange, causing extensive damage and casualties.

3. Strategic: I don't think that it is possible to stop a determined state from acquiring nuclear capabilities. Iran, unlike Iraq, Syria or Libya, has rich natural resources to support its development efforts and its ability to sustain economic and diplomatic pressure. Therefore, Israel has no choice but to rely on deterrence and defense systems to maintain a balance of power against Iran. Furthermore, as Robert Gates pointed out, and I think that it is correct, that an Israeli attack would galvanize the Iranians behind their nationalist leaders and lead to bottomless hatred, and a determination to exact revenge which would be legitimate in their eyes. They would undoubtedly be able to carry our revenge attacks on Israel or Israeli/Jewish interests abroad. Right now the Iranians are limited in their ability and desire to hurt Israel, because of the middle eastern political situation vis a vis the Palestinians and other Arab countries. But in the event of an attack, they would have every excuse to use their full abilities.

Therefore, in my view, an Israeli attack would be a mistake.

I might be wrong. Perhaps if Israel does not act, history will not forgive us. But our allies and the region definitely will never forgive us if we start a regional war which we won't be able to end.

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