WASHINGTON -- A former senior Pentagon official said Saturday that now is not an opportune time for an Israeli strike on Iran, and that any such strike would inevitably draw in the United States.
Colin Kahl, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East until December, said that any Israeli strike that prompted an Iranian retaliation would affect the United States.
"Even if it's just retaliation against Israel, the Americans will be in it from the beginning," he said, since the US would provide assistance to Israeli defense and because Iran would see an Israeli attack as inseparable from an American attack.
Kahl assessed that the Iranian response would be far-reaching and include rocket attacks on American embassies in the region, using area allies and proxies and threatening the functioning of the Strait of Hormuz.
"No one should delude themselves that ... the prospect of America getting dragged into this is minor. It's not," he warned.
Kahl also laid out conditions that he felt should be in place before any country undertook a strike on Iran: that other options such as diplomacy and sanctions have run their course; that Iran had clearly decided to move toward nuclear weaponization; that the military action could seriously degrade Tehran's capabilities; that an international coalition could be maintained after a strike.
"One reason I've been so critical about the Israelis taking action against Iran's nuclear program is that at this moment they don't satisfy any of those four criteria," he said.
Kahl argued that the the diplomatic process should be given more time and contended it wasn't clear Iran had decided to weaponize its nuclear program. And he warned that anyone opposed to containing Iran should be particularly wary of military action.
"A military strike does not end the Iranian nuclear program," he said. "If military action is done the wrong way, military action would be the prelude to the need to contain a nuclear-armed Iran."
But Amos Yadlin, a former director of IDF intelligence attending the conference, questioned the wisdom of waiting too long before contemplating military action.
"Going from 'it's too early' to 'it's too late' is a very fine line," he cautioned.
Yadlin described Iran as already nuclear but not yet weaponized, and said Tehran wanted to make the timeframe for a nuclear weapon breakout ability very short.
"Those who are not willing to contain Iran today, when they don't have a nuclear weapon, how can they contain it when they have nuclear weapons?" he asked.
Yadlin stressed that it was important to preserve the possibility of military action to pressure Iran and give teeth to sanctions and diplomacy -- a point made as well by Kahl.
But Yadlin suggested that despite statements from American officials about keeping the military option on the table, mixed messages were neutralizing their impact.
"The music the whole world is hearing is that this is not really a good option," he said.
And he asserted that ultimately the consequences of military action outweigh the costs of doing nothing.
"A nuclear Iran is much more dangerous than attacking Iran," Yadlin concluded.