J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
JStreet, which calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” is now making it more
likely that Israel and/or the United States will have no choice but to take
military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
government is facing what may be its most daunting existential challenge since
the founding of the state and certainly since the eve of the Six Day War. There
are no perfect solutions to the problem posed by Iran’s determination to develop
nuclear weapons capable of destroying Israel.
It has become clear that
sanctions, coupled with diplomatic efforts, may hurt Tehran, but will never
pressure it into giving up its quest for nuclear weapons. It has also become
clear, as President Barack Obama has stated, that containment of a nuclear Iran
is not an option. The only thing that will deter Iran from moving forward with
its nuclear program is a credible threat of military action by the United
The Iranian leaders must come to believe that the United States
is really keeping its military option on the table. If the mullahs truly believe
that the United States will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, they
may well decide that the pain caused by sanctions is not worth the benefits of
going forward, since they will never be able to achieve their goal.
is one instance where “saber rattling” and “beating the drums of war” may
actually help to avoid war. But the rattling and the drumming must be credible
in the eyes and ears of those to whom it is directed – namely the Iranian
America’s commitment to keep the military option on the table
must also be credible to Israel’s leaders, who must decide whether to rely on
the United States or whether to risk unilateral military action – and if so,
when. If Israel acts too quickly, it risks alienating its most important ally.
If it waits too long, it risks allowing the Iranians to develop immunity against
a successful Israeli attack. Whatever action or inaction it undertakes involves
considerable and serious potential downsides. In a democracy, such risks
must be evaluated and decided on by elected officials whose job it is to protect
the security of the nation and its citizens. No nation can outsource
existential decisions to even its closest allies. Each nation must determine its
own policies based on its own assessments of risks and benefits.
has now settled on a policy for the United States. Pursuant to this policy, the
president has assured Israel that if Israel forbears from attacking Iran, and
that if Iran crosses certain thresholds, the US will attack and destroy Iran’s
nuclear weapons program.
For this policy to succeed, both Iran and Israel
must believe Obama’s conditional “sword rattling” and “drum beating.” They must
know that he is speaking truthfully when he says, “I don’t bluff.”
comes J Street, which is perceived by both Iranian and Israeli leaders, as close
to the Obama administration. In its most recent mass emailing, Jeremy
Ben- Ami, J Street’s leader, urges his followers to undercut the Obama policy by
demanding that the president stop threatening military action against Iran and
that “the drums of war” must be silenced.
Without distinguishing between
an Israeli and an American military attack, J Street mendaciously claims that
“top Israeli security experts and former officials warned about the inefficacy
and disastrous consequences of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear
facilities” and that “many in the American and Israeli intelligence and security
establishments believe that a strike on Iran would fail to end Iran’s nuclear
program and may even accelerate it....”
While this may be true of a
unilateral Israeli strike, it is totally untrue of an American or joint attack,
which many of these experts acknowledge would wreck havoc on the Iranian nuclear
weapons program. Many of these same experts have explicitly called for
the United States to maintain its military option as a last resort. But J
Street, on its website, expressly “oppose[s] legislation authorizing,
encouraging or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force
Such legislation refers exclusively to an American, not an
Israeli, attack. But “laying the groundwork for the use of military force
against Iran” by the United States is precisely what is needed to deter Iran
from going forward with its nuclear weapons program.
By credibly laying
such groundwork, the US reduces the chances that it will actually need to employ
its military option. By undercutting the threat of employing the military
option, J Street increases the likelihood that it will have to be used.
Street, in addition to undercutting mainstream Israeli and American policy
toward Iran, has also mischaracterized the views of those it cites in support of
its position, including former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Efraim
It cites these two Israeli security experts as opposing an
American strike and an American threat to strike. Both Dagan and Halevy
have repeatedly said, however, that the American military option “must always be
on the table.” Indeed, the vast majority of Israeli security experts, as well
the Israeli public, wants the US to maintain the military threat against Iran.
But J Street, which purports to be pro- Israel, wants the United States to
eliminate that deterrent military threat.
J Street should get out of the
business of telling Israel how to balance existential risks regarding the
security of its citizens. It should stop undercutting American policy with
regard to Iran. And as an organization that claims it is both pro- Israel and
pro-peace, it should recognize that its superficial approach to this complex
problem is bad for peace, bad for Israel and bad for American efforts to prevent
a nuclear Iran without the need for a military attack.
If drums and
sabers can prevent the need for bombs and rockets, let them beat and rattle on!
The writer is a law professor at Harvard and a top commentator on Israel.