On the table

Convincing the Iranians that they face military action if they continue to march toward nuclear weapons capability actually increases the chances that diplomacy will work.

Amos Yadlin 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Amos Yadlin 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A number of key Israeli military experts, commenting on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, have in recent days emphasized that from Israel’s point of view, the military option is still “on the table.”
Former IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, director of the Institute for National Security Studies, argued in a recently published paper that the horror scenario commonly depicted by some in the West of a regional war sparked by an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is “highly unlikely.”
Yadlin and research assistant Avner Golov described five possible Iranian responses to a strike, ranging from total military restraint to a full-blown regional war, and argued that the most likely scenarios were two gradations of a limited response consisting of conventional missile volleys launched at Israel. An apocalyptic regional war scenario was, in Yadlin’s and Golov’s assessment, both “highly questionable” and “not grounded in rational evaluation.”
Meanwhile, outgoing national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, told the Financial Times that Israel has the military capabilities to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Amidror noted that the Israel Air Force has been conducting “very long-range flights… all around the world” in preparation for a potential strike on Iran, which could set back its nuclear program “for a very long time.”
The timing of the two men’s comments, as P5+1 representatives sit down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva, is not coincidental. For some time now all parties interested in seeing Iran stop its nuclear program have recognized that the success of a diplomatic solution depends, at least in part, on Iranians’ belief that they risk a military strike if they fail to negotiate.
That’s why US President Barack Obama and other world leaders opposed to Iran getting the bomb have reiterated, on numerous occasions over the years that the military option remains “on the table.” And they have combined sanctions with the ever-present threat of a military strike.
They understood that any discrediting of the military option actually encourages a situation in which diplomatic efforts will have less of a chance of succeeding and, ironically, a situation in which the military option becomes the only available option for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
In recent weeks a US military option has looked increasingly unlikely.
First, there was the Syrian chemical weapons crisis.
Not only did Obama refrain from acting alone after Syrian President Bashar Assad crossed his red line and used chemical weapons against his people, the US president also failed to convince the American public and Congress to launch even a limited military strike. In the aftermath, the US administration seemed more determined than ever to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis without resorting to force.
Just last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “The American people do not want a march to war.”
Carney added in clear reference to Israel, Saudi Arabia, France and other critics of a deal nearly signed between the P5+1 and Iran, “And it is important to understand that if pursuing a resolution diplomatically is disallowed or ruled out, what options then do we and our allies have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?”
But accusing those opposed to a bad deal of war-mongering and sending out the message that the US and other nations are desperate to do anything to avoid a military conflict with the Islamic Republic – including signing off on a bad deal – actually increases the chances of a military confrontation.
If the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not achieved via diplomacy – because the sides fail to reach a final agreement, or because a bad deal is signed, or because the Iranians are lying – this will be in large part because Tehran is convinced that no real military option exists.
In contrast, convincing the Iranians that they face military action if they continue to march toward nuclear weapons capability actually increases the chances that diplomacy will work. That’s why a credible military option must remain “on the table.”