J Street makes an attack on Iran more likely

If drums and sabers can prevent the need for bombs and rockets, let them beat and rattle on!

J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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.
The Israeli 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 States.
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.
This 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 leaders.
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.
Obama 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.”
Now 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 against Iran.”
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.
J 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 Halevy.
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.