Why bombing Iran would be a strategic mistake for Israel and America

Both Israel and America benefit in containing Iran through negotiations.

Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With all due respect to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the US isn’t going to be attacking Iran anytime soon, especially after negotiations over its nuclear program. America still has a war in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama just recently sent over 3,000 military advisors back to Iraq; a war that should have ended in 2011. Due to the sectarian nature of the war against Islamic State (IS), America also needs Shi’ite Iran to battle the Sunni offshoot of al-Qaida.
Furthermore, any notion that Israel could launch a military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear program ignores the views of three top US officials regarding the efficacy of any strike. As stated in Bloomberg, either Israel or the US would have to bomb Iran every three years, and even then nobody would be assured of ending its nuclear ambitions: Panetta said he “certainly shares” views expressed by predecessor Robert Gates and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Michael Mullen that a bombing campaign would set Iran back three years at most.
Gates, on several occasions, starting in April 2009, said “a military attack will only buy us time and send the program deeper and more covert.” It would at best set back Iran’s nuclear program by two or three years, he said.
US or Israeli bombing also “would bring together a divided nation and make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons,” he said.
Mullen in a February 10, 2010, press conference said it was safe to assume “they’re pretty close” to developing a bomb and a strike might “delay it for one to three years.”
Panetta is a former CIA director, Gates is former CIA director and secretary of state, and Admiral Mullen is the highest ranking military officer in the US Armed Forces. So when they say a military strike against Iran would basically be a futile endeavor, their voices should drown out the hawkish calls to “end” Iran’s program through force. Then of course there’s the fallout from any failed or successful strike, that could affect both the US and Israeli economy in profoundly negative ways. The recent Gaza war cost Israel $2.5 billion, so imagine what a war with Iran would cost and how it would impact jobs and businesses in Israel.
That being said, Netanyahu is right in saying that Iran is led by a dangerous regime that promotes terrorism. However, America has dealt with unsavory regimes over the years and especially during the Cold War, to ensure its national security. Even today, we give Pakistan military aid and its intelligence agency has been linked to creation of the Taliban. Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, has Islamic extremists within the country, and guess where Osama bin-Laden was found? We give billions in military deals to Saudi Arabia, and it too has been linked to the creation of IS. Realism within international relations makes strange bedfellows and negotiations with Iran, despite protests from Netanyahu, is still a better route than yet another major war in the Middle East. Neither Israel nor the US is ready for a war with Iran, especially since such a war would inevitably benefit IS through even more chaos in the region.
The words of Kenneth Waltz, perhaps the world’s foremost scholar on nuclear weapons, explain why a nuclear Iran isn’t as frightening as everyone thinks. In a Foreign Affairs article titled, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” Waltz states that greater stability would be the result of a nuclear Tehran: “Most US, European, and Israeli commentators and policymakers warn that a nuclear- armed Iran would be the worst possible outcome of the current standoff. In fact, it would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East.”
Waltz goes on to state that enemies like India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, haven’t entered into a war since they both possessed these weapons. He also explains that nuclear weapons demand a certain amount of restraint; inherent in the possession of such destructive power. Iran would be less likely to promote terrorism, especially nuclear terrorism, since everything would be traced back to Tehran and retaliation could be a mushroom cloud.
Both Israel and America benefit in containing Iran through negotiations, primarily because these negotiations undermine the hyperbole of calls to “annihilate” Israel. One can’t simultaneously sit across the table from the Great Satan (when everyone knows the US and Israel share a special relationship), while planning the destruction of the Little Satan. Iran at the bargaining table is like a former convict interviewing for a respectable job.
As Kenneth Waltz states, with diplomacy and international recognition come restraint and various obligations, and these obligations coincide directly with both American and Israeli long-term interests.
The author is a contributor to The Huffington Post, The Hill’s Congress Blog, and a columnist for various other publications.