Reject the military option

Reject the military option

December 26th, 2011 in Opinion Times

One of the most troublesome and persistent issues currently confronting the global community is how to deal with Iran's continued commitment to a nuclear program that is widely believed to have the development of nuclear weapons as its goal. All diplomatic efforts to halt the program have been rebuffed by Iran. That has prompted discussions in some circles about the possibility of a more direct option, presumably of the military sort, to put an end to the Iranian program. No where is that discussion more heated or more public than in Israel.

Israel, of course, keeps a close eye on developments, military and otherwise, in nations around it. Iran and its nuclear ambitions, though, hold a special interest for Israeli politicians, military leaders and intelligence services. Given recent history, it could hardly be any other way.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is perhaps the most vehemently anti-Israel leader in the Mideast. Others might share his hatred, but he's the only leader of an Arab state who regularly makes his views known in a highly public manner. He regularly calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state and makes no secret of his willingness to be an active participant in accomplishing that task. Couple that with his country's nuclear ambitions and it's easy to understand why talk of unilateral military action against Iran is so public and prevalent in Israel.

Such action is not without precedent. Three decades ago, Israel did take military action against an Iranian nuclear installation. Its warplanes attacked and destroyed a site widely believed to be involved in the development of nuclear weaponry. Obviously, that attack didn't end Iran's nuclear weapons program, but it did delay it. Some of those in Israel, and elsewhere, discussing the wisdom of a strike against Iran's current nuclear facilities say the success of the earlier raid suggests a similar mission now.

That might not be the case. The first raid surprised everyone. There was no public discussion beforehand. Moreover, Iran is better prepared to withstand such an attack now. Nuclear operations are dispersed in several sites across the country and the main facility, unlike the one destroyed years ago, is housed underground on a military base. That makes it unlikely that even a well-designed and executed successful raid would completely disrupt the Iranian nuclear program.

There's no assurance either, that a pre-emptive strike would serve Israel's short and long-term diplomatic interests. An attack certainly would exacerbate the increasingly difficult relationships between moderate Muslim states and Israel. It would test, too, the ties between the United States and other nations that have long supported the Jewish state. Indeed, an Israeli attack on Iran could expose U.S. troops, personnel and interests in the region and elsewhere to far more danger than currently exists.

Israel, if history is a guide, will do what it believes is necessary to protect its interests. If its leaders decide that a military strike is the best way to defend the nation, it will launch a preemptive strike, regardless of international consequences. That high-risk strategy isn't the best to embrace.

The most sound option for dealing with Iran is a far less belligerent course of action. A carefully crafted, international diplomatic-economic initiative to isolate Iran and to neutralize its nuclear ambitions remains preferable to military action of any sort. The United States has pursued that policy in the past. It should continue to do so.