Monday, January 18, 2010

The (Upcoming?) Attack On Iran: Israel Alone

In September, a Washington Post reluctantly deduced that the end of 2009 was Iran’s last chance for negotiations. The authors, Daniel R. Coats (a former Republican Senator), Charles S. Robb (a former Democrat Senator) and Charles Wald (a retired general and air commander) called for the application of military tactics. They wrote:
If all else fails, in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option. This need not involve a strike. A naval blockade would help ensure the effectiveness of proposed sanctions, such as an embargo on gasoline imports. Ultimately, though, a U.S.-led military strike is a feasible, albeit risky, option of last resort.

Next month's talks may be one of the last opportunities to diplomatically address the advancing Iranian nuclear threat. If Iran chooses to waste yet another such chance, President Obama will have no choice but to fulfill his February commitment to "use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."
It is now three weeks into the New Year and nothing has been done to address Iran’s missed deadline. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapon, the risks of catastrophe grow. Despite the fact that the administration’s naïve foreign policy eschews the discussion of military options, it is pertinent that such discourse begins. The administration must take the lead on quashing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, particularly before Israel feels compelled to take matters into their own hands.

An increase in the threats of (credible) military action would have two effects. First, it would provide disincentives to the otherwise obdurate Iran. As has been readily apparent, the carrots of negotiation and talk have done nothing to dissuade Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry. The nation has developed an uncanny ability to work the system. By adding a healthy dose of ‘sticks’ to the bounty of carrots, the administration can hope to dissuade Iranian behavior.

However, such threats cannot be baseless. Iran may very well attempt to call a bluff. The administration must be ready to show that promises of military action are sincere. In order to limit the possibility of war, lower-scale military conflict, such as the naval blockade that Coats, Robb, and Wald suggest, can be the ‘bluff-testing’ actions. This would give the West ample opportunity to prove its commitment to ending the Iranian threat without immediately necessitating war.

Second, an increase in bellicose rhetoric would assuage some of Israel’s disquietude. The small Jewish state is rightly concerned with a nuclear Iran. Ahmadinejad has long called for the destruction of Israel. The Israeli government will not sit idly as Iran develops a nuclear arsenal.  However, It is in America's interest to lead any potential military action against Iran.  An Israeli-led conflict, that will most defintely pull in the United  States, will have negative effects on global opinion and support for the war making its prosecution all the more difficult.

However, Israel is understandably wary about preemptively attacking Iran. Contrary to its past attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, a military strike on Iran’s facilities would be extremely difficult. In all likelihood, as a recent article in The Economist discusses, a preemptive strike would most likely fail to completely eliminate the Iranian threat. Furthermore, any attack, either from Israel or the United States, would certainly lead to a counterattack on the Jewish state.

However, unlike what seems to be an increasing acceptance of a nuclear Iran in the White House, Israel is unlikely to tolerate a regional game-changer. The Obama administration is obviously restraining Netanyahu, but will only be able to do so for so long. At the end of the day the threat of annihilation will outweigh any pitfalls of a military excursion or the cajoling from America.  In order to prevent full military action it is necessary for the administration to finally take the mantle of leadership and rely on the use of military threats. The Obama Doctrine of extending hands to clenched fists has proven a dismal failure. However, it is not too late for the President to alter his foreign policy.


  1. Enjoyed the post however I would like to point out that Ahmadinejad has stated that any action of any kind against Iran would be a prelude to war. I think that we should take a threat like that seriously and not give Iran a chance to take American lives in retaliation to a blockade.

    I have enjoyed reading most of your posts and would enjoy your opinion on my two posts at

  2. Shawn~

    This is probably true and I think it is important to give credence to his claims. However, Ahmadinejad is normally very bellicose and I would think that he would not be too rash if their were minor actions taken against him. Furthermore, the direct threat would be to Israel, not the US (as Iran cannot reach us). Any first-strike on Israel though would directly cause a massive (possibly nuclear) and justified response by Israel. I think Ahmadinejad would understand that if he responded to something like a blockade by attacking Israel or other US interests it would be devasting for his regime (militarily and popularly - imagine the power it would give the revolutionary movement who has generally been angry with the regime's attitude towards Israel).

    Thanks for writing


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  4. In our one-sided support of Israel the US has alienated the entire Muslim world. Don't get me wrong; I am not anti-Israel or anti-anything else for that matter. If we participate in banging Iran hard, will this not continue and exacerbate the alienation process?

    It cannot happen with Netanyahu in place, but how about the following? As and if this confrontation develops, Israel would concede something on the Palestinian front. I am not well read enough on the situation to make a suggestion on what that should be. However, a combination move like this could deliver a powerful message to the remainder of the Muslim world that Iran is a special case. It would also reduce tensions based on Israel's tough stance with the Palestinians.

    Jim Bower

  5. Jim~

    I think the distaste that the Muslim world has for America runs much deeper than the US's support for Israel. While I agree with you that it is often used as a rallying cry by Arab and Muslim leaders I am not sure if a solution will readily change anything regarding Muslim/Arab perception. Muslim leaders routinely use Israel and America as an external 'scapegoat' to divert attention from their own ineptitude. However, this has been changing in some places due to more pressing concerns. In Iran for instance the former chants of "Death to Israel" have been shunned by many in the revolutionary movement b/c they realize that it was a diversionary tactic. Many, although certainly not Israeliophiles have openly disparaged Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel rhetoric (not in the interest of Israel but in interest of focusing on their own problems).

    Likewise, many moderate Arab nations have moved closer to Israel in interest of balancing Iran. Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular (two other major Middle East powers) are greatly threatened by Iran. Their regional power concerns have moved them into an uncomfortable understanding with Israel (Egypt for one has routinely worked with Israel in managing Gaza).

    In general, I think the Iranian issue expose some of the underlying tensions within the Arab/Muslim world. Israel certainly plays a role, but I am wary about blindly ascribing the cause of tensions with the Muslim world to the Palestinian issue. Many Arabs and Muslims would be equally happy as Israel with a subdued Iran (in fact possibly more so than China or Russia).

    That being said I think such confrontation might open up some room for renewed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Right now, from my understanding, the primary focus for Israel is Iran and nothing will be likely to get done until this is addressed. I also believe there are a number of other prerequistes before the two sides are ready to talk. I dont have faith that this will occur in the next 5 - 10 years. Iran, though, will have a bomb well before then.

    Thanks for writing.


  6. Josh,

    I spend more time reading about technology than politics, but I understand there are dissidents. Some would have to be aware of the way the old charlatans are manipulating people. But the Arabic fear of the Iranians must be fear of disruption and spillover of hostilities. If that situation is ameliorated (by bombing or otherwise) will that not leave the Palestine issue as an irritant?

    I'm not sure I understood your last paragraph. Are you saying that a military confrontation with Iran would end up causing renegotiation between Israel and Palestine? Or is it just that, without Iran to worry about, negotiations would again be possible?

    I agree (not that it makes much difference) that Israel cannot spend time on much but the Iranian threat right now. I have spent a good deal of time out of the US in the last few years. I have often run into transplanted Muslims (in France, England, Denmark, and elsewhere). Invariably they point out the US friendship with Israel and the Palestinian situation. There is always an underlying suggestion that the US has a generic hatred for Muslims.

    We techies always look for simple solutions. There are not many in politics.


  7. Jim

    Well I think a lot of the fear of Iran is historical and tribal. The Middle East has always functioned around tribal tensions and rivalry amongst various Arab and Persion [Iran] tribes and groups. There has always been an interplay between balancing of power amongst different groups. I think Iran's rise has scared many namely because they don't want to see any one group gain too much power.

    I'm not sure if there is any direct relation to the Palestinian issue per se. I think the intra-Arab/Persion issues have a life of their own (Shia v. Sunni and tribal for instance). What I was alluding to in my last paragraph was that regional balancing (eg. Egypt and Saudi Arabia working with Israel against Iran) may open up new avenues for diplomacy regarding the Palestinian issue down the line. The concept is that by splitting the Arab/Muslim opinion Iran is helping to demolish the longstanding Israel v. the Rest of the Middle East line-up. The line in the sand, so to speak, is blurring as other issues become more important.

    I think this means that you may see many of those Muslims around the world less focused on Israel. Why by no means do I think Israel will cease to be a sticking point, I think it might not be the number one point. I think Israel has largely been used as a propoganda tool by Arab and Muslim despots to overshadow internal differences and problems these leaders have in controlling their masses. It has been successfully used to rally all Arabs and Muslims against a common enemey. But with other threats it is ceasing to be as useful a tool.


  8. Josh,

    For every education you get at Cornell you leave many others behind. Thanks for sharing yours.


  9. Well thank you Jim. Thats the whole goal of this blog to help myself and others learn from each other. If I can contribute to that in a small way that I have succeeded.



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