Fareed Zakaria's Take on an Israeli Preemptive Strike on Iran

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Fareed Zakaria's Take on an Israeli Preemptive Strike on Iran

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1Bretzky1
feb. 19, 2012, 1:33pm

Fareed Zakaria recently gave his take on a possible Israeli preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. You can see the video and read the transcript here.

I too am coming ever closer (and have probably already arrived there) to the conclusion that a preemptive strike on Iran, by either Israel or the United States, would be worse than having a nuclear-armed Iran. Although I'm not so sanguine to think that Iran will act just like all the other states that currently have nukes, I still think that anyone advocating for an attack on Iran must first explain why he or she thinks that Iran is so different that it can't be trusted with nuclear weapons. They must adequately explain, in effect, why Iran would be willing to end its existence so flippantly. Such an explanation is nearly impossible given the efforts that Iran has made since the Revolution to spread its revolution and power around the Middle East. If it were a suicidal state, why would it bother with such efforts?

The far better way to handle would be to simply tell the Iranian regime that if it ever uses nukes, the U.S. will consider such use as an attack on the United States and will respond in kind, regardless of who it is that Iran has attacked.

The only thing that is really holding me back from going completely in that direction is the possible damage that a nuclear Iran will do to the NPT and to American non-proliferation efforts. Of course, just because Iran goes nuclear does not necessarily mean that other states will too. That's where the U.S. guarantee of retaliation comes in. If you place states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, then you reduce their need to match Iran.

2petie1974
feb. 19, 2012, 8:42pm

Certainly, from the viewpoint of US strategic interests permitting Iran nuclear weapon capability is probably not as problematic for the region as some suggest and would not directly affect the national security of this country. Therefore, I'm inclined to agree with you on this score. Moreover, I also don't see Iran blatantly using nuclear weapons for the same reasons you point out.

(Of course this is not what many fear would happen if Iran had nuclear weapons. The more likely probability is that Iran might smuggle nuclear weapons to one of their proxies such as Hezbollah or Hamas to use against Israel so that the IC could never officially link any use of nuclear weapons against Israel to Iran. Still, I think it is unlikely Iran would act in such a fashion.)

But having said that it is too easy to be glib about the security threat a nuclear Iran poses from the viewpoint of Israel. Israeli security calculations have to take this situation seriously because it has been in a position since 1948 of actual and virtual war which combined with the history of Jewish persecution that tragically culminated in the Holocaust has, quite understandably, developed into a national security consciousness with a strong existential flavor. Thus, as you suggest, asking the Israeli's to explain why a nuclear Iran would be dangerous for the region would be an irrelevant and meaningless question to put to them.

Also while many in the West have no problem shrugging off Ahmadenijad's speeches (specifically the ones that have called for "Israel to be wiped off the map") as mere rhetorical flourishes the Israeli's cannot afford to do this. That this is simply political grandstanding cannot even factor into Israeli security calculations.

Usually, I'm cautious about using historical analogies since they are often abused but if you recall Hitler gave a speech in 1938 which called for the "destruction of international Jewry". At that time, like Ahmadenijad's diatribes today, the speech was waved off as typical anti-semitic blundering, political sophistry. Then seven years later the world learned that Hitler had "succeeded" in destroying 1/3 of world Jewry.

In short, no matter how vain or empty threats made towards the Israeli state might look to the IC, it is impossible for Israel NOT to take each and everyone of these seriously. Its own history demands such.

So then the greater challenge isn't getting Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons but rather of getting the Israeli's to modulate their own security interests to coincide with those of the United States and the rest of the IC.

3Bretzky1
feb. 27, 2012, 1:26pm

This article by David Makovsky at Foreign Policy indirectly raises an interesting issue regarding the triangular relationship between Iran, Israel, and the United States.

It might be possible that the U.S. is forced into conducting an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, even though U.S. officials don't believe that such an attack will have any lasting effect or might even be contrary to U.S. interests, merely to keep Israel from launching such an attack. An Israeli attack would undoubtedly be less effective than an American one and would undoubtedly have more negative consequences for the Middle East than a U.S. attack would.

The U.S. might prefer diplomatic engagement coupled with economic pressure as a means of keeping Iran from going nuclear, and might prefer a policy of containment to one of trying to destroy Iran's nuclear program physically, but the presence of Israel in the relationship might just prevent the U.S. from following its preferred policy course and direct it down the path of military action.