An attack on Iran would be a reckless attempt at solving a complex problem.
Israel has been making rumblings about eliminating Iran’s nuclear facilities with an air strike. And the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which claims there is substantial evidence Iran is progressing with its plans to build a nuclear weapon, may egg the Israelis on. Still, the report remains ambiguous as to when Iran will have the atomic weapon.
Arguments for intervention in Iran split Israeli society into two camps. One side argues for a swift military assault, and the other advocates the tightening of U.S.-led international sanctions.
Longtime rivals Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak agree on military intervention, another sign that Israel is poised for action.
Those lobbying for the intervention count on the air strikes being “surgical.” But air strikes rarely are. And Iran’s nuclear facilities are spread around the country.
What’s more, an Israel attack might not stop in Iran. It is likely to include liquidating the military installations of Hezbollah in Lebanon and those of Hamas in Gaza. These two movements are Iran’s staunch allies against Israel.
The strongest case for the patient exercise of diplomacy and sanctions comes from the leadership of Israel’s national security and intelligence. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan declared that it would be “stupid” for his country to attack Iran. Dagan estimates that Iran will not be able to produce an atomic weapon before 2015.
Four factors make it hard for Iran to develop or use the atomic bomb in the foreseeable future: Iran’s technology of atomic defense is highly monitored; this technology has recently proven to be vulnerable to clandestine sabotage; the atomic weapon does not discriminate between Iran’s foes and friends (half the population in Israel’s controlled land is Palestinian); and, finally, if Iran used its nuclear weapon against Israel, it would be annihilated, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned when she was running for president.
If Israel attacks Iran, America could be dragged into a regional conflict. Iran and its allies — Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas — would likely retaliate with a vengeance. They could close the Hormuz Strait, disrupt the flow of oil and attack U.S., military assets in the Gulf region.
Millions of people in the Arab world would be incensed at Israel, and by proxy, the United States. Neither state needs that.
And, anyway, a military strike would be premature.
For one thing, democracy is not dead in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will end his term in mid-2014. Iranians will probably elect a new president before they are able to assemble an atomic bomb. Then the Iranian people will decide how best to harness their nuclear energy.
And for another, we should give the sanctions on Iran some time to work. President Obama just tightened them last month.
War is not surgical. There are safer ways to secure Israel and to advance stability in the region.
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, a social scientist and political commentator, is the former secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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