Israeli historian Benny Morris wants to see a war with Iran. He is frothing at the mouth and screaming "Attack! Attack!, Attack! Kill! Kill! Kill!" Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. OK, so maybe it's more than a little. But he certainly seems to support Israel taking military action against Iran within the next few weeks if Obama doesn't give Israel an iron-clad guarantee that the U.S. will attack Iran by March 1, 2013 if Iran does not abandon its nuclear weapons program. Read his column NOW before proceeding with my rebuttal.
- Morris writes as if it has been determined with certainty that Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon. Actually, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to whether Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon or stop short of actually assembling one. The U.S. intelligence community seems to believe that Iran is not on the verge of building nuclear weapons.
- Morris draws the wrong lesson from the bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear facilities. If anything, the bombing at Osirak should be a cautionary tale AGAINST an attack on Iran. Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program was bogged down and directionless before Israel's attack in 1981. Iraq was much further from getting a weapon than we thought it was. Israel's attack did not slow down their weapons program. It only made Saddam Hussein more determined to get the bomb and he vastly INCREASED the resources allocated to the program after Israel's bombing. His program went underground where it remained hidden from outsiders. As noted by former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, Colin Kahl, "the international community got lucky: Had Hussein not been dumb enough to invade Kuwait in 1990, he probably would have gotten the bomb sometime by the mid-1990s."
- Morris is correct about one thing: an Israeli attack will cause Iran to redouble its efforts to get a bomb. There is uncertainty about their intentions to get a bomb now. Once Israel bombs Iran, that uncertainty will be gone. This is the lesson we should learn from Osirak.
- If Israel bombs Iran it will be the death for any opposition movement within Iran. Nothing will unite the Iranian people behind their government like an Israeli attack.
- Though Iran is not on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, Morris is correct in claiming that Iran's nuclear assets at its Fordow facility are on the verge of being invulnerable to Israeli attack.
- Morris sets up a false choice when he implies that Israel's only options are either "attack now" or "rely on the U.S. to do the job later". There is a third option that he does not even consider. The Fordow facility will pose minimal risk if Iran allows unlimited and unfettered instantaneous access on demand to IAEA inspectors. IAEA inspectors with full access will serve two functions: They will detect any diversion of nuclear materials towards a weapons program and they will act as a tripwire should Iran impede their access. Should Iran kick out the inspectors then that will be an unambiguous signal for Israel and the U.S. to attack Iran.
- Israel can entice Iran to open its facilities to unlimited IAEA inspections if it agrees to allow IAEA inspectors into Israeli nuclear facilities using protocols identical to those being used in the Iranian facilities. This is part of a grand bargain that I propose that would require Israel to give up building new settlements and Iran to declare that it will recognize Israel's right to exist as soon as the Palestinians do.
- The outcome of an Israeli attack is far from certain. Israel's Civil Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, predicts Israel would only have about 500 deaths.
Anyone who claims they can predict the outcome of such a war with any degree of certainty is a fool. Even if we could predict the immediate deaths caused by the war, the geopolitical consequences would be incalculable. Would an Israeli attack cause Egypt's government to abandon its treaty with Israel? What will be the reaction on the Arab street? Though the Saudi government would be happy to see an attack against Iran, could this be the spark that causes its citizens to overthrow their government?
- Whether you think the way Israel has dealt with the Palestinians is justified or not... whether you think Israel has a legal justification for building more settlements in the West bank or not... the Palestinians on the West Bank are fed up with Israel's behavior. You can call it an occupation, or you can call it policing Israeli territory, or you can call it a banana. It doesn't matter how you characterize it. Palestinians are fed up with being pushed around. They are fed up with having their houses demolished. They are fed up with settler terrorism and price tag attacks against them. They are fed up with the never ending growth of Israeli settlements. They are fed up with the authors of the Levy Report who deny that the West Bank is under occupation and with Dani Dayan who advocates Israeli annexation of the West Bank. They are fed up with their crushing poverty and with their water deprivation. Whether you believe the blame for Palestinian suffering lies with Israel or is a self-inflicted Palestinian wound resulting from their refusal to live in peace with Israel is immaterial for this analysis. Only one thing is relevant here: Palestinians are angry and conditions are ripe for a Third Intifada. What better time to stage an uprising than when the Israeli military has their hands full fighting with Iran?
All it will take is for one hot head to attack a settler or soldier in the West Bank. The Israeli military, being stretched too thin, is likely to fear the situation will spin out of control if they don't set a tough and ruthless example to deter other Palestinians who are thinking about taking advantage of the situation to rebel against Israel. The Israelis are likely to strike back disproportionately, and this is likely to set off a full scale rebellion. If an Israeli attack against the Palestinians on the West Bank doesn't cause the Egyptians to break their treaty and attack Israel, I don't know what will. Now, suppose Israeli soldiers are stretched to the breaking point in Israel, the West Bank, and the Sinai. How loyal will Israel's Arab citizens be? Will they fight for Israel's survival, or at least stay neutral? Or will they join in an uprising in sympathy with their brethren on the West Bank? Of course, this is a worst case scenario, and it is not guaranteed to occur. But it is certainly possible and is one that Israel should take into its consideration in its calculus on whether to attack Iran. Israel's agreeing to allow IAEA inspectors into their facilities to prevent Iran's obtaining nuclear weapons is less risky to its security than launching an attack against Iran that is only likely to set back its program by a few years.