Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration, widespread acts of terrorism and sky-high oil prices.
The estimates, which have been largely adopted by the country’s most senior officials, conclude that the threat of Iranian retaliation is partly bluff. They are playing an important role in Israel’s calculation of whether ultimately to strike Iran, or to try to persuade the United States to do so, even as Tehran faces tough new economic sanctions from the West.
As the report details, there will be a scholarly paper released soon that “argues that the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz is largely a bluff.”
Well, there is no mystery why Israel’s views on this issue and new academic works are appearing: Israel is making a concerted effort to make its own threat of military action credible. Unlike the U.S. administration that currently bemoans how disruptive military action would be, Israelis are saying the opposite: We don’t want to strike, but we could handle the fallout.
This further emphasizes that the United States really has a rudderless Iran policy, which, far from ensuring we won’t have to use military force, seems likely to convince the mullahs that we are not serious about stopping the country’s nuclear weapons program.
What would a credible U.S. policy look like? Five elements, I would suggest, would be needed:
First, like the Israelis, we need to enhance the credibility of our military threat. This might include background briefings for media stressing our military review and preparation, joint exercises in the region and planning for regional cooperation in the event of a military action. The idea is to disabuse the Iranians of the idea that President Obama is simply mouthing platitudes when he says “all options are on the table.” Unfortunately, this administration fails to understand that everything we do (e.g., bugging out of Iraq, scheduling troop withdrawals in Afghanistan according to our election calendar, massive defense cuts) sends a message — in this case, precisely the wrong signal, namely that we aren’t willing to sacrifice for the security of the West. In other words, Obama has made it very difficult to impress the Iranians. (If there is a robust debate in this country about whether he’ll use force, image how the mullahs have convinced themselves that he is feckless.)
Second, the sooner Syrian President Bashar al-Assad goes, the better. We should stop telling opposition forces we don’t want a “civil war in Syria; there already is one, and we want to depose Assad as soon as possible. We need to consider all options to accelerate his exit. This would not only spare the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, more Syrians, but it would be a psychological strategic and economic blow to Iran to lose its closest ally.
Third, the administration needs to stop dragging its feet on sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and oil exports. Yesterday, nearly 90 lawmakers felt compelled to write to the president, urging him to implement fully existing sanctions. The Weekly Standard’s Adam Kredo reports: “The letter signals a sense of urgency from members of both sides of the aisle, as well as frustration that the Obama Administration is not doing everything it can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability.” Frankly, the administration and every “peace” group out there should be pleading for the most stringent sanctions possible to obviate the need for military action.
Fourth, we should be treating Iran like the pariah state that it is, a violator of international law, an abuser of human rights and a sponsor of terror. We and our Western allies (Russia and China are nearly hopeless, I understand, but we need to try) should be pressing to exclude Iran from every international forum (from the United Nations to the Olympics), enacting a travel ban, freezing assets and the like. Iran is already at war with us (having helped kill our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and plotted to kill a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil), yet we continue to treat the regime as a respectable member of the international “community,” as the administration likes to call it.
Fifth, regime change in Iran must be the official policy of the United States. We need to provide ample rhetorical and logistical support to the opposition. The notion that this will “discredit” these groups seems increasingly untenable given the regime’s brutal crackdown on its people.
In sum, the things we could be doing to improve our chances of stopping the Iranian nuclear program are so plentiful and relatively obvious that one has to ask why we’re not doing more.
One answer may be that the administration is entirely adrift and obsessed with reelection. Do we even know who is running Iran policy these days?
Another possibility is one that former U.N. ambassador John Bolton has suggested: After all this time, the administration is still hoping to sit down with the Iranians and strike a paper agreement. If that’s its thinking then, of course, all these tough measures would be too “risky” and diminish its chances of getting to the table. It seems ludicrous that the administration would have learned nothing after three years, but given its behavior, this is the most logical explanation for its hapless efforts. Let’s just hope that traffic accidents involving those directing Iran’s nuclear weapons program and sanctions slow down the program sufficiently until a new U.S. administration — one that might have some credibility and enact the items described above — can take office.