All this business about a war…
Those who raise alarms about a possible US attack on Iran these days are usually told they’re just being paranoid. There’s no way Obama will bomb Iran, people say, given his commitment not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.
When George W. Bush was in office, the threat of a third war in the Middle East was ever-present. It seemed like every few months another prediction came out for when the bombs might start falling. Congress and the Administration ratcheted up the aggressive rhetoric, devising plans for naval blockades, support for terrorist proxies of our own, and covert regime change.
Not anymore, though. Right?
Sadly, although the likelihood of an American attack on Iran is slim, it is for that reason that we should worry about a looming Israeli strike reminiscent of the 1981 Osirak raid and the 2007 covert strike on Syria.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted at exactly that possibility during his recent trip to Washington, saying that the US and Israel differ about “the timeframe in which certain steps could be taken.”
“It’s still time for sanctions,” Barak said, but “probably, at a certain point, we should realize that sanctions cannot work.”
Members of the Republican Party are also sending signals to Israel that, should Israel decide to take matters into its own hands, the response from Washington will be muted at worst.
Nearly one third of the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives has introduced a resolution giving Israel a green light to attack Iran. H.Res.1553 declares unwavering support for Israel to “use all means necessary” to “eliminate nuclear threats” posed by Iran.
Just by being introduced, this resolution sends a clear message to Israel that both the President and the Congress will be conflicted about issuing any condemnation over an Israeli attack. In the run-up to the November elections in which Republicans are largely expected to pick up nearly enough seats to take back the majority in the House, H.Res. 1553 is less of a “green light” and more of an active encouragement from the opposition party.
The prospect of an Israeli strike actually being treated in Washington as a positive thing, I believe, is very real. Key conservative media outlets like the Weekly Standard have already begun selling the idea as not nearly as bad as the nightmare most people imagine. And a common refrain among members of Congress like John McCain and many others is: the only thing worse than attacking Iran is an Iran with nuclear weapons.
The problem with all of this is that there is no such thing as a surgical Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Given the vast quantities of radioactive material present in those buildings, an airstrike large enough to destroy the facility would essentially turn into a radiological attack on one of Iran’s major population centers. There is also no such thing as a limited engagement against Iran, whose retaliatory measures would most certainly involve activating terrorist proxies in Southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip against Israel, Shiite militias in Iraq, various insurgents in Afghanistan, or any number of activities in the vital Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s retaliation would compel American involvement, whether the US authorized the original strike or not.
Initially, Iran would likely limit its retaliation to less than 100% of its capabilities, preferring instead to draw sympathy from the rest of the world for the unprovoked attack. However, the heightened tension and already volatile atmosphere would combine to form a tinderbox in the region. Allegations of Iranian weapons being supplied to insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq are already widespread. In light of any Iranian retaliation, evidence of Iranian weapons killing American troops would surely be enough for a causus belli for anyone looking to find one.
Not since Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia has the US contemplated such a costly and dangerous move as supporting military action against Iran. President Bush recognized this fact in 2008 when he rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plea for a green light to attack Iran. Now, President Obama must make it clear to his own Democratic Party, his Republican colleagues, the American people, and most importantly his ally Israel that an unprovoked attack on Iran would be seen as a direct assault on US interests and security in the region, that it would be condemned as such, and that there would be significant consequences for the US-Israel relationship if his warnings are not heeded.