Former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, widely rumored to be weighing a run for Knesset on Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud list, said Monday that the military option for an attack on Iran still exists.
While Western forces are capable of effectively attacking Iran, Israel should be prepared to go it alone if necessary, Ya'alon said. He stressed that keeping the military option on the table was a vital element of a wider strategy encompassing political isolation of the Tehran regime, and international economic "smart sanctions."
Asked if, as a last resort following talks and sanctions, Iraq's nuclear program could still be stopped through military means, Ya'alon told a panel discussion of the United Jewish Communities General Assembly:
"I believe that most of the Western armed forces, especially air forces, have the right capabilities to deal with the Iranian regime, where it comes to intelligence, precise munitions, the ability to launch air strikes, penetrating defense systems, targeting the right facilities."
"Technically speaking, there is a military option," Ya'alon told the gathering of North American Jewish community leaders and philanthropists, adding that he believed the option should be kept ready as a part of the three-pronged approach including sanctions and political isolation.
According to Ya'alon, who served as head of IDF military intelligence before becoming chief of the general staff during the Palestinian uprising in 2002, "Israel should aspire to international determination to deal with it, but Israel should be ready [as though it were] the only one to deal with it."
Military action should concentrate on targets tied to the regime, with an eye to regime change, and avoid civilian casualties if at all possible, he said.
Ya'alon cited the November, 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which said that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003, as evidence that the Tehran regime was amenable to pressure from a credible military threat ? in the 2003 case, the possibility of Western attack following the opening of U.S.-led offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While military action should be seen as a last resort following talks and sanctions, Ya'alon said "it is not the end of the game. Then, we should follow it up with a viable, sustainable Military operation to target the facilities [serving] the regime's interests, and not allow the regime to rehabilitate itself. And, of course, a follow-up of political and diplomatic elements, to convince, first of all, the Iranian people, to go a different way."
Arms control analyst Emily B. Landau of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, another member of the panel, departed somewhat from Ya'alon's view. "With regard to military force, there are serious problems in terms of relying on this to stop Iran. There was some thinking that has accompanied this process, that 'First we negotiate, then, if that doesn't work, we do sanctions, and if that doesn't work, we take military action.
"I don't think that military action, even if it is taken, will stop the problem. In any case, the only way to be completely sure about where Iran stands vis a vis the nuclear program, is to have a deal with Iran, that Iran has an interest in upholding. That's the trick. From my point of view, sanctions are very important."
In addition, she said, "a credible threat of military force is important because these elements of pressure are needed in order to convince Iran, hopefully, to finally negotiate seriously. In my view, that's the role of a credible military threat.
She and Ya'alon agreed that it was that type of credible military threat that had spurred Tehran to halt its nuclear arms program in 2003.
At present, Landau said, the international community is deadlocked over Iran, with all agreed that Iran should not be allowed to go nuclear, but without consensus over how the prevention effort should proceed.
Landau said that if world powers work together to apply effective pressure, the probable end result would be Iranian-U.S negotiations, "in an attempt to finally cut some kind of deal with Iran."
For the present, however, "Nothing is happening. Ironically, as evidence mounts that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons, the international community seems and more paralyzed."
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