Iran nuclear Bushehr
A worker in the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran. Photo by AP
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Fear of Iran’s nuclear program is pushing Israel into a dangerous corner. The state could find itself in a conflict of interest, or even on a collision course with the American administration just when it needs U.S. support more than ever before.

It’s enough to hear the warning of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, that a strike on Iran could be harmful to Israel, and to see the stepped-up pace of visits here by senior U.S. officials to realize just how anxious Washington is about the prospect of Jerusalem deciding to bomb Iran.

The United States in particular, or the West in general, cannot be accused of ignoring the Iranian threat. The burden of sanctions imposed on Iran, together with Washington’s frequent declarations that the military option is still on the table, demonstrate the administration’s concern over Tehran’s nuclear program. The big question for the United States is not only about the effect of an Israeli attack against Iran on American interests in the region, but also about the efficacy of such a strike and concern about its potentially disastrous implications for Israel.

Israel and the United States are in agreement on both the dimension of the threat and the understanding that Iran has not yet decided to obtain nuclear weapons. Not enough attention has been paid to the big question − why that decision has not been made − and there is no consensus on the answer.

Does Iran truly intend to use nuclear technology for military purposes, or do its leaders recognize that the international response to such a development could jeopardize its very survival?

Dempsey believes, correctly, that Iran is a “rational actor” that considers the political implications of its actions. He concludes from this that the sanctions must be given a chance before trapping the region and the world in a war the final outcome of which is unknowable.

One can disagree with the American assessment that the sanctions are already having an effect, and one can find data that prove the opposite. But the fact that even in Israel there is disagreement on the issue indicates that there’s a chance the sanctions could prove effective. Israel, which succeeded in enlisting the Western countries to take action against Iran, must listen to the warnings coming out of Washington and refrain, for now, from unilateral measures.