A Needless War

Like the public in Israel or India, the Iranians want a "strong state" that can "confront all challenges."

"It is impossible to separate Iran's nuclear plans from the nature of its regime," President Shimon Peres tactfully explained to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano. Amano, who was received in Israel as a persona non grata because he came to consider ways to monitor nuclear matters here, did not need a lesson. His five years of work at the IAEA have taught him everything one needs to know about the Iranian regime.

As for the link between a regime and a threat, he knows what every Japanese citizen knows. Amano once declared that he opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons because he comes from a country that experienced Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In those days, it wasn't Iran, but rather the Japanese emperor against the U.S. government. Regimes mired in trouble, like those afflicted by hubris, pose threats. These facts apply today to the Iranian regime.

But the connection Peres made between a regime and nuclear activities should arouse interest. Let's say Iran had a different regime - that it chose as president Mohammad Khatami or Mir Hossein Mousavi, both "reformists" disposed toward dialogue with the West, and also supporters of their country's nuclear program. In such a scenario, would Iran's nuclear program become tolerable, just as India's or (according to foreign sources ) Israel's? If the answer to that question is yes, the most effective solution regarding Iran would be political and diplomatic, not military.

The carrot-and-stick steamroller that has hit Iran - the sanctions and incentives regarding oil and enriched uranium - reflects a perception that Iran remains susceptible to pressure. Unlike North Korea, and like Pakistan, Iran is not a lunatic state.

The frustration stemming from Iran's lack of compliancy is understandable, but this shouldn't automatically produce the conclusion that military action is the only solution, especially since limitations and implications render a military operation more of a threat than a solution. In fact, a key consideration should be the damage Tehran would cause to Israel and/or its pro-Western neighbors in retaliation for an attack. True, some people believe that the death of thousands of Israelis is an acceptable price for an attack, but that's a demagogic claim based on the fallacious assumption that Israel could sustain so many casualties.

The common denominator in American and Israeli military assumptions is that the attack under consideration is not akin to the Iraqi or Afghani model, nor is the occupation of Iran being considered. Experts are speaking in terms of "a strike" or "a series of precise strikes" on a scale comparable to the attack on Syria or the destruction of the Iraqi reactor in 1981. Nor is there an intention to destroy the entire Iranian nuclear infrastructure; the idea is that a slap in the face would make clear to the Iranian regime that the West is not afraid of taking military action.

This is where the military option's paradox is to be found: the planners might know where to strike, but they don't know what would really effect change in Iran. What percentage of Iran's nuclear industry needs to be wiped out so Tehran forgoes its dreams of nuclear weapons? Would pulverizing centrifuges suffice? Should the Russian reactor at Bushehr be attacked? Or perhaps university laboratories? Since a military strike creates opportunities, perhaps Iran's government should be wiped out to sever the connection between the regime and nuclear activities?

The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Israel's experience in the territories, suggest that not even direct occupation guarantees victory, or deterrence. Proponents of an attack on Iran, who have yet to put together a plausible "day after" scenario, should heed the lesson of these occupations. Their strategic horizon goes no farther than the journey by the planes that would drop the bombs, or the flight of sea-launched missiles that would hit a "target bank."

These observers have trouble understanding that there are a number of political currents in Iran and a lively public debate. Like the public in Israel or India, the Iranians want a "strong state" that can "confront all challenges." Regarding the nuclear program, there is no difference between the regime and Iran's citizens. Firing missiles at Iran is not the way to return that country to the family of nations.