Waiting impatiently


The Iran issue is omnipresent both in the Jewish State and the American Jewish community.

The debate rages on in the news, in communities, in homes. If there’s no more diplomatic progress, should Israel attack Iran unilaterally, and when? Should the United States take the lead, sit on the sidelines, or do something in between? How will such an attack affect Israel’s safety and security in the short run and long?

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

There are no perfect answers to these questions. Those who want to come down hard on Israel for even considering an attack, however, should keep one thing in mind: It’s Iran that is 100 percent responsible for causing the issue to be front and center. With its anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying rhetoric, Iran presents itself as everything a member of the community of nations ought not be.

Nevertheless, we believe that an attack by Israel alone – which almost certainly would be the paradigm if action is taken anytime in the next several months – would result in costs that significantly outweigh the potential benefits.

Here’s the ledger, just for those who are keeping score.

Potential benefits: Slow down Iran’s nuclear program; send the right message; instill national pride in Israel for a job well done.

Potential costs: Failed attack; successful attack does not slow down the nuclear program sufficiently; cost of numerous Israeli lives, not to mention Iranian ones; potential counterattack; potential step-up of terrorist attacks in and against Israel and the world; mobilization of Israel’s enemies; international condemnation; degradation of support for a peaceful Israel-Palestinian solution; massive costs to the Israeli economy; disruption of social services and “normal” Israeli life.

Many, particularly the hardcore hawks, would say none of the costs matter, since the only thing that really does matter is avoidance of Iran’s nuclear capability. That’s a fine sentiment but given that success is hardly assured, we can’t agree. There are a number of steps that can be taken, and are in fact being taken, in front of war that could maximize the chances of both success and avoidance of serious repercussions.

The U.S. is involved with several of these. America is rapidly expanding its radar detection in the Middle East, based in Qatar, that will provide far stronger antimissile capabilities in conjunction with those already existing in Israel and Turkey. It is engaging in major minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf in collaboration with 25 other nations. And the stranglehold on Iran’s oil revenue, due to multinational economic sanctions, increases with each passing day.

Yet, critics argue, what if none of these steps prevent the enrichment of Iranian uranium to levels capable of weapon construction? If Iran is not only a threat to Israel but to the greater Middle East and the world (which it is), isn’t action that includes both Israel and its allies (read: America) sooner than later the right move?

Wholly reasonable questions, but not dispositive of the ultimate issue. The U.S., via President Barack Obama and others, has been unequivocal in stating that Iran cannot be allowed to have any nuclear weaponry, for the good of both Israel and the world. If this statement, oft repeated, is to be taken at face value, then questions about when and how the U.S. flexes its military muscle are more tactical than strategic.

The U.S. has vastly more firepower than Israel can deploy (assuming the latter would not resort to the use of any nuclear stockpile it possesses) and can probably decide to wait a bit longer to exercise brutal assault power. So if you take the U.S. at its word that it will intervene before it’s too late, then Israel should follow the American lead. The confluence of Israeli and American forces delivered only when it’s absolutely necessary will maximize the likelihood of a knockout strike, or at least one that will deliver a substantially lengthy setback in Iranian nuclear weapon creation.

If you accept the foregoing analysis, then the only scenario in which Israel should attack unilaterally would therefore be if it believes (1) the U.S. doesn’t mean what it says about not allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, or (2) it means what it says but won’t take action in a timely manner or (3) it will take action in a timely manner but Israel has some realistic basis for believing its own action will have superior consequences.

We don’t accept any of those three suppositions. With defense cooperation and funding by the U.S. at historic highs, we think the U.S. will step up if and as necessary to disenable the Iranian nuclear threat. And as noted, we view a U.S. partnered effort as holding vastly more potential than an Israeli strike on its own.

It is not necessarily fair to ask Israel to be patient when the existential threat at hand poses a greater threat to itself than to any other nations. But it is fair to critically analyze the pros and cons of patience in terms of the ultimate outcome. And right now, if only for just the next little while, keeping the gun holstered is still more likely to produce a constructive result than the alternative.