Israel vs. Iran: Staying On the Sidelines?
Over at The New Atlanticist Donald Snow has a post in which he reflects on prospective reactions of the Israelis to the threat posed to them by Iran’s nuclear development program. The article begins with a discussion of the comments of two participants in a symposium, dean emeritus of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (Dr. Robert S. Wood) and a retired U.S. Navy admiral, William Pendley:
First, they agreed that Iran was likely to acquire nuclear weapons, and that there was very little the United States could do about it if the Iranians are resolute enough in their intentions. Second, they agreed that the major reason the Iranians want nukes is as a deterrent—mostly against the United States—and a matter of prestige (Bob Wood drew the analogy between Iranian weapons and the French nuclear force de frappe). Third, both asserted that Iran’s possession of a few weapons in and of itself did not matter much in the world; if there is a problem, it will be if Iran gains the capability to produce weapons grade materials—avoiding that has been a major part of North Korean negotiations. Fourth, the “major” concern that Iranian possession could produce is the possibility that Iran might share nuclear weapons/materials/technology with terrorists, who might use those weapons.
I think that’s a succinct outline of the concerns. He continues by considering Israel’s position:
What happens if Israel decides that the Iranian possession of nuclear weapons is intolerable, that such weapons represent a deadly threat to Israeli existence, and thus that it has no choice but to take out that threat? All three conclusions by the Israelis are certainly not impossible; whether they are even likely given the nature of the current Israeli ruling coalition is arguable.
The short answer to the question is that we don’t know.
I’ve held for some time that regardless of the saber-rattling Israel was unlikely to follow through with threats against Iran for the simple reason that Iran is neither Iraq nor Syria. However, with the current government in Israel I’m not as confident of that as I was during the previous one.
What concerns me about all of the brinksmanship from both sides on this subject is that I don’t believe it would be politically and possibly not strategically possible for the United States to stay on the sidelines in the event of war between Israel and Iran.