Yes: Israel must be able to defend itself
The ballistic missile test Iran conducted in late January was the first to occur during the presidency of Donald Trump but it certainly wasn’t the first to take place since the landmark nuclear deal of 2015.
And although Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif rebuffed accusations that the launch was a violation of the deal, Israeli leaders have good reason to not take Zarif at his word.
All they have to do is consider the words of other Iranian national figures, such as former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died earlier this year.
While Western officials eulogized him as a force for moderation, Israeli leaders remember him for his December 2001 boast that Iran could annihilate Israel with a single nuclear bomb.
What he did not say then, but the International Atomic Energy Agency subsequently determined, was that Iran was at the time covertly experimenting with nuclear triggers and warhead design.
And Rafsanjani is far from being the only leader to have acknowledged Iran’s aim of producing nuclear weapons.
Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Kharrazi, secretary general of the Iranian Hezbollah, said in April 2005, “We are able to produce atomic bombs and we will do that. … The United States is not more than a barking dog.”
A month later, Gholamreza Hassani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative to the West Azerbaijan province, said nuclear weapons were among Iran’s top goals. “An atom bomb … must be produced,” he said. “That is because the Quran has told Muslims to ‘get strong and amass all the forces at your disposal.’”
And while current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is generally characterized by the press and Western diplomats as a moderate, it should be noted that in a 2005 university speech he outlined a strategy for lulling Americans into complacency with dialogue and then delivering a knockout blow.
Even if Rouhani and other Iranian leaders are today sincere in wanting to abide by the nuclear deal, it’s worth remembering that diplomats don’t control the country’s nuclear program; Iran’s Revolutionary Guard does, and neither the United States nor Israel has good insight into factional divisions among the Guard’s ranks. Consequently, neither the Pentagon nor the Israeli defense ministry knows whether the men controlling Iranian missiles wish death to America and Israel or not.
This brings us to Israel: Israelis do not want war. They know any pre-emptive strike on Iran would result in a severe retaliation. Even if Iran didn’t strike back directly, the Lebanese Hezbollah group could make use of the more than 100,000 missiles it has poised to rain down on Israeli towns and villages.
The nature of existential threats, however, is that they leave no choice. The clock is already counting down on the expiration of the nuclear deal.
The best option is constraining Iran’s programs rather than accepting the fiction that Iran spins its centrifuges and test-fires missiles merely because of pride or fear.
No: Pre-emptive strike would trigger global disaster
By John B. Quigley
Tribune News Service
Following January’s widely condemned ballistic missile test by Iran, rumors are rife that Israel is planning a military strike against Iranian missile sites. But the last thing President Donald Trump should do is give such an attack his blessing.
As anyone who watched the recent joint press conference with Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu knows, the Israeli prime minster is obsessed with highlighting the supposed Iranian threat. It’s all he wanted to talk about.
But Iran, regardless of what its leaders might boast from time to time, is not on a course to attack Israel. Even if they wanted to, Iranian leaders know such an attack would bring counter-action Iran could not sustain.
Hopefully, Trump is savvy enough to see through Netanyahu’s long-standing effort to depict an existential threat that doesn’t truly exist.
Among prompting other outcomes, Netanyahu’s efforts have routinely convinced Congress to continue bankrolling Israel. His pleading has also deflected some of the international conversation away from Israel’s settlement-building on Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu has a history of false predictions regarding Iran. In 1992, Netanyahu said that Iran would produce a nuclear weapon within five years and that the United States had to take the lead to stop Iran.
In a book he wrote in 1995, Netanyahu again gave five years as the outside time for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. He did not remind his readers of his earlier prediction. In 2012, Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly that Iran could have a bomb by the end of 2013.
It should also be noted that Israel has gone beyond rhetoric in dealing with supposed threats from countries in the region. On two occasions, it has bombed suspected nuclear facilities.
In 1981, Israel bombed a facility in Iraq, drawing a torrent of international criticism. In 2007, it bombed a facility in Syria, eliciting condemnation from the International Atomic Energy Agency. In fact, it asked the United States to do the job, but the Bush administration wisely refused.
Now as then, Israel wants U.S. backing. But the international community has never accepted intuition-based pre-emptive strikes as legitimate.
Pakistan and India, between whom no love is lost, both have nuclear weaponry the other could claim is about to be launched, yet neither would garner much support in conducting a pre-emptive strike.
The canard that Iran’s aim is to drive Israel’s Jewish population into the Mediterranean Sea should not be taken as good reason to back Israel in attacking Iran.
Iran’s government, despite its denunciations of Israel, has reiterated over and over that if Palestine and Israel come to an agreement, Iran will respect it.
During the election campaign, Trump conveyed a reluctance to get into new military conflicts, and hopefully the Trump administration is already chastened on military adventures. It OK’d a raid in Yemen that went so sour the Yemeni government wants us to stop going after al-Qaida in that country. Air strikes even more recently in Afghanistan’s Helmand province killed large numbers of civilians.
Missiles are easy to launch. What happens when they come down is hard to predict.
Letting Israel go after Iran would be a mistake. The Trump administration would do well to steer clear.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official who specializes in the Middle East. Readers may write him at AEI, 1150 17th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036. John B. Quigley is a distinguished professor of law at Ohio State University and is the author of 11 books on various aspects of international law. Readers may write to him at Moritz College of Law, 55 West 12th St., Columbus, Ohio 43210.