Iranian woman protests in the streets of Tehran. (Photo: .faramarz / flickr)
The military option for dealing with Iran remains on the table, President Obama repeatedly reminds us. The Pentagon hustles to modify our B-2 stealth bombers to carry a newly developed bunker-busting bomb that can destroy hardened underground targets, such as Iran's newly acknowledged enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. Israeli President Netanyahu promises that "Iran will not acquire nuclear arms, and this implies everything necessary to carry this out." And pundits from the neoconservative editorial writers at The Washington Post to the neoprogressive Arianna Huffington continue to proclaim that a nuclear Iran would pose "an existential threat" to the Jewish state, a claim that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refuses to buy.
Why think of war? The world has heard no evidence that Iran has nuclear weapons, and only an unproved case that it is pursuing them. Yet, we are already getting set for the airstrikes that former Vice President Dick Cheney never got the chance to unleash. It's absurd and far more dangerous than our political leaders have bothered to explain.
"After you've dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next?" asks retired four-star Gen. Anthony Zinni. "What happens if they decide, in their hardened shelters with their mobile missiles, to start launching those? What happens if they launch them into US bases on the other side of the gulf? What happens if they launch into Israel, or somewhere else? Into a Saudi oil field? Into Ras Laffan, with all the natural gas? What happens if they now flush their fast patrol boats, their cruise missiles, the [unclear] full of mines, and they sink a tanker, an oil tanker? And of course the economy of the world goes absolutely nuts. What happens if they activate sleeper cells? The MOIS, the intelligence service - what happens if another preemptive attack by the West, the US and Israel, they fire up the streets and now we got problems. Just tell me how to deal with all that, okay?"
In this excerpt from his remarks to the New America Foundation in September, General Zinni shows how military planners think ahead. "Because," he says, "eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I'm putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran."
As Zinni makes clear, pre-emptive airstrikes on Iran would be nothing like Israel's hit-and-run attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor in September 1980. Iran will respond, wreaking havoc on American lives and interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Short of a direct threat to the United States, why even consider such an option? And why stand back and let the Israelis pursue a military option of their own?
Yes, the Israelis have every right to ensure their own survival, but not with weapons we have provided and not when its actions would draw us into war, which attacking Iran would do. Eisenhower blocked the Israelis at Suez in 1956; Obama should do no less on Iran.
He should let the Israelis know now that American forces will deny Iraqi airspace to Israeli planes. He should persuade the Saudis and Turks to do the same. He should stop Georgia from hosting Israeli aircraft for any attack on Iran. And he should take steps to prevent Israeli submarines from firing missiles into Iran.
Obama should do all this quietly if he can, publicly if he must. Netanyahu must be under no illusions, and the American people should be led to understand where our interests lie. As US Defense Secretary Robert Gates keeps saying, an attack would at best delay Iran's nuclear program from one to three years. But the threat to American - and Israeli - interests would go on and on.