Zakaria Tackles the Taboo Subject: Iran Deterrence
10/05/2009 - 14:04
James Besser

The subject is strictly taboo in pro-Israel circles, but many Iran experts believe now is the time to at least start talking about containment and deterrence as a strategy

if

Iran continues defying the international community and gets its own nukes.

Israel, Jewish leaders say, is simply too vulnerable, and the possibility Iran could give nuclear materials to terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction is to great, to wave the white flag in the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

But Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria makes a good case that it’s something we should talking about.  There are only three options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, he argues: bombing, diplomatic action and deterrence.  (Read his article here)

Washington’s current strategy, he argues, “is to muster international support to impose greater costs, while at the same time negotiating with Iran to find a solution that gives the world greater assurance that the Iranian program is purely civilian in nature.”

But that’s unlikely to work, he said, because Russia and China and most developing nations won’t go along with crippling sanctions, and because Iran is adept at the diplomatic “cat-and-mouse game.”

Any military attack – by this country or Israel – will entail huge costs and a slim likelihood of complete success, and result in a “massive outpouring of support for the Iranian regime. This happens routinely when a country is attacked by foreign forces, no matter how unpopular the government,” he writes.

Engagement is nice, Zakaria says,  but “the fundamental analysis is flawed. I do not believe the Iranian regime, at its core, wants normalized relations with America. Isolation from the West and hostility toward the United States are fundamental pillars that prop up the current regime—the reason that this system of government came into being and what sustains it every day.”

That leaves containment and deterrence – not an attractive option, but one that the world may soon face.

He also warns that the West must stop  “exaggerating the Iranian threat….This is an insecure Third World country with a GDP that is one 40th the size of America’s, a dysfunctional economy, a divided political class, and a government facing mass unrest at home. It has alienated most of its neighboring states and cuts a sorry figure on the world stage, with an international embarrassment for a president. Its forays in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Gaza have had mixed results, with the locals often growing weary of the Iranian thugs who try to control them.”

Not exactly reassuring to a tiny, close-by Jewish state President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants wiped off the map – but Israel is hardly helpless if the game does become one of deterrence.

I understand why Jewish leaders don’t want the Iran debate to veer off to the question of deterrence; once it does, it will be too easy for policymakers who are uneasy with the grim choices they now face to throw up their hands and say there’s no point in even trying to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

But it also seems shortsighted not to start planning for a strategy that could be forced upon the world, since the options for stopping Iran’s nuclear program are so limited.

In any case, Zakaria’s column is definitely worth a read.

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