Politicians, military officials and pundits has been increasingly pondering in recent weeks whether the ramifications of a military operation in Iran outweigh the risks posed by a nuclear Islamic Republic, but a top security expert says that issue is far more complex than deciding whether to strike or not to strike.
Former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin says that before Israel can consider striking Iran's nuclear facilities, it must exhaust all other alternatives – namely, the diplomatic route to stop Tehran from developing an atom bomb.
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In an essay titled "A Conceptual Framework and Decision Making Model for Israel about Iran," Yadlin, who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies, notes that substantive sanctions must be employed in an effort to coerce Tehran into a "good agreement." Such a deal would force Iran to get rid of most of its enriched uranium, stop operations at the Fordo plant and allow for in-depth inspections of its facilities.
"A good agreement would be measured by its ability to stop the nuclear clock and even turn it back," Yadlin says. "A good agreement would keep Iran at least two years away from nuclear bombs."
'Israel can't do it alone'
But Yadlin also states that without a credible threat of military action, diplomacy and other strategies to block or delay Iranian nuclearization would be ineffective. In addition to sanctions, he lists negotiations, covert action and regime change as alternatives to a strike.
Meanwhile, the international community must ready for the possibility that no such agreement will be reached, Yadlin says: "It is also important to build up maximal legitimacy for a future strike should diplomacy fail."
Yadlin stresses that if the military option is chosen, it won't be an isolated incident, but would require a broader, long-term strategy that incorporates the entire international community.
"Theoretically, the best result of a military operation would be a five year delay. To turn those five years into ten – and then into many decades… – it is incumbent to ensure that the entire world is prepared to participate in the ongoing effort to stop Iran the day and the decade after the attack.
"Demonstrating the scope of losses to Iran from maintaining its military nuclear program, continuing the sanctions, blocking critical technologies and materials, threatening repeated attacks, and continuing diplomatic pressure are all part of a necessary next stage campaign in which Israel cannot succeed on its own.
"This manifests the importance of gaining legitimacy for an Israeli strike and international – or at least American – recognition that Israel acted only after all other attempts had failed."
And any effort to garner such legitimacy would have to begin with a transparent dialogue between Jerusalem and Washington.
"An open, in-depth dialogue between Israel and the United States may, to the extent there is trust between the two leaders, lead to the possibility of realizing the third option, i.e., neither 'the bomb' nor 'the bombing,'" Yadlin says.
"If the Iranian nuclear project is not blocked by agreement or covert activity and its nuclear clock does not stop ticking, military action against Iran would earn greater legitimacy, along with American support the day and the decade after. Without legitimacy allowing an international campaign over the subsequent decade, Israel faces the risk of finding itself opting for bombing and bearing its full cost, and still ending up with the Iranian bomb and its attendant dangers."
'Iran's retaliation would be tolerable'
Addressing the Iranian retaliation to an attack within its territory, Yadlin postulates that it won't be as perilous as suggested by some US officials.
"Iran’s threats prior to an attack are an effective means of deterrence, but the Iranians have neither the capability nor the interest in setting fire to the entire Middle East," he writes. "It is almost certain that there would be an Iranian response after an attack, but calculated Iranian interests suggest that it would be measured and tolerable, especially in light of the achievement of stopping Iran’s nuclear program."
Furthermore, Yadlin stresses that the discussion of the Iranian issue must veer away from the notion that Israel alone is concerned.
"The Iranian nuclear issue is a strategic, security, and political challenge to the entire international community, and Israel must avoid leading the global charge against Iran," he emphasizes. "It behooves Israel to take a back seat and not assume exclusive responsibility for preventing Iranian nuclearization."
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