January 13, 2011
Rattling the cage
Still want to bomb Iran?
If ever the term “game-changer” could be applied without fear of exaggeration, it could be applied to Meir Dagan’s statement a week ago, on his last day as Mossad chief, that Iran will not have nuclear weapons before 2015.
And that’s the worst-case scenario, he told reporters and Knesset members – that’s if Israel, the US and the rest of the world suddenly take the pressure off and let Iran go on its merry way to the bomb. If, on the other hand, the campaign of covert operations – i.e. sabotage and assassination – and sanctions continue, then, Dagan said, Iran will be unable to go nuclear for many years beyond 2015.
This is extraordinary news in and of itself, but also because it means that starting a war against Iran has just become almost impossible for Israel to justify. It means that Binyamin Netanyahu and other Iran hawks will have to think twice before rolling out the Holocaust imagery to make their case.
Pathetic. Imagine if Dagan had predicted that Iran would have the bomb in another six months; would Netanyahu have called that just one more assessment, nothing to get excited about? No, he would have ordered urgent preparations for “Operation Meir” and we’d all be lining up for gas masks again.
Still, there is one legitimate concern over Dagan’s forecast, one that was expressed by Hillary Clinton – the concern that the world will now become complacent about the Iranian nuclear threat, specifically by easing off sanctions.
Yet Dagan is making just the opposite recommendation – he’s saying that since sanctions and covert operations have distanced Iran from the bomb and proved a much safer, saner option than war, the thing for Israel, the US and the rest of the world to do is stay the course.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
I have to say that Dagan’s approach carries a lesson not only for hawks but for doves like me. We of the “containment” camp have argued that Iran is almost certain to get nuclear weapons, and while that’s not good at all, neither is it the catastrophe that the hawks foresee, because Iran will be deterred from using those nukes by the vastly superior ones held by Israel, the US and the other nuclear powers. And since a nuclear Iran would not be a catastrophe, it would be preferable to our starting a war, which would be a catastrophe, and would just delay Iran’s nuclear project anyway, not end it.
But Meir Dagan, the Answer Man himself, says we doves were wrong, too. Sanctions work, sabotage and assassination work; the proof is that Iran’s nuclear project has been going backward.
Myself, I don’t like starting fights, I don’t like having scientists killed, even Iranian nuclear scientists. I don’t like giving anybody a score tosettle against my side. But coming back to the idea that a nuclear Iran, while not a catastrophe, would not be a good thing, would instead be a really bad, dangerous thing, then I have to say that although blowing up some Iranian facilities and killing a few Iranian scientists were risky acts of aggression, they were worth it. They contributed to the hobbling of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, pushed its goal off by at least several years, so these acts of sabotage and assassination were justified.
And they still are.
There’s no way to overestimate the importance of Dagan’s words (not to mention his actions). Hopefully, they will begin to ease the fear and aggression that grips this society. It’s a new ball game now, and guess what? Iran is losing.