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January 18, 2012

Opinion: Why we should not bomb Iran

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/why_we_should_not_bomb_iran_20120118

The Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr, seen here in 2010, has been part of the debate as to whether it is intended to produce electricity only, as Iran claims, or if it is part of a nuclear weaponry program, as well. Photo by Ahmad Halabisaz/Zuma Press

The Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr, seen here in 2010, has been part of the debate as to whether it is intended to produce electricity only, as Iran claims, or if it is part of a nuclear weaponry program, as well. Photo by Ahmad Halabisaz/Zuma Press

[Counter-point: Why we should attack Iran]

In endorsing bombing Iran as a neat way to address Iran’s nuclear program, Matthew Kroenig makes the case that the theoretical nightmare of a nuclear Iran could be more or less eliminated, and that even if that can’t be fully accomplished, the bombing could buy time. But the logic of his argument does not acknowledge that the facts on the ground are not so clear.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran’s intentions with nuclear technology are not definitively known. Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Jan. 8, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made clear that he does not believe Iran is working on the bomb.

However, we do know, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in a recent column in The Atlantic, that a “potentially out-of-control conventional war raging across the Middle East” could “cost the lives of thousands of Iranians, Israelis, Gulf Arabs and even American servicemen.”

And that makes the decision against war a no-brainer. As Goldberg put it:

“Now that sanctions seem to be biting — in other words, now that Iran’s leaders understand the President’s seriousness on the issue — the Iranians just might be willing to pay more attention to proposals about an alternative course.”

That alternative course would be an attempt “to try one more time to reach out to the Iranian leadership in order to avoid a military confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear program.”

In short, dialogue.

The United States, to this day, has never attempted a true dialogue with Tehran. Even under President Barack Obama, all we have done is issue demands about its nuclear program and offer to meet to discuss precisely how the Iranians should comply with those demands.

That is not dialogue, and it’s not negotiation; it’s an ultimatum.

The one attempt at dialogue (i.e., a discussion that involves give and take by both sides) was initiated by the Iranian government in 2003. That was when it proposed, according to the Washington Post, “a broad dialogue with the United States ... everything was on the table — including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.” In exchange, Iran wanted normalization of relations with the United States.

As is well known, the United States did not respond. Not a word. In fact, we chastised the Swiss intermediary who delivered the offer for having the temerity to do so.

It was the Unted States, not Iran, that spurned a process that could have led to improved relations.

Rather than diplomacy, we’ve pursued a policy of sanctions, which we escalate every time the war lobby demands them.

But sanctions will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability, nor will “regime change,” considering that Iranians across the political spectrum support the Iranian nuclear program. Sanctions’ only effect is to please AIPAC, which has made confronting Iran central to its mission. AIPAC writes the sanctions bills, Congress passes them, the president signs them, and the Iranian people (not the regime) bear the brunt of the effects. (The politicians who endorse such measures, however, quite often are well rewarded.)

Yet the United States, at the urging of AIPAC and the Israeli government, has rejected any dialogue at all.

Any doubt on that score came Jan. 11, when an Iranian civilian nuclear scientist was assassinated in his car on a Tehran street. This was the fifth Iranian scientist killed in such an attack in the last two years.

The assassination attack by a motorcyclist certainly looks like an Israeli hit, especially when top Israelis themselves have warned that “unnatural” events were about to befall Iran. At this point, circumstantial evidence is all we can go on. That, and the answer to the ancient Latin question: cui bono? Who benefits?

In theory, at least, the Netanyahu government benefits. An Iranian nuclear scientist is dead (32 years old, presumably with a wife and kids). Any chance for dialogue or successful multilateral negotiations diminishes. And if Iran responds in any way, U.S. neocons (including Congress, which will recite its AIPAC talking points) will intensify calls for war.

On the other hand, actions like these against civilians in one country endanger civilians in others. Imagine how the United States or Israel would react if Iran or even Canada started bumping off nuclear scientists (or anyone else) in Washington.

Innocents in Israel, the United States, Europe or elsewhere will pay a price for this criminal act of colossal stupidity. And from a security standpoint, such clear acts of aggression can only convince the mullahs that they need to develop a nuclear deterrent.

As Goldberg also wrote, in a column subsequent to the one I cited above:

“If I were a member of the Iranian regime ... I would take this assassination program to mean that the West is entirely uninterested in any form of negotiation (not that I, the regime official, [have] ever been much interested in dialogue with the West) and that I should double-down and cross the nuclear threshold as fast as humanly possible. Once I do that, I’m North Korea, or Pakistan: An untouchable country.”

The closest we’ve come to dialogue right now is a war of words over threats from Iran to close the crucial Strait of Hormuz and reports of threats in response by President Obama that Hormuz is a “red line.”

The last thing the United States (or Israel) needs right now is another Middle East war. Nor does the world need another nuclear power. Direct and comprehensive negotiations with the Iranian regime can prevent both. As for the politics of engaging with Iran in an election year, they are or should be irrelevant. The first job of a president is to secure our national security. Besides, successful negotiations with Iran would almost surely lead to Obama’s re-election, something that certainly cannot be said about a war with Iran just as we are finally ending our horrible misadventure in Iraq.

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