Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Bomb and the Bomber

This piece by Ari Shavit in the New York Times is perhaps the best concise explanation I've seen for why an Israeli attack on Iran would be perilous and why failure to attack would be calamitous.

Shavit starts out by stating that a nuclear Iran will change the world:
An Iranian atom bomb will force Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt to acquire their own atom bombs. Thus a multipolar nuclear arena will be established in the most volatile region on earth. Sooner or later, this unprecedented development will produce a nuclear event. The world we know will cease to be the world we know after Tehran, Riyadh, Cairo or Tel Aviv become the 21st century’s Hiroshima.

An Iranian bomb will bring about universal nuclear proliferation. Humanity’s greatest achievement since 1945 was controlling nuclear armament by limiting the number of members in the exclusive nuclear club. This unfair arrangement created a world order that guaranteed relative world peace.

But if Iran goes nuclear and the Middle East goes nuclear so will the Third World. If the ayatollahs are allowed to have Robert Oppenheimer’s deadly toy, every emerging power in Asia and Africa will be entitled to have it. The 60-year-old world order that guaranteed world peace will collapse.
Not only will every tyrant with enough cash on hand to buy a nuke on the black market obtain one, but in a world glutted with the things so will every Islamic terrorist organization. It will also give Iran hegemony over the entire Middle East, at least until other countries catch up.

Even so, an Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear weapons program will also change the world:
An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will create the most dramatic international crisis of the post-cold war era. As the Jewish state and the Shiite republic exchange blows, the Middle East will be rattled. Tensions will rise between pro-Iranian Russia, China and India and anti-Iranian United States, Britain, France and Germany. As oil prices soar higher (to $250-$300 a barrel), financial markets will panic and the world economy will experience a real setback.

An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will unleash a regional war whose consequences might be catastrophic. Iran will strike back with all it has: Hezbollah, Hamas, Shahab missiles, strategic surprises. Iran will block the Strait of Hormuz and call upon all Muslims to come to its rescue. Although most Arab regimes will be secretly supportive of the Israeli operation, the Arab masses might rise.

Throughout the world, millions of Muslims will see the attack on Iran as an attack on their own dignity and pride. The religious struggle provoked by the Israeli action might go on for decades.

An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities might drag the United States into war. Israel has limited air power. Israeli cities are threatened by 200,000 rockets. If an Iranian-led counteroffensive sets Tel Aviv ablaze and kills thousands of Israeli civilians, the U.S. will feel obliged to intervene. Rather than initiate a well-planned and internationally backed American surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear project, America will become captive of an Israeli-Iranian war spiraling out of control.
There's more to Shavit's analysis at the link.

United States' policy toward Iran has been until recently little more than a hope that the Iranians will come to their senses. It seems to have been predicated on the delusion that when the Iranians say they want to destroy Israel they don't really mean it. It turns out now that they apparently do mean it, and our response may well be too little too late to avert catastrophe.

At this point it seems that war is inevitable. The question is to what extent President Obama will involve us and whether Israel can by itself degrade Iran's nuclear program sufficiently to prevent them from obtaining the capacity to incinerate Tel Aviv.