Column: Iran’s Bomb vs. Conventional War: Can We Avoid Both?

It is alarming, if not surprising, that Israeli and American officials are clashing over whether to revive a nuclear-arms deal with Iran or initiate military action.

The New York Times reports in the opening paragraph of a Nov. 11 article that two Israeli officials left Washington last week “concerned that the Americans’ commitment to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal will lead to a flawed agreement allowing Tehran to speed ahead with its nuclear enrichment program.”

Citing mostly anonymous sources, the Times reports on a series of arguments for and against entering into a new agreement after then-President Trump pulled America out of the deal in 2018, and ever since Iran has made significant gains in its nuclear fuel production.

The original pact with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was enacted as a diplomatic measure to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear device that would obviously target Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was close to ordering a strike against Iran on several occasions during the Obama administration, Israeli officials including Netanyahu told the Times.

Until Trump reversed course, Iran shipped 97 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country.

Is it possible to avert building up Iran’s nuclear stockpile and engaging in a military confrontation at the same time? An Iranian nuclear bomb or a conventional war are both unthinkable, yet either alternative is very possible. The outcome of almost any war cannot be predicted. Who knows what can come of it? A war between the two powers could be catastrophic or a rout for Israel. I would bet on the former.

When the JCPOA was first proposed in the summer of 2015, I spent more than a month trying to figure out whether this should become reality. Many Jews rigidly opposed the plan and even maligned other Jews who favored it. I ultimately supported the agreement because I concluded that it would hold back a build-up for at least 10 years. I also recognized that it was a flawed plan as it failed to address Iran’s backing of proxies who attack Israel from Syria, Gaza and elsewhere..

Trump’s bailout made Act II of this perilous play harder. The Iranians recently elected a more hardline government, and even more reasonable Iranian leaders probably fear that a future Trump-like president will rip up JCPOA’s successor plan.

Last week, Iranian Defense Minister Benny Gantz and new Mossad chief David Barnea visited Washington armed with new intelligence about Iranians’ uranium enrichment and left worried that the diplomatic outreach to Iran would continue, according to the Times.

Behind the scenes, Israeli and American officials have been haggling over the choice between diplomacy and military force, or even a combination of both. Naftali Bennett, who replaced Netanyahu as prime minister earlier this year, believes that recent Israeli attacks slowed down the nuclear program. In turn, some American officials contend that sabotage encourages Iran to rebuild its nuclear enrichment facilities with more efficient, up-to-date equipment, according to the Times.

Both arguments are persuasive. Each country may be right. Iran is likely determined to follow through, but sabotage missions can set back the program.

However, the Times also reports, “Their sabotage campaign (as some Israeli officials believe) is having strategic effects and could be one of the reasons Iranians, however tentatively, have returned to Vienna.” Iran has been negotiating on a new pact with multiple nations in Vienna.

“A senior Israeli intelligence official said the sabotage operations had created crippling paranoia at the top of the Iranian government,” the article continues. “The operations, the official said, have caused Tehran to rethink whether it should accelerate the nuclear project.”

Makes sense. These attacks on Iran’s facilities are bound to concern its government. The question is in what manner are they concerned.

The Times story also points out: “Israeli leaders say they want a guarantee from the Biden administration that Washington will not seek to restrain their sabotage campaign, even if a renewed nuclear deal is reached.”

Such a guarantee begs the question: How will Iranians receive such an arrangement? Most likely, Iran will view it as an act of war, especially if they had joined in a deal. As they would view it, Israel and America would want things both ways. How could they tolerate anything like that?

Granted, the Iranians cannot be trusted. How can they when one of its former leaders openly called for Israel’s destruction? Bennett warned Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, states the Times article, that “fears of a nuclear-armed Iran should not lead to surrendering to Iranian demands or signing a reckless agreement.”

Can anyone blame Bennett for fearing such a result? Even if a solid agreement can be reached, Iran’s record has been shaky at best.

Now, we have a have tenuous road to travel. We are left with only a slim idea of the roadblocks ahead and where they are located.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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One comment

  1. The problem in the Middle East is not Iran. It’s The Jewish State.