Israel, Iran, and Netanyahu’s visit

March 1st, 2012

Faculty_Norton_ARThe following opinion piece was written by international relations professor Augustus Richard Norton. An expert on the Middle East, he is the author of Hezbollah: A Short History.

Banish any thought from your head that an attack on Iran would be ‘surgical’ or even ‘limited.’ Obviously, any military attack on Iran is an act of war. More important, the target list for U.S. military planners will include much of Iran’s military infrastructure precisely because the generals will want to insure that the conditions for a strike on Iranian sites succeed and are not impeded by air defense systems, or Iranian aircraft.

In addition, precisely because the Pentagon planners anticipate an Iranian response they will want to ‘degrade’ Iran’s capacity to conduct counter-strikes against Israel, the U.S. or U.S. allies, or to block the strategic Persian Gulf or impede oil commerce. This all adds up to a major military campaign, one that will cause immeasurable damage to Iran in order to impede Iran’s nuclear program.

It is a virtual certainty that Israel would also strike Lebanon to pre-empt Hezbollah’s launching of rockets and missiles in support of Iran. So the regional context for an attack on Iran would quickly reach the boiling point, notwithstanding the supportive chants of Arab autocrats, particularly in the UAW and Saudi Arabia. It will not be pretty to watch.

Presently, sanctions are causing significant economic pain in Iran and may be significantly undermining the regime’s legitimacy. To escalate, as Israeli officials are salivating to do, would be a monumental mistake for Israel, given Iran’s considerable range options for retaliation. Moreover, Israel’s chances of carrying out a successful strike are debatable.

Thus, it is not hard to see why Israeli officials and the Israeli public are so intent on U.S. support. For the U.S. to go to war on Iran – whether by actively supporting and enabling an Israeli campaign or with U.S. forces taking the lead – would be, in my view, a monumental blunder, one that might make George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq seems a strategic masterstroke by comparison.

The U.S. is a powerful country and it has a variety of means to deter and contain Iran without going to war. Moreover, though it is popular in jingoistic circles to describe the contemptible Iranian regime as fanatic or irrational, there is a good case to be made that it is neither when it comes to strategic choices, including going to war.

In terms of the presently tense U.S.-Israeli relationship, it is the beginning of wisdom to simply acknowledge that the two countries interests often do not coincide. President Obama seems to have registered that reality, which is precisely why he so vexes Prime Minister Netanyahu. Let Obama continue doing so.

Of course, we will be assured by war advocates that the blowback can be contained at manageable costs, or that by going to war on Iran the country dictatorship would be weakened, discredited and perhaps even toppled. But before one imbibes on such reassurances, pause for a moment and remember that similar reassurances were heard about Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contact Norton at 617-353-7808; arn@bu.edu
Professor Norton’s blog: In the Field

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