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Israel views Iran's potential to build a nuclear bomb as an existential threat to the nation's survival. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel retains the right to self-defense, a view supported by President Obama, and has been threatening a military strike on Iran if negotiations and sanctions fail to stop Iran's program before it reaches the point where it can assemble a bomb.
President Obama has focused on non-violent means of encouraging Iran to give up its nuclear project, but he has also stated that "all options are on the table." It is, therefore, possible that the United States alone, with Israel, or with its European allies could take military action to stop Iran's nuclear program. A variety of military officials in the U.S. and Israel, politicians around the world, pundits and analysts have suggested that any military operation against Iran aimed at destroying or, at least, slowing down Iran's nuclear program will end in catastrophe.
The motivations of these critics of military action vary and include those who:
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates publicly warned Israel not to take any actions that could harm American interests. He declared that the "results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world."
Gates also claimed that neither Israel nor the United States has the capabilities to destroy Iran's nuclear program, and that a military operation against the country's nuclear facilities "would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable."
Like many others, Gates holds the view that more severe sanctions will lead to "the point where the Iranian leadership concludes that it actually hurts Iranian security and, above all, the security of the regime itself, to continue to pursue nuclear weapons." (Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2012).
Some believe that U.S. officials who oppose an Israeli strike are deliberately trying to make it more difficult by leaking information that reveal what U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities know about Tehran's nuclear program; disclose what Israel and the United States would consider a "nuclear breakthrough" that would trigger military action thereby allowing Iran to conceal its operations; and divulging potential strategies that will permit Iran to develop counterstrategies (Yediot Ahronoth, (March 29, 2012).
Respected Israeli analysts have also been vocal in opposing an Israeli strike. Most notable has been Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, who has said an Israeli attack would be "the stupidest thing I have ever heard" and "patently illegal under international law" because Iran is operating within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Dagan also believes it isn't possible for Israel to launch the type of surgical strike on Iran that it used to destroy Iraq's nuclear reactor because the Iranian facilities are spread around the country. He also fears that an Israeli operation could provoke a regional war and an arms race. Finally, he agrees with those who believe the regime will be strengthened because the Iranian people will rally around it after coming under attack.
Another Israeli, Gabi Ashkenazi, former military chief of staff, has also spoken out against a military strike by Israel and advocates "a combination of strategies: a clandestine campaign; diplomatic, political and economic sanctions, and maintenance of a credible and realistic military option."
Ashkenazi's view is supported by another former Israeli chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, who is now the leader of the opposition Kadima party. Mofaz has spoken out against an Israeli strike because he believes it will harm relations with the United States and result in "loss of life, grave damage to the home front and deep erosion of Israel's political situation."
Israeli President Shimon Peres does not necessarily oppose military action, but he does not believe Israel should act alone. He and many others prefer that the United States alone, or with its allies, takes out Iran's nuclear program. If Israel were to take action, he also believes it should be in concert with the United States (Christian Science Monitor, September 4, 2012).
Military planners always hope their operations will succeed; however, they must also take into account worst-case scenarios, including many of those suggested by opponents of the use of force. Ultimately, political leaders will have to decide, in consultation with their military advisers, whether the risks of action outweigh the potential benefit. They must also consider the benefits and costs of inaction.