There are two ways to stop Iran from getting the bomb.
One is to apply pressure short of war. That would involve squeezing the regime economically, isolating it from as much of the world’s commerce as possible, while at the same time strengthening and supporting its domestic opposition. At the same time, sabotage, assassinations, and other operations could delay the nuclear program and weaken the regime. At some point it will break, or the opposition will become strong enough to break it.
This was the program of Donald Trump’s administration, working together with Israel and other players in the Middle East. But Joe Biden’s administration has scrapped that program, and chosen to try (or to appear to try) to persuade the Iranian regime by removing pressure, rather than increasing it. This strengthens the Iranian regime, allows it to build up the proxy forces that serve as a deterrent against attack from the neighboring countries who are directly threatened by its expansionism, and at best can only slightly delay its progress toward nuclear armament – and even this is doubtful, since the regime showed no compunctions about cheating on the agreements it made with the Obama Administration, long before Trump took the US out of the deal.
The new American policy goes against the basic principles of negotiating. Giving up leverage up front for nothing in return is stupid. And it’s not as if the previous Iran deal doesn’t provide evidence for the failure of this approach. Biden’s administration wasn’t forced to re-make Obama’s mistakes. They could have simply continued the “maximum pressure” campaign. It’s simplistic to say that they were compelled to blindly oppose everything that Trump had done, in every area. They aren’t that dumb.
I won’t try to explain the motives of the Biden Administration. They are a mystery to me. Possibilities range from unbelievable naïveté and ignorance to an explicit desire to see the Middle East dominated by a nuclear Iran. The latter case also implies a desire to see a Middle East without a Jewish state, and there is no doubt that there are those in the administration who favor that. But regardless of the reasons, it is fully clear that the new American policy will not stop Iran.
Despite a notable decline in military strength in recent decades, there is no other country with the economic muscle, the global reach and influence of the USA. The path of “pressure short of war” requires America to be on board. If they aren’t, the only alternative is for Israel to stop Iran herself by military means. The best that can be expected from the US in that case will be non-interference, and even that is doubtful.
But this would not be an “operation” like the attacks on the nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria. It would be a very serious and involved campaign, which could rise to the level of regional war. Iran has built up proxy forces armed with numerous rockets and missiles in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza. It has missile forces on its own soil. It has been supplying its proxies with accurate missiles and kits to convert unguided rockets into highly accurate ones, despite Israeli interventions to prevent that. It has developed guided drones that were used effectively against Saudi oil facilities in 2019 and in March of this year.
If Israel were to attack the Iranian nuclear installations – and there are numerous, dispersed, and well-defended targets that would have to be hit – it would also be necessary to suppress retaliation from the various proxy forces. The rocket launchers in Lebanon and Gaza are embedded in civilian areas, and are capable of firing very large numbers of weapons in a short time, which can overwhelm anti-missile systems like Iron Dome. There is also a greater number of highly accurate missiles, which are best eliminated before they can be launched.
This combination means that Israel will have no choice but to employ massive firepower, which will be catastrophic for the people in the affected areas. There is expected to be ground warfare in southern Lebanon and even northern Israel. Hezbollah intends to make incursions into Israeli territory and to take civilian hostages. An insurrection in Judea and Samaria is also a possibility. Such a three or four front war would be very costly, both for Israel and for the countries that Iran has used as proxies, especially Lebanon, which is already failing as a state as a result of being parasitized by Hezbollah.
At the same time, there would be a massive propaganda assault against Israel, similar that which was waged against us at the time of the last Gaza conflict. The UN, the EU, countless NGOs, the international Left, and much of the academic and media world will line up to provide a stream of atrocity stories, exaggerations, and context-free accusations, all intended to justify intervention by the international community, the embargo of weapons shipments, and so forth.
What would the US do? Judging by the cast of characters in the Biden Administration, I doubt that we could expect even a pretense of support, despite the fact that we would be doing America and the rest of the civilized world a favor.
It’s easy to say – I’ve said it myself – that war is inevitable and we should get it over with as soon as possible, at a time and in a fashion of our choosing. But that doesn’t change the fact that we would certainly lose people, soldiers and civilians, and have to absorb a great deal of infrastructure damage even if everything goes according to plan. If we go to war it will probably be one of our most painful wars, especially on the home front. It’s easy to see why our decision-makers have chosen to defer acting until the last possible moment, when there is absolutely no other option.
In the meantime, our PM has told the Chief of Staff to develop plans for carrying out an attack on the Iranian nuclear project, including the suppression of rocket and missile fire from our neighbors. I am sure they will be characterized by unconventional tactics and maybe new weapons.
One wonders why Biden’s people can’t see that what they are doing is promoting precisely the opposite of the peace and stability that they claim to want – or if they do see that, why they are doing it.