Connect to share and comment

Opinion: The war over war with Iran

Don't be mistaken, air strikes against Iran means war with Iran.

But Israel could choose to force our hand. From the Israeli perspective, it’s reasonable to ask whether “detente” – or the Middle Eastern version of the Cold War doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction — represents a stable foundation for peace. Iran, for instance, could allow Hezbollah access to nuclear weapons. This seems far-fetched to some, but it is easier to dismiss such theories from outside Israel’s borders.

Yet this proxy problem works both ways: Iran’s ties to Hezbollah and increasing influence on Hamas in the Gaza Strip link those smaller flashpoints to the regional balance of power, and Israeli calculations about the fallout from any preemptive strike invariably include retaliation by one if not both of these groups.

Add to this a right-wing Israeli government and a sudden chorus of voices in the American press claiming, as the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg did last week, that the conflict has reached a “point of no return” and that the chances of an Israeli air strike by New Year’s now stand at 50-50.” American officials have fallen over themselves in the past two weeks, too, to emphasize that “the expression ‘all options on the table’ means that all options are on the table,” as Obama aide Rahm Emmanuel put it. It is a prescription for miscalculation.

Israel’s fond memories of past “preemptive successes” - the 1967 “Six Day War,” the Osirak reactor strike in Iraq in 1982 and the destruction of what Israel described as a nascent nuclear weapons facility in the Syrian desert in 2007 - could lead it to overestimate its capabilities with regard to the sprawling and dispersed Iranian program. It should, instead, be focused on the memory of its failure to defeat Hezbollah alone during the short 2006 war, and the reality that even the most successful strike against Iran only postpones a day of reckoning.

A comprehensive peace that draws the Sunni Arab states into a de facto alliance against the revolutionary Shiites of Iran is the only long-term solution to Israel’s security dilemma. That means a contiguous Palestinian state, returning the Golan Heights to Syria and signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

This all seems hard to imagine right now. Israel is in no mood (or political condition) to compromise. And Iran’s regime is in a state of panic after last summer’s unrest, even if the regime has (for now) prevailed. But neither side should be fooled: an attack on Iran cannot be “limited” in the way air strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas positions in Gaza. War on Iran means war with Iran, and that war will rock the world.