The Loose Talk of War with Iran Returns

The loose talk of war is back after a brief period of calm. But what is the strategy here? Is Israel really planning to bomb Iran? We don't yet know the answer, but the impact of this type of saber rattling is decidedly negative.

In a recent article for The Jewish Chronicle, I explained in detail how talk of military action against Iran’s nuclear program is a counterproductive distraction that undercuts American and Israeli security goals.  Worse, if such talk is converted into action, it may actually create the outcome that both countries are trying to avoid: an Iranian nuclear weapon.  But how is this so?

War talk shifts the focus from Iran to Israel. Instead of maintaining the sole focus on Iran's nuclear program, the war talk creates confusion between Israel and the international community, distracting Israel's allies and turning Iran into Israel's problem alone, rather than a shared challenge to the international community. Now, Israel's allies are spending their precious time prognosticating about Israel's intentions.

This is one reason why Israeli leaders such as President Shimon Peres, former chiefs of Israel's army Shaul Mofaz and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former head of the spy agency Mossad Meir Dagan, former Obama administration Iran chief Dennis Ross, and leading pro-Israel columnist Jeff Goldberg have warned against Israeli strikes. They argue that an Israeli strike at this moment would unravel the international sanctions on Iran, spike oil prices and fail to achieve its main goal -- verifiably preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb.

When it comes to unilateral military strikes against Iran, Israelis are not all on board. As President Peres recently said, "Now, it's clear to us that we can't do it alone. We can delay (Iran's nuclear program). It's clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone."

It's impossible to know what Israeli leaders will ultimately do. But the talk of war is creating negative consequences both for Israel as it plots its next steps and for the international community's ability to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.

A strike right now would undermine the painstaking work that has taken place these past several years to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Israelis do not want to be opposite the United States on questions of war and peace.  And many national security experts believe that military action may even hasten Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

So let's remember that as the talk of war mounts, there is another perspective: the pressure on Iran remains, talks are under way, and there is no new evidence demonstrating that Iran is about to acquire nuclear weapons.

Now is the time for productive patience, not military strikes.