Israel’s Choice: Conventional War Now, or Nuclear War Later

There was no ‘better deal’ with Iran to be had. Now this calamitous one offers Tehran two paths to the bomb.

By Norman Podhoretz

The Wall Street Journal

July 28, 2015

Almost everyone who opposes the deal President Obama has struck with Iran hotly contests his relentless insistence that the only alternative to it is war. No, they claim, there is another alternative, and that is “a better deal.”

To which Mr. Obama responds that Iran would never agree to the terms his critics imagine could be imposed. These terms would include the toughening rather than the lifting of sanctions; “anytime, anywhere” nuclear-plant inspections instead of the easily evaded ones to which he has agreed; the elimination rather than the freezing of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure; and the corresponding elimination of the “sunset” clause that leaves Iran free after 10 years to build as many nuclear weapons as it wishes.

Since I too consider Mr. Obama’s deal a calamity, I would be happy to add my voice to the critical chorus. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly with the critics that, far from “cutting off any pathway Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon,” as he claims, the deal actually offers Tehran not one but two paths to acquiring the bomb. Iran can either cheat or simply wait for the sunset clause to kick in, while proceeding more or less legally to prepare for that glorious day.

Unfortunately, however, I am unable to escape the conclusion that Mr. Obama is right when he dismisses as a nonstarter the kind of “better deal” his critics propose. Nor, given that the six other parties to the negotiations are eager to do business with Iran, could these stringent conditions be imposed if the U.S. were to walk away without a deal. The upshot is that if the objective remains preventing Iran from getting the bomb, the only way to do so is to bomb Iran.

And there’s the rub. Once upon a time the U.S. and just about every other country on earth believed that achieving this objective was absolutely necessary to the safety of the world, and that it could be done through negotiations. Yet as the years wore on, it became increasingly clear to everyone not blinded by wishful delusions that diplomacy would never work.

Simultaneously it also became clear that the U.S. and the six other parties to the negotiations, despite their protestations that force remained “on the table,” would never resort to it (and that Mr. Obama was hellbent on stopping Israel from taking military action on its own). Hence they all set about persuading themselves that their fears of a nuclear Iran had been excessive, and that we could live with a nuclear Iran as we had lived with Russia and China during the Cold War.

Out the window went the previously compelling case against that possibility made by authoritative scholars like Bernard Lewis, and with it went the assumption that the purpose of the negotiations was to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

For our negotiating partners, the new goal was to open the way to lucrative business contracts, but for Mr. Obama it was to remove the biggest obstacle to his long-standing dream of a U.S. détente with Iran. To realize this dream, he was ready to concede just about anything the Iranians wanted—without, of course, admitting that this was tantamount to acquiescence in an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the rockets to deliver them.

To repeat, then, what cannot be stressed too often: If the purpose were still to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, no deal that Iran would conceivably agree to sign could do the trick, leaving war as the only alternative. To that extent, Mr. Obama is also right. But there is an additional wrinkle. For in allowing Iran to get the bomb, he is not averting war. What he is doing is setting the stage for a nuclear war between Iran and Israel.

The reason stems from the fact that, with hardly an exception, all of Israel believes that the Iranians are deadly serious when they proclaim that they are bound and determined to wipe the Jewish state off the map. It follows that once Iran acquires the means to make good on this genocidal commitment, each side will be faced with only two choices: either to rely on the fear of a retaliatory strike to deter the other from striking first, or to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own.

Yet when even a famous Iranian “moderate” like the former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has said—as he did in 2001, contemplating a nuclear exchange—that “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality,” how can deterrence work?

The brutal truth is that the actual alternatives before us are not Mr. Obama’s deal or war. They are conventional war now or nuclear war later. John Kerry recently declared that Israel would be making a “huge mistake” to take military action against Iran. But Mr. Kerry, as usual, is spectacularly wrong. Israel would not be making a mistake at all, let alone a huge one. On the contrary, it would actually be sparing itself—and the rest of the world—a nuclear conflagration in the not too distant future.

Mr. Podhoretz was the editor of Commentary magazine from 1960 to 1995. His books include “Why Are Jews Liberals?” (Doubleday, 2009).