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Opinion

The alternative to an Israeli attack on Iran

Serious diplomacy, not military action, will bring regional security.

By Shlomo Ben-Ami, Trita Parsi / July 2, 2008



Washington and Jerusalem

Is war between Israel and Iran inevitable? To listen to Iran's radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Israel's Iranian-born transportation minister Shaul Mofaz, or even recent reports that Israel carried out a major military training mission over the Mediterranean to rehearse an attack on Iran, you might be left with that impression.

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Mr. Mofaz's comments last month indicating he would attack Iran didn't help perceptions either. The immediate effect of his statement was a record increase in oil prices – giving Mofaz's Iranian nemeses a windfall of several million dollars.

Mofaz and Mr. Ahmadinejad are wrong. Israel and Iran are not destined to be enemies, nor does the military option present a real way out of the current impasse. In reality, it doesn't offer a solution at all.

Logistical challenges of hitting Iran's nuclear facilities and regional consequences of war aside, military strikes wouldn't destroy any potential clandestine facilities in Iran nor Iran's knowledge of the enrichment process.

Even the most successful bombing raid would leave Iran with some nuclear capability. At best, proponents of this option admit, bombing would set back the program five years. During that time the expectation is that the Iranian people miraculously would unseat the country's ruling clergy and dismantle the nuclear program permanently.

This unjustified expectation underlines a central flaw in the outlook of both Jerusalem and Washington: the tendency to treat the risks and repercussions of military operations with extreme optimism, while treating the diplomacy challenges with extreme skepticism.

A much more probable scenario: Tehran would use the attack to invoke Article 10 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and withdraw from the treaty altogether. This article gives each party the right to withdraw if it decides that extraordinary events "have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country." Iran would cease all cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, expel all UN inspectors, and by that, deprive the international community of much-needed transparency and insight.

More ominously, the attack could prompt the Iranian leadership to make the crucial decision to seek an actual nuclear bomb and not just the capability to build one, while accentuating Iran's role as a power against the status quo.

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