Charles Krauthammer lays out the case today for a U.S. nuclear guarantee to Israel. “It’s time to admit the truth,” he writes. “The Bush administration’s attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear program has failed.” He proposes instead that George Bush should take a leaf from the Cuban missile crisis and issue a ringing declaration that:
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.”
This should be followed with a simple explanation: “As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”
Such an approach has its undeniable appeal, but would it suffice to assure Israel’s security needs, or even survival, in the face of a nuclear-armed Iran?
In some scenarios, perhaps. It certainly might give the Iranians pause before launching a nuclear-missile fusillade against Tel Aviv directly from their soil. But there are many far more ambiguous forms in which an Iranian nuclear weapon might be employed, and not only against Israel, but against other countries in the region. The provision of a nuclear weapon to a terrorist surrogate group under Iranian control is one. Coercive nuclear threats are another.
Would the United States really follow through on its word and destroy Tehran if, say, Hizballah smuggled a nuclear device into Haifa and detonated it? Somehow, I doubt it. And we are not even contemplating here the possibility that it might be Barack Obama who has to answer the phone at 3AM before calling General McPeak and asking him what to do.
The fact is that a nuclear-armed Iran will be a far more assertive and dangerous power than it already is. No words from an American president, no matter how ringing, can solve Israel’s defense dilemma at a stroke. Unless the U.S. or Israel takes action, we may yet have to learn to live with an Iranian bomb. But it’s folly to believe we can solve major security problems with declarations.