Commentary Magazine


What Georgia Can Teach Israel About Iran

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.