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Overall, a Good Week for Iran Deterrence

This week’s publication of a report effectively urging U.S. appeasement of Iran, signed by many leading lights of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, clearly undermines administration efforts to press Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. But despite the Iran Project report’s negative impact, which Jonathan aptly explained yesterday, this has been a good week overall on the Iran deterrence front, thanks mainly to the U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday, the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution pledging the following: “If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.” The resolution hasn’t yet passed the full Senate, but with a whopping 79 out of 100 senators co-sponsoring it, that august body’s views aren’t in much doubt.

This matters because, contrary to the Iran Project, most experts think Iran won’t negotiate an end to its nuclear program unless it’s convinced that refusing to deal will result in devastating military strikes. And though President Obama has consistently said all options are on the table, in practice, senior administration officials have repeatedly warned that an attack on Iran would be disastrous, with the result that Iran’s leaders don’t take the U.S. threat seriously. Consequently, the only credible military threat against Iran currently comes from Israel–a fact confirmed by no less a source than Iran’s own Intelligence Ministry, which in November issued a report that dismissed the possibility of a U.S. strike but urged negotiations to avert a “Zionist” attack.

Yet anyone following the debate in Israel knows that Israel’s biggest concern about attacking Iran–even bigger than the fear of Iranian counterstrikes–is fear that U.S. support won’t be forthcoming the day after. Israel would need such support on numerous fronts: diplomatic support against the inevitable world outcry, perhaps emergency military resupply to repulse a counterattack, and above all, leadership in mobilizing the international community to maintain the sanctions regime and prevent Iran from rebuilding its nuclear program. As several Israeli experts have noted, the worst-case scenario would be to bomb Iran and then have it obtain nukes anyway because the collapse of the sanctions regime enabled it to rebuild swiftly.

With this resolution, however, the Senate has effectively told Iran that isn’t going to happen: Should Israel reach the point where it believes it has no choice but to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, America will give it full “diplomatic, military, and economic support” afterward.

Then, as icing on the cake, came Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s blunt statement that same day: “The IDF has the capability of attacking the nuclear installations [in Iran] by itself,” Gantz declared.

A year ago, American experts were already claiming that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was at the outer limits of Israel’s capability, and since then, the job has only gotten harder, since the underground Fordow facility is now in operation. This has fed speculation that Iran’s nuclear program is already too big and too hardened for Israel to take out on its own. Now, Gantz has refuted this speculation–and the fact that he is considered a dove on the Iranian issue gives his refutation redoubled force.

In short, Israel has reaffirmed its ability to attack, and the U.S. has pledged to support it if it does. This has to make Iran’s rulers uneasy. And that should make the rest of us sleep better at night.