Should We Be Encouraging Israel to Attack Iran?

I was surprised to find both of my senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, cosponsoring Senator Lindsey Graham’s Senate Resolution 65, which “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action [against Iran] in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel.” The problem isn’t if Israel attacks Iran in actual self-defense. But many nations, my own included, have sometimes attacked in the belief they were acting in self-defense, but were later found to be mistaken. Given its birth soon after the Holocaust and the history of Arab enmity, Israel is more likely than most to make such a mistake, and it concerned me that one of my senators was emboldening Israel in ways to make that even more likely.

I recognize that Israel lives in a tough neighborhood and it is difficult for us to understand the situation in which it finds itself. But, in the long-run, Israel’s existence depends on making peace with its neighbors. With its small population, it is a miracle that Israel currently dominates the region militarily. But that miracle will not last forever.

In the Middle Ages, the Muslim world was at the pinnacle of civilization, and over time, as it sheds practices currently holding it back, it will likely match Israel militarily. For its long-term survival, Israel therefore must take advantage of this window of opportunity and make peace while it can do so on more advantageous terms. Given the wounds that both sides have suffered, that process initially will be slow. But it must start, and this Senate Resolution seemed like one more road block.

I sent emails to my senators expressing my concern, and, whether you approve or disapprove of the resolution, if you live in one of the states where senators have cosponsored S.Res.65, I hope you will let your senator know your position. Here’s the list of cosponsors, with links where you can tell them your position:

Alaska (Begich)

California (Boxer, Feinstein)

Connecticut (Blumenthal)

Florida (Rubio)

Idaho (Crapo)

Illinois (Kirk)

Maine (Collins)

Maryland (Cardin)

Missouri (Blunt)

New Hampshire (Ayotte)

New Jersey(Lautenberg and Menendez)

New York (Gillibrand and Schumer),

North Dakota (Hoeven)

Ohio (Brown and Portman)

Oregon (Wyden)

Pennsylvania (Casey)

South Carolina (Graham)

Texas (Cornyn)

West Virginia (Manchin)

Since it might help you compose your own thoughts, here is what I wrote to Senator Boxer:

I hope you will withdraw your co-sponsorship of Senate Resolution 65. As an American and a Jew, I share your concern over Iran’s nuclear program. But encouraging an Israeli attack (as this resolution will tend to do) is the opposite of what is needed to ensure that nation’s long-term security. In our attempts to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, we have used sticks almost exclusively, and carrots little if at all. Neither we nor Israel would succumb to such threats, so why do we expect progress with Iran from such actions? 

As North Korea’s third nuclear test shows, if we refuse to talk with nascent nuclear powers except on our terms, bad things will likely result. My colleague and former Director of Los Alamos, Dr. Siegfried Hecker, had written repeatedly of the folly of our approach to North Korea, and predicted this kind of outcome. The same applies to Iran. It’s time to stop dealing with the world as we would like it to be – where our unique military power gives us Superman-like super-powers – and recognized that continuing to act that way is one of the surest paths to nuclear proliferation, including in Iran.

An even more effective way to get your Senator’s attention is to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, mentioning the Senator’s name and this resolution. Their staff monitors those papers and takes special notice of any articles mentioning the Senator. Hoping you find this of interest in reducing the nuclear threat.

Martin Hellman

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To learn more about Defusing the Nuclear Threat, visit my related web site. You might also look at my briefing paper on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which lists eleven current-day nuclear risks and ways to reduce them.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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3 Responses to Should We Be Encouraging Israel to Attack Iran?

  1. Great article! An attack against Iran won’t solve any problem and would definitely not make the region any more peaceful. One of our contributors has written an excellent article about the same issue. You can find it here http://conflictandsecurity.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-iran-debate/

  2. tms says:

    Israel has chosen its neighborhood itself. The fate of Israel- if we define it a jewish state- is sealed already. in the long term (30-50) : Apartheid . in the very long term (100-200) becoming a non-jewish country (through natural growth etc)

  3. Wesley Parish says:

    We know the long-term effect of the 2006 Israeli assault on the Lebanon, in the Lebanese Prime Minister’s declaration that the Lebanon would be the very last Arab state to make peace with Israel.

    Of course the Israeli decision during the window of opportunity in the 1990s, to avoid any long-term solutions in making peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians in favour of extending its settler enterprise, is going to continue draining America’s fund of goodwill in the Middle East, where the question of which is the tail and which the dog is open for debate.

    I can’t imagine any US administration with an ounce of self-preservation getting involved in a war in the Persian Gulf; but we know the American people are perfectly capable of electing such a self-absorbed administration, Dubbya’s administration being the type specimen.

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