Avoiding war with Iran, and justifying it


Two articles out today dealing with efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon: In the Weekly Standard, James Kirchick takes issue with those criticizing Israel — most folks assume it’s Israel — for taking out Iran’s nuclear scientists. If war is to be prevented, Kirchick argues, a covert campaign against the scientists building Iran’s nuclear program could be a fairly effective way to do it:

There are no good options in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Oil and gas sanctions, which may prove effective in bringing the regime to its knees, will nonetheless have a painful effect on the Iranian people. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities could result in massive missile strikes on Israel and American assets in the Persian Gulf, ignite conflict between Israel and Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, and spur terrorist attacks on Jewish targets around the world. And the prospect of a nuclear weapons-equipped Iran is ghastly to contemplate. Rather than condemn those who killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan and other participants in the Iranian nuclear program, anyone who wants peace in the Middle East should be thanking them.

Meanwhile, in today’s Wall Street Journal, Alan Dershowitz begins to lay the legal groundwork for an attack on Iran. If Iran attacks so-called soft targets in the United States, such as a synagogue or Jewish community facility, that would constitute an act of war the U.S. would be justified in responding to militarily.  But Dershowitz claims that the U.S. could justify even a preemptive attack on Iran — which, he claims, isn’t really preemptive at all but reactive, and thus legally defensible — since Iran has been funding enemies of the the U.S. and Israel for decades:


It may become necessary for our military to target Iranian nuclear facilities if economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts do not succeed and if the Iranian government decides to cross red lines by militarizing its nuclear program and placing it in deep underground bunkers. But the legal justification for such an attack would be somewhat different. It would be predominantly pre-emptive or preventive, though it would have reactive elements as well, since Iran has armed our enemies in Iraq and caused the death of many American soldiers.

If Israel were compelled to act alone against Iran’s nuclear program, it too would be reacting as well as pre-empting, since Iran has effectively declared war against the Jewish state and its people. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently confirmed Iran’s role as Hezbollah’s active partner in its war against Israel, claiming that it "could not have been victorious" in its 2006 war without the military support of Tehran. Iran’s ongoing support for Hezbollah and Hamas, coupled with its direct participation in the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, constitute sufficient casus belli to justify a reactive Israeli military strike against the Iranian nuclear program.

Recommended from JTA