I recently returned from leading my annual study tour of the Holy Land. Israel’s future is more uncertain today than at any time since 1973, primarily because of the looming specter that is Iran.
The most recent edition of World Affairs journal carries a fascinating exchange on the question: should Israel attack Iran? Elliot Abrams, U.S. deputy national security advisor from 2005 to 2009, believes that it should. He cites Iranian leaders’ continued calls for the destruction of Israel. One Iranian military strategist recently noted that Iran could kill 60 percent of the Jewish population in Israel by targeting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa with its Shahab 3 ballistic missiles.
If Iran obtained nuclear weapons, how much more aggressive would it become? Would such capacity embolden Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups? Could Iran bring life in Israel to a standstill by launching a missile or plane that might be a nuclear attack? Would Iranian nuclear weapons spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with unpredictable consequences?
In Abrams’ view, any setback to Iran’s nuclear program would be welcome, even if an attack did not destroy that program completely. He believes that Iranian proxies would not necessarily attack Israel, knowing that they would be met with overwhelming force. And he worries that delaying military action while waiting for sanctions to contain Iran’s nuclear threat only gives Tehran more time to build and secure its nuclear resources.
Robert Wexler, a former seven-term Democratic congressman from Florida, counters that “an attack might be necessary, but not yet.” He believes that economic sanctions are crippling the Iranian economy and stoking fires of resistance within the nation. He worries about attacks on Israel from terrorist groups and economic fallout from threats to the global oil supply. And he cites Israel’s “deep preference for an American-led strike” rather than one initiated by Israel.
Both men agree that America should clearly state our intention to use military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program. According to Wexler, “What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity—and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest—Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.”
Abrams cites the Carter Doctrine, announced in 1980, that “an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” He notes that “no president has said anything like that regarding Iran’s nukes.”
Whichever side of this debate we take, let’s agree to obey the biblical admonition: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels'” (Psalm 122:6-7). Such intercession has never been more urgent than it is today.