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Alan Dershowitz

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There Will Never Be Peace if Iran Gets the Bomb

Posted: 11/29/10 12:13 PM ET

Now that the WikiLeaks reveal widespread Arab support for the military option against Iran's nuclear facilities to be put on the table, the time has come to reassess United States policy toward the Ahmadinejad regime.

Even if Israel freezes settlement building, the Palestinians come to the negotiating table and an agreement is reached about borders, refugees and Jerusalem, there will still be no real peace in the Middle East -- if Iran continues on its determined path toward developing deliverable nuclear weapons. And despite noble efforts by the United States to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the peace process, the inability to achieve a real peace will be largely the fault of the deeply flawed American policy toward Iran.

The policy of the United States seems to be that a nuclear Iran is inevitable, that sanctions may delay but not prevent the Iranians from developing the bomb, and that a policy of containment is the best we can hope for. But containment is not a policy; it is an admission of failure. A nuclear Iran cannot be contained, because it operates largely through surrogates such as Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups. It can direct these surrogates to take actions that do not leave Iranian fingerprints. Currently these actions are limited to Hezbollah aiming rockets at Israel's heartland and Hamas firing improvised rockets at Israeli civilians. If these groups -- which oppose any peace with Israel -- could operate under the protection of an Iranian nuclear umbrella, they would constantly provoke retaliatory and preventive military actions. These actions might well force the Palestinian Authority to violate agreements they made with Israel. Moreover, an Israeli population constantly under the threat of a nuclear Holocaust from a nation whose leader has called for Israel to be wiped off the map may demand that preventive military action be taken. Any such action by Israel would provoke an immediate response from Hezbollah and Hamas, if not from the Palestinian Authority.

Nor would a nuclear Iran limits its mischief to Israel. Now that it has obtained medium range ballistic missiles from North Korea, it might feel adventurous enough to export nuclear terrorism to other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. President Barack Obama understated the threat when he said that a nuclear Iran would be "a game changer." It would be unmitigated disaster, threatening world peace, putting an end to any hope of nuclear non-proliferation, and engendering the greatest arms race in modern history.

The fault for this disaster would be equally shared by the Bush and the Obama administrations. Under George Bush's watch, the United States issued its notorious National Security Estimate of November 2007, which essentially denied that Iran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons. This report was known to be false at the time it was issued since American intelligence became aware of the nuclear weapons facility at Qum before the report was issued. The publication of this report sent a powerful message to Iran: The Americans have fallen for your bait and switch game in which you hide your capacity to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of purported civilian use. This has encouraged the Iranians to move full-throttle ahead on their program. At the same time the Bush Administration changed Israel's green light to yellow and then to red, as it related to United States approval of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The end result was that Iran felt no real constraints on continuing to develop its nuclear weapons capacity in a pretextual civilian context.

The Obama administration appears to have taken any military option off the table, relying instead on its enhanced package of sanctions. Secretary of Defense Gates has been explicit about this and the Iranians have been listening. It makes absolutely no sense to take the military option off the table, even -- perhaps especially -- if one is reluctant to deploy it. As George Washington taught us in his first address to Congress: "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." Israel's Prime Minister echoed President Washington when he recently said, "The simple paradox is this: If the international community, led by the United States, hopes to stop Iran's nuclear program without resorting to military action, it will have to convince Iran that it is prepared to take such action." What is it that American policymakers don't seem to understand about this self-evident proposition?

The man most responsible for both the Bush and Obama administration's failure with regard to Iran is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose tenure has straddled both the issuance of the false National Security Estimate and the decision to take the military option off the table. He is Iran's favorite American facilitator. Although he soon plans to leave office, there are no signs -- certainly none visible to Iran -- that his failed policies with regard to Iran's nuclear program will end with his too long tenure.

The Biblical prophet cautioned "peace, peace and there is no peace." This tragic prophecy will become a sad reality if Israel and the Palestinian Authority make great sacrifices in an effort to bring peace to their people, only to see that peace shattered by a short-sighted American policy that allows Iran to hold a nuclear sword of Damocles over the entire region.

Professor Alan Dershowitz's latest book is a novel, The Trials of Zion.