The logical flaw in the indictment of a looming “very bad” nuclear deal with Iran that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered before Congress this month was his claim that we could secure a “good deal” by calling Iran’s bluff and imposing tougher sanctions. The Iranian regime that Netanyahu described so vividly — violent, rapacious, devious and redolent with hatred for Israel and the United States — is bound to continue its quest for nuclear weapons by refusing any “good deal” or by cheating.
But should it be? What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal.
Sanctions may have induced Iran to enter negotiations, but they have not persuaded it to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons. Nor would the stiffer sanctions that Netanyahu advocates bring a different result. Sanctions could succeed if they caused the regime to fall; the end of communism in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and of apartheid in South Africa, led to the abandonment of nuclear weapons in those states. But since 2009, there have been few signs of rebellion in Tehran.
And finally, wouldn’t Iran retaliate by using its own forces or proxies to attack Americans — as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — with new ferocity? Probably. We could attempt to deter this by warning that we would respond by targeting other military and infrastructure facilities.
Yes, there are risks to military action. But Iran’s nuclear program and vaunting ambitions have made the world a more dangerous place. Its achievement of a bomb would magnify that danger manyfold. Alas, sanctions and deals will not prevent this.