Editorial, New York Times, February 4, 2012
The posturing and saber rattling from both Iran and Israel are getting frightening.
Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz after the European Union and the United States tightened sanctions. On Friday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country will assist any nation or group that “confronts” Israel, describing it as a “cancer.” He vowed to retaliate — especially against the United States — for tough new oil sanctions and Western military threats.
On Thursday, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, told a security forum that time is running out for halting Iran’s nuclear advance. “Whoever says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” he said. Moshe Yaalon, a deputy prime minister, warned that Iran was developing a missile with a range of about 6,000 miles that could hit the United States.
There should be no illusions. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are real and dangerous. But there is no proof that it has made the decision to move from producing fuel to building a bomb. American officials say that reports of a missile with a 6,000-mile range are premature and wildly exaggerated.
The costs of an Israeli military strike — with or without American support — would be huge. It would likely only set Iran’s nuclear program back for a few years. It would unite Iranians around their government at a time when it is fast losing popular support. It would also shatter the international coalition for sanctions and direct more anger against Israel and the United States.
President Obama has spent three years rallying the toughest sanctions ever on Iran — including a European Union oil embargo. Tehran is increasingly isolated; its economy is reeling. The administration was right to warn Iran against any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz. We hope it is also looking to privately persuade Iran of the need for a negotiated solution.
American officials say they have counseled Israel on the need for patience and warned that a military attack could backfire. They need to keep pressing on both fronts.
Washington still believes there is “time and space” for sanctions to work. But there is a frightening scenario going around Washington and several European capitals that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel may attack Iran before the summer — believing that President Obama will not try to stop him in the middle of a re-election campaign.
Israel must defend itself. This country’s alliance with Israel is crucial. We hope for everyone’s sake that Israel’s leaders weigh all of the consequences before they act. A military attack would almost certainly make things worse. Tough sanctions and a united diplomatic front are the best chance for crippling Iran’s nuclear program.