WASHINGTON — Should the U.S. forbid Israel from attacking Iran if it feels the extremist regime in Tehran is about to obliterate it?
Of course not. We have no right to do so, and such a ban would be flatly unenforceable.
Israel’s trigger finger has good reason to be itchy. The Israelis always doubted that President Barack Obama’s deal with the mullahs would prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear breakout state, and now even that dicey deal is on the ropes.
The Trump administration has delivered a “fix or nix” ultimatum to our European partners. If they don’t work with us to close loopholes that leave Tehran a potential nuclear menace, Trump will pull out of the deal. And if they do close the loopholes, Tehran will likely walk. Either way, the threat of a nuclear Iran remains.
And Iran has done more to put the Israelis on edge. Iran has been “weaponizing” its presence in Syria, using surrogates to press the Israelis on every front.
So what happens if Israel decides to make a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities? There is no telling how violent the region might get and how far it might spread. Still, the notion of the U.S. flashing the red card to the Jewish democracy makes no sense.
For starters, Israel is anything but an irresponsible actor. The Israelis have monitored the increasing danger of nuclear attacks for decades.
Twice they have undertaken preventive strikes — once, against a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007, and once again against Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981. Israel doesn’t need a lesson from the U.S. in how to evaluate risks to its national survival.
Further, no nation has the right to constrain Israel’s inherent right of self-defense. While a preventive attack on adversary is not considered an act of just war, a preemptive strike against an enemy, if a nation feels directly threatened, is certainly justifiable.
In addition, an unconstrained Israel is an added deterrent against Iranian aggression. Today, the regime in Tehran regards the U.S. as a faraway power that may or may not step in if they press Israel too much.
But Tehran is under no illusion that Israel will be shy or restrained in defending itself. We should keep things that way. It greatly lessens the likelihood that Iran will recklessly overstep.
The Israeli deterrent also lessens the pressure on other Arab states — the pressure to get their own nuclear weapons to protect themselves against Tehran. A strong Israel actually creates an environment that lessens the danger of regional proliferation.
James Jay Carafano is a leading expert on national security and foreign policy issues at The Heritage Foundation. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point and Georgetown University. Readers may write him at Heritage, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002.