February 15, 2012 How history lessons could deter Iranian aggression
by Fareed Zakaria
We are hearing a new concept these days in discussions about Iran — the zone of immunity. The idea, often explained by Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, is that soon Iran will have enough nuclear capability that Israel would not be able to inflict a crippling blow to its program.
In fact, while the specifics are fresh, this is not a new strategic concept at all. Nations have often believed that they face a closing window to act, and almost always such thinking has led to disaster. The most famous example, of course, was Germany’s decision to start what became World War I. The German General Staff believed that Russia — its archenemy — was rearming on a scale that would soon nullify Germany’s superior military strength. The Germans believed that within two years — by 1916 — Russia would have a significant, and perhaps unbeatable, strategic advantage.
It has been said that World War I was the result of a disastrous failure of intelligence. Zakaria's point is not that Israel is proceeding on a failure of intelligence about Iran's nuclear program. Instead, he is saying that Israel's strategic thinking is flawed:
Now, I am not suggesting that an Israeli attack on Iran would have anything close to these consequences. But I am suggesting that it is profoundly shortsighted to base a major decision — to go to war — on narrow technical considerations like windows of vulnerability. Many in Washington in March 2003 insisted that we could not wait for nuclear inspectors to keep at their work in Iraq because we faced a closing window — the weather was going to get too hot by June and July to send in U.S. forces. As a result, we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years.
Israeli officials explain that we Americans cannot understand their fears, that Iran is an existential threat to them. But in fact we can understand because we have gone through a very similar experience ourselves. After World War II, as the Soviet Union approached a nuclear capability, the United States was seized by a panic that lasted for years. Everything that Israel says about Iran now, we said about the Soviet Union. We saw it as a radical, revolutionary regime, opposed to every value we held dear, determined to overthrow the governments of the Western world in order to establish global communism. We saw Moscow as irrational, aggressive and utterly unconcerned with human life. After all, Joseph Stalin had just sacrificed a mind-boggling 26 million Soviet lives in his country’s struggle against Nazi Germany.
The October, 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis exemplified both the existential threat that we in the U.S. felt during the Cold War and the wisdom of not going to war over that fear. Had we gone to war as Air Force General Curtis LeMay urged, we might have plunged the world into a nuclear world war and would almost certainly have suffered grave losses in the U.S. Although LeMay considered the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis to be "the greatest defeat in our history," most of us look back and see the wisdom of measured response to a real threat. We faced the might of the U.S.S.R. and its capacity for Mutually Assured Destruction, and we chose a compromise. The question is whether today's Israel will be able to show the same wisdom. Otherwise, I think that Israel faces the probability of fighting a war on many fronts, resulting in the destruction of much of the Middle East. Arutz Sheva
blog Feb. 12, 2012 Israel Ready for War on Three Fronts
sees the same risk but not the same outcome.