It's Time to Get Serious about Iran

On CBS' 60 Minutes yesterday, Lesley Stahl interviewed Meir Dagan, ex-head of Israel's Mossad.  Stahl opened the segment titled "The Spymaster Speaks" by explaining that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu had injected himself into the U.S. presidential election by calling on President Obama to establish "red lines" for Iran to prevent the mullahs in Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  It was a thinly disguised attempt to embarrass Prime Minister Netanyahu and to enhance President Obama's standing in the eyes of American voters. 

During the interview, Dagan said that Iran's leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were "rational," but he qualified his assessment by explaining that their rationality wasn't like "Western rationality."  According to Dagan, helping to bring about regime change in Iran is preferable at this juncture to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.  That position puts him at odds with Netanyahu who is preparing the Israeli people and Western leaders for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. 

Western leaders and Netanyahu agree that Iran's mullahs can't be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, but they don't agree on the best way to achieve that result.  The West missed a great opportunity to help bring about regime change in 2009 when Iranian students protested the results of Iran's national election.  Since then, Western nations led by the United States have used sanctions against Iran to forestall its march toward the atomic bomb, but to no avail.  All the while, Iran continues to develop its nuclear capacity and to deny outsiders access to their nuclear facilities.  None of this bodes well for peace. 

What Do We Know?

We know that Iranian leaders have called for Israel's destruction.  We also know that Iran is moving ahead with its nuclear program aggressively despite sanctions that were supposed to contain it.  Everything else is just conjecture.

Are Iranian leaders rational, and does it matter?

Scorpions sting people who are asleep in their beds.  It's part of their rationality.  Rattle snakes bite hikers in the woods.  It's part of their rationality.  Rabid dogs attack innocent children.  It's part of their rationality.  As Meir Dagan pointed out, Iranian leaders are rational, but their rationality is driven by their fanatical hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.  Therefore, the essential question should be "does Iran represent a significant threat to Israel and the Jewish people?"  The answer to that question is an unqualified "yes".  The only other question of strategic importance is whether Israel is in imminent danger.  If the answer to that question is "yes", then Western leaders need to take immediate steps to stop Iran.

Since sanctions haven't worked, Western leaders need to be more forceful.  If they prefer regime change to armed assault, now is the time to pursue that option vigorously.  If they won't pursue regime change and they aren't willing to attack Iran, they leave Israel with few options.  You might even say that Israel has only one good option left: a unilateral attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. 

According to Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran will unleash a devastating response to an Israeli attack:

"Our response to Israel is clear: I think nothing will remain of Israel (should it attack Iran). Given Israel's small land area and its vulnerability to a massive volume of Iran's missiles, I don't think any spot in Israel will remain safe."

According to Yahya Rahim-Safavi, military adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former commander in chief of the IRGC,  

"The boldness and foolishness of Israeli officials in threatening the Islamic Republic have put Israeli citizens one step away from the cemetery.  If, one day, the Israeli regime takes action against us, resistance groups, especially Hezbollah ... will respond more easily."

According to an article in Israel Hayom,

Hezbollah has said any attack on Iran would be met by strikes against Israeli and U.S. targets in the region, even if American forces played no role in the attack.

There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the U.S. and other Western countries will be targets of attacks if Israel takes preemptive measures to protect itself from an increasingly hostile Iranian regime.  There should also be no doubt that the Middle East is a powder keg that can explode in the blink of an eye.  Therefore, it's time to get serious about Iran.  Western nations should take out the Iranian regime and/or they should eliminate Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons.  There are no other reasonable options, and pretending otherwise at this late date is ludicrous and potentially life threatening.

Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.  His blog,, is posted daily.