What to Say about the Possibility of Action against Iran

In every congregation, rabbis are being asked about the possibility that Israel or the United States might launch military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities in the months ahead. No doubt, many are being offered suggested reactions:

Rabbi, you can’t possibly support military action against Iran!

Rabbi, you know how bad the consequences of military action against Iran would be, right?

Rabbi, you know how bad the consequences of Iran getting nuclear weapons would be, right?

Rabbi, you can’t possibly oppose Israel acting to defend itself if it comes to that!

Of course, the Israeli and American governments have also weighed in. There appears to be some general agreement between the Americans and Israelis on the following major issues:

  1. It would be catastrophic for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Public statements by the leaders of both nations stress that “Containment (of a nuclear armed Iran) is not an option.” Not only would a nuclear armed Iran be an intolerable existential threat to Israel, but would force a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, further embolden Iran to promote anti-Western and anti-Israel violence throughout the world, jeopardize the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf and would likely result in a whole host of other problems.
  2. Any Israeli or American action against Iran would result in a harsh response against Israeli cities at a minimum, but also against American and other Western targets. Casualties from the resulting military exchange could be significant.
  3. Israel has the right to act in its self defense at any time it sees fit to do so.
  4. Sanctions and diplomatic efforts that result in Iran giving up its weapons program are far preferable to military action.
  5. The point at which Israel’s military is no longer able to act against Iran’s nuclear program is much nearer than that of the United States and that the United States will offer Israel increased capability (additional weaponry) so as to close the capability gap. I wrote about this gap for the Times of Israel here. This effort is not to promote an Israeli strike sooner, but to do the exact opposite, namely to delay that action. Though this is counter-intuitive, the fact is that those who wish to avoid an Israeli military strike in the near term should be in favor of the US providing Israel with additional weaponry and enhanced capability to launch exactly such a strike.
  6. There is reason to believe that Iran has not yet made the decision to move forward with creating a nuclear weapon, see this Times of Israel article.
  7. However, according to the most recent IAEA report Iran is indeed working on developing the technologies necessary to create such a weapon if it chooses to do so. This is a vitally important point, because this fact means that Iran continues to shorten the length of time that it would take to create a nuclear weapon once making the decision to go ahead with its creation and strengthens the case that Iran’s intention is to create a nuclear weapon at some point in the future.

I believe that the implications of these facts for us are fairly simple.

  • We, absent access to the relevant classified information, are in no position to determine when military strikes by either Israel or American against Iran’s nuclear program might be essential.
  • Actions that support the effectiveness of sanctions and diplomacy including the threat of grave results (ie. military action) should those efforts fail should be strongly supported so as to avoid the possibility of necessitating military action through undermining sanctions and diplomacy.
  • Israel has no good alternative other than having sanctions and diplomatic efforts be successful. A nuclear armed Iran or the results of military action against Iran would be very bad in the least.
  • Those who are supporters of Israel will either find themselves not needing to worry as much if Iran ceases to advance toward the development of nuclear weaponry or will need to increase support of the Israelis in the event of any military action against Iran by either Israel or America.

Taking all of this into account, the only responsible and reasonable policy for an individual or organization to take regarding this issue is one similar to that taken by ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, whom I applaud. ARZA sent out this statement on March 12:

“Iran threatens America as well as Israel with its efforts to create a nuclear weapon, its ongoing support of terrorism like the groups in Gaza that are sending rockets into Israel currently, and its support of Islamic fanaticism aimed at the destruction of the West,” stated Rabbi Robert Orkand, President of ARZA, The Association of Reform Zionist of America, after returning from two weeks in Israel as a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Boards of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization. Iran and the turmoil in the Middle East dominated every conversation with Israeli leaders and foreign policy experts.

“ARZA affirms that Israel must always have the final word on decisions concerning its own defense” remarked Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA who was also part of the study mission.

Finally, ARZA joins the Government of Israel in supporting the efforts of President Obama to find a diplomatic way to convince Iran that it should cease all nuclear activity. However, if such an effort is not successful, all means necessary should be used to end the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian regime.

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