On the CBS news magazine show 60 Minutes, former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan expanded on excerpts of his interview aired earlier this week and declared that an Israeli attack on Iran could spark a “regional war” and would only delay Iran’s nuclear program — with the latter assessment being shared by U.S.-based military analysts and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
In excerpts from the interview reported last week, Dagan called the Iranian regime “rational” and added that “an attack on Iran before you’re exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.” Last night, the full exchange revealed the thinking behind Dagan’s comments.
He expounded on the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran: that it could embolden the Islamic Republic to foment instability, and that some of Iran’s leaders “have said they want to destroy Israel.” But he added that the issue was “an international problem.” Citing President Obama’s stating “openly that the military option is on the table,” Dagan said he would “prefer that Americans will do it” — but only if it comes down to that. Dagan, whom CBS reporter Leslie Stahl said had a “44-year resume as an effective killing machine,” instead urged restraint and said there was “more time” to run the pressure and engagement tracks.
Dagan outlined the some of the costs and limited benefits of launching an attack now on Iran’s nuclear program:
DAGAN: We are going to ignite, at least from my point of view, a regional war. And wars, you know how they start. You never know how you are ending it…
It will be a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life. I think that Israel will be in a very serious situation for quite a time.
STAHL: You said, “There’s no military attack that can halt the Iranian nuclear project. It could only delay it.”
DAGAN: Yes, I agree.
Watch a video of the exchange:
Dagan said that Iran is “maybe not exactly rational based on what I call Western thinking, but no doubt that they are considering all the implications of their action.” That assertion tracks with what the top U.S. military officer, top U.S. intelligence officer, and President Obama have said about the Iranian regime: that it operates on a cost-benefit analysis based on its interests, and can therefore be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Top U.S. intelligence and defense officials don’t think Iran has made a decision to pursue a bomb. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), did not conclude that Iran was building a bomb in its latest report on the program last month, despite warning about “serious concerns” that it is on a nuclear weapons track.
Last month, delivering a speech to the Israeli American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama ruled out containment of a nuclear-armed Iran, warning that an Iranian bomb posed a threat to the U.S. and its allies, as well as the international non-proliferation regime. But his administration thinks a negotiated, diplomatic end to the crisis was the “best and most permanent way” to end the standoff.