Iran hawks and the GOP presidential candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been slow to acknowledge the inherent dangers of U.S. and/or Israeli military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities while members of President Obama’s cabinet have made the case that sanctions and diplomatic pressure are the best strategy for deterring Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.
But in remarks delivered last week at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — himself a Republican — delivered a stern warning to those who push for the “military option” against Iran.
“If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe,” said Gates, as reported by the Jewish Exponent. Gates, who served as Defense Secretary in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, warned that Iran’s nuclear facilities would be difficult to destroy and an attack would lead Iranians to “rally behind their mullahs.”
Gates’ comments concurred with U.S., Israeli and IAEA intelligence findings on Iran’s nuclear program. “I have long been convinced that Iran is determined to develop a nuclear-weapons capability,” said the former Defense Secretary. Indeed, the intelligence reports agree that Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capability but that Tehran has not yet made a decision about whether to acquire nuclear weapons.
Yesterday, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) warned that Iran may have “hundreds” of Hezbollah agents in the U.S. but Gates, in his remarks last week, largely disregarded the possibility of an Iranian retaliation within the U.S. if the U.S. or Israel launch a military strike on nuclear sites in Iran. “[T]he Iranian ability to attack us militarily here at home is virtually non-existent for now,” said Gates.
But retaliatory escalation from such a strike would still have a devastating impact on the U.S. and its regional allies. “[Iranian] capacity to wage a series of terror attacks across the Middle East aimed at us and our friends, and dramatically worsen the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere is hard to overestimate,” Gates said.
The Obama administration has ruled out a policy of containing a nuclear-armed Iran but, in views concurrent with those expressed by Gates, has emphasized that a diplomatic solution is “the best and most permanent way” to relieve mounting tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.