The former Secretary of Defense to the George W. Bush and Obama administrations Robert Gates said in an interview on CBS aired this morning that getting Iran to give up any potential ambitions to nuclear weapons was the “only good option” for dealing with the nuclear standoff with the West. He warned that an Israeli attack on Iran could spark a regional war.
Interviewer Charlie Rose asked Gates about his comment that Iran was the toughest challenge he has faced. Gates suggested, in line with the Obama administration, that a diplomatically negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis was the sole way to deal with the issues without major drawbacks. Gates said:
GATES: The only good option is putting enough pressure on the Iranian government that they make the decision for themselves that continuing to seek nuclear weapons is actually harming the security of the country and, perhaps more importantly to them, putting the regime itself at risk. And there are signs that those sanctions are beginning to really bite and some much more severe European Union sanctions will come into effect this summer.
ROSE: What if Israel does it on its own?
GATES: That would be worse than us doing it. Because I think that then has lots of regional complications that may end up in a much larger Middle East conflict. So I think that would be worse.
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Gates has offered warnings about attacking Iran before, declaring that even a U.S. strike would be a “catastrophe.” So his statement that an Israeli strike would be “worse” is significant. And a Pentagon wargame reported by the New York Times this year found the U.S. got dragged into the conflict after an Israeli strike.
A top U.S. security thinktank that advises the Pentagon released an article in its journal yesterday advising against a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran. The article from the RAND Corporation by, among others, top former U.S. diplomat James Dobbins, noted that a strike “would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons” — in line with assessements from some top former Israeli officials. The RAND article called for more U.S.-Israeli cooperation and for the U.S. to quietly “support the assessments of former and current Israeli officials who have argued against a military option.” Many former top Israeli security officials have criticized Israel’s hawkish government for an eagerness to attack Iran without dealing with potential consequences of such an attack.
Gates seemed to be using shorthand when discussing Iran’s “continuing to seek nuclear weapons.” While a potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, as well as the nuclear non-proliferation regime, reports on U.S. and Israeli estimates state that these intelligence agencies don’t believe Iran has made a decision to build nuclear weapons. Those estimates give the West time to pursue a dual-track approach of pressure and diplomacy to resolve the crisis. American officials including President Obama vow to keep “all options on the table” to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, but questions about the efficacy and consequences of a strike have led U.S. officials to declare that diplomacy is the “best and most permanent way” to resolve the crisis.