Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan have both made waves over the past months with statements asserting that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities could only delay, not destroy, the Islamic Republic’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Speaking in Tel Aviv last week, Michèle Flournoy, formerly the Obama administration’s undersecretary of defense for policy, emphasized that while the U.S. has a real and viable set of military options against Iran, an Israeli unilateral strike would be unproductive and any military action “would put time on the clock, but it wouldn’t solve the problem in any meaningful way.”
Flournoy’s comments were delivered at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) on May 29 and 30 and appeared to attempt to both alleviate Israeli concerns that the U.S. was insufficiently committed to preventing a nuclear armed Iran and dissuade Israel from launching its own unilateral strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“Having sat in the Pentagon, I can assure you of the quality of the work that has been done. [...] The military option for the president is real,” said Flournoy. “Barack Obama is a president that says what he means and does what he says. [...] I can assure you we do not have a policy of containment.”
Flournoy, who left the Pentagon in February and advises the Obama re-election campaign, warned that Israeli military action would ultimately prove counterproductive to Israeli and U.S. interests, telling the audience:
If Israel would launch an attack prematurely, it would undermine the ability of the international community to come together in the critical long-term campaign. It would ultimately hurt our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
That warning was amplified by former Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Blackwill who told the INSS audience, “If there were attacks on the American homeland [in response to an Israeli attack on Iran], how many Americans might think that Israel dragged us into a war and now shopping malls were being blown up?”
A potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of U.S. and its allies in the region, as well as the nuclear non-proliferation regime. However, intelligence estimates give the West time to pursue a dual-track approach of pressure and diplomacy to resolve the crisis. 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.