Dershowitz Misrepresents J Street, U.S. Military Views On Iran

Alan Dershowitz

In a new Jerusalem Post column, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz declares that the progressive pro-Israel group J Street, by highlighting statements by Israeli defense officials regarding the potential consequences of a strike on Iran, “is now making it more likely that Israel and/or the United States will have no choice but to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program”:

In its most recent mass emailing, Jeremy Ben- Ami, J Street’s leader, urges his followers to undercut the Obama policy by demanding that the president stop threatening military action against Iran and that “the drums of war” must be silenced.

Without distinguishing between an Israeli and an American military attack, J Street mendaciously claims that “top Israeli security experts and former officials warned about the inefficacy and disastrous consequences of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities” and that “many in the American and Israeli intelligence and security establishments believe that a strike on Iran would fail to end Iran’s nuclear program and may even accelerate it….

While this may be true of a unilateral Israeli strike, it is totally untrue of an American or joint attack, which many of these experts acknowledge would wreck havoc on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Many of these same experts have explicitly called for the United States to maintain its military option as a last resort.

While it’s true that most experts agree that the United States should maintain its military option as a last resort — this is J Street’s position too, by the way, despite Dershowitz’s contention — Dershowitz is quite wrong about what U.S. officials have actually said about the possible consequences of an American attack. In April 2010, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen suggested that a U.S. strike on Iran could be just as destabilizing to the region as an Iranian nuclear weapon. “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” Mullen said. “In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.”

In November 2011, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that a U.S. strike might delay Iran’s nuclear work by only up to three years, and warned of “unintended consequences.” A military option should be kept available, he said, but might not result in “really deterring Iran from what they want to do.”

In January, Bush administration CIA director Michael Hayden recalled, “When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [the U.S. attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.”

In June, Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, said the U.S. security community estimates that “any military strike in its most wildly successful incarnation” would only result in a one- to three-year setback for Iran’s nuclear weapon program. “It would put time back on the clock, but it wouldn’t solve the problem in any meaningful way,” she said.

In March, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, “If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.”

Dershowitz’s attempt to portray J Street’s efforts to tamp down the war talk as somehow out of step with President Obama’s policy also fails. Addressing the Iran issue in a press conference in March, the president pushed back hard against just the sort of belligerent punditry that Dershowitz now endorses. “Already, there is too much loose talk of war,” President Obama said. “Over the last few weeks such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program… For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.”