Analysis from Israel

Among the plethora of arguments made against an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, one of the most bizarre is that the ensuing wave of international sympathy for Iran would destroy the international sanctions regime and allow Iran to race for the bomb unhindered – an argument made by both Israeli and American security experts opposed to a strike.

After all, U.S. President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that preventing a nuclear Iran is “profoundly” in America’s security interest; various other world leaders have also said a nuclear Iran threatens their own security. So why would all of them suddenly decide that a nuclear Iran no longer threatens their countries’ interests just because Israel launched an attack? And unless they changed their minds in this fashion, why would any of them suddenly stop trying to prevent Iran from going nuclear? Normal countries don’t stop pursuing their own security interests merely because they are annoyed with another country.

In fact, there’s only one conceivable reason why any country currently backing the sanctions regime should reverse its position following an Israeli strike: If it never actually cared about preventing a nuclear Iran in the first place, and backed sanctions only in an effort to prevent an Israeli attack.

It’s certainly possible that many countries fall into this category. But if so, that’s an argument in favor of an Israeli strike – because if world leaders aren’t actually committed to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, there’s no chance the sanctions regime will be maintained long enough and strictly enough to do so.

Indeed, the opposite is the case: If the world’s only interest in sanctions is preventing Israeli military action against Iran, those sanctions are sure to be eased once Iran has entered the “zone of immunity,” meaning its nuclear facilities are sufficiently protected that Israel no longer has the ability even to significantly delay its quest for the bomb. After all, most of the countries now participating in sanctions, especially in Europe, conducted a thriving trade with Iran until recently, and reviving that trade would benefit their own faltering economies. Thus the incentive to lift the sanctions would be overwhelming once the danger of an Israeli attack had passed.

In short, if other countries don’t truly believe it’s in their own interest to keep Iran from going nuclear, the sanctions effort will soon lapse regardless of whether or not Israel attacks – meaning Israel’s best play is to attack now and achieve whatever delay it can. That, as I’ve written before, isn’t an ideal solution, but it’s better than the certainty of Iran getting the bomb: Just as Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor bought just enough time for Saddam Hussein to provoke international intervention by invading Kuwait, an attack on Iran now could buy time for, say, a successful Iranian revolution, or an Iranian blunder (like closing the Straits of Hormuz) that would provoke international military action.

And if other countries do believe that preventing a nuclear Iran is in their own interests, they’ll continue working toward that end regardless of whether or not Israel attacks.

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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