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 constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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