Top U.S. think tank warns against Israeli, American strike on Iran

Amir Oren – Haaretz May 16, 2012

The RAND Corporation, a think tank which advises the Pentagon, warned on Tuesday against an Israeli or American attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors, and recommended the Obama administration try to “quietly influence the internal Israeli discussion over the use of  military force.”

In a document published in the think tank’s periodical, Rand Review, RAND openly disagreed with the belligerent stance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which are set to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other high-ranking officials over the next several days. In doing so, and without naming names, RAND sided with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin.

RAND’s call to prevent an Israeli strike and to come to terms with a nuclear Iran, on the condition that it does not test or deploy nuclear weapons, was published a week before the second round of the P5+1 talks with Iran in Baghdad, with a clear intention of influencing the Western position during the talks.

RAND, which has come to terms with the certainty of a nuclear-armed Iran and the inability of preventing it from enriching uranium, as most of its citizens support such a program, believes that Netanyahu and Barak’s approach “rests on a faulty assumption that a future, post-attack Middle East would indeed be free of a nuclear-armed Iran. In fact, a post-attack Middle East may result in the worst of both worlds: a nuclear-armed Iran more determined than ever to challenge the Jewish state, and with far fewer regional and international impediments to doing so.”

The document further stated that “U.S. intelligence officials should support the assessments of former and current Israeli officials who have argued against a military option.”

“U.S.-sponsored seminars outlining U.S. concerns and risk assessments for the Israeli intelligence and military community could also help shape the internal debate… U.S. public pressure on Israel will likely backfire given Israel’s sense of isolation, turning Israeli popular opinion, which is divided on the question of a military strike option, against the United States and allowing for more defiant positions among Israeli leaders… Encouraging Israeli leaders and journalists to report more to the public about security cooperation efforts could be helpful… War games now taking place at nongovernmental institutions in the United States and Israel explore conflict scenarios involving Israel and Iran. Such games clarify how an Israeli-Iranian deterrence relationship might evolve and what military or political steps could heighten or diminish conflict.”

The document was spearheaded by former ambassador and head of international and security policy for the RAND Corporation James Dobbins. RAND, which is based in Santa Monica, California, is one of the most well-respected think tanks dealing with American foreign policy and security and specializing in operations research, in systems analysis, and in forecasting the tendencies of the U.S. Air Force, and other governmental branches.

According to Dobbins and his cohort, “diplomacy and economic sanctions are better suited than military action to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, that Israeli security will be best served by military restraint combined with greater U.S.-Israeli cooperation, and that the Iranian people offer the surest hope for a future Iran that is more amenable to U.S. interests.”

The document further warns that “an Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence… This is true even of Israel, whose principal vulnerability is not to Iranian military pressure but to attacks by Iranian-supported Hamas and Hezbollah.”

“Containing this sort of influence would almost certainly become more difficult in the aftermath of an unprovoked American or Israeli military attack… The sympathy thereby aroused for Iran would make containment of Iranian influence much more difficult for Israel, for the United States, and for the Arab regimes currently allied with Washington. This would be particularly true in newly democratizing societies, such as Egypt, where public opinion has become less fettered and more influential.”

According to RAND, the “proximate objective of Western policy must be to dissuade Iran from testing and deploying nuclear weapons,” warning that crossing the nuclear weapons threshold will “only increase Iran’s isolation, reduce its influence, and increase the regime’s vulnerability to internally driven change.”

Furthermore, in order to prevent the Israel-Iran rivalry from escalating to a military campaign, the United States should “continue to discourage an Israeli military strike while strengthening Israeli capabilities in preparation for a future in which Iran may have managed to acquire nuclear weapons… The potential emergence of a more democratic Iran or of more moderate leadership may diminish Iran’s hostility toward Israel as well as Israel’s heightened threat perceptions of Iran.”

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