CALLS FOR THE use of military force against Iran are dangerously misguided. Israeli bombing strikes are not capable of destroying Iran’s deeply buried and dispersed nuclear program, most experts agree. Attacking Iran would prompt a violent reaction that could plunge the United States into another war and unleash a regional conflagration. According to U.S. intelligence estimates, Iran has not yet decided to build a nuclear bomb. If attacked, Iran would almost certainly resolve to proceed.
Consider the lessons of history: Israel’s bombing of a nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981, far from ending Iraq’s nuclear program, prompted Saddam Hussein to accelerate that program and begin manufacturing weapons-grade uranium. When U.N. inspectors entered the country 10 years later, they discovered that Iraq was only a year or so from having the bomb. The inspectors dismantled Iraq’s nuclear program, succeeding where bombing had failed.
Sanctions and diplomacy offer a far less risky and more effective strategy for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. To be successful, however, sanctions must be combined with incentives as part of a diplomatic strategy designed to achieve a negotiated settlement.
The Obama administration has convinced the U.N. Security Council and countries in Europe and beyond to join in a rigorous set of sanctions that have cut off financial transactions with Iran’s major banks and curtailed purchases of Iranian oil. As a result, inflation is rising, the Iranian rial has lost half its value in the past year, and economic hardships are mounting.
Such costs have not stopped Tehran from enriching uranium and steadily enhancing its nuclear capability—and, indeed, past experience shows that sanctions alone never succeed in stopping nuclear proliferation.