Blinken Nods to Israel’s Renewed Threats to Attack Iran

October 17th, 2021 - by Jason Ditz / & Daniel Larison / The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

With Nod to Military Action Against Iran,
Washington Gives In to Israeli Pressure

Jason Ditz / & Daniel Larison / The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

 (October 14, 2021) — Secretary of State Tony Blinken said all options are on the table against Iran, giving a clear nod to threats to attack militarily. This is exactly the sort of threat Israel has wanted, and Israeli officials are congratulating one another in getting that out of the US.

“All options” was a catch-all term for the US in threatening anyone, but Israeli officials felt the US wasn’t saying it nearly enough against Iran, presenting this as a split between Israel and the Democrats, a rift they now see as healing.

Israeli officials saw limited threats against Iran as a sign that the US realistically hadn’t kept some options on the table. It isn’t clear that the US is any closer to attacking Iran now, however.

The US is resisting key aspects of a deal, and warning time is running out for Iran. This, and the threats to attack, are part of the bargaining effort, not serious signs an attack is imminent.

Apart from Israel, the US would likely face major international opposition for a unilateral attack. The US stated goal is to return to the JCPOA and see Iran returned to it as well. Iran seems wholly prepared for that, on the condition that the US actually honors the deal and that they get some sort of assurance that the US won’t back out again like they did last time.

The assurance will likely be difficult, as Iran is such a political hot button in the US that many candidates will run specifically on dishonoring any deal reached with them.

Note to Blinken:
Israel’s ‘Military Option’ Shouldn’t Be on Our Table 

Secretary of State Blinken Seems to Favor
Israel’s Talk about Using Force. Is Diplomacy Dead?

Daniel Larison / The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

(October 15, 2021) — As indirect talks to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remain in limbo, the US and Israeli governments continue suggesting that “other options,” including military action, are available and will be considered if the talks should fail. 

The latest example of this came during a press conference between Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this week along with their counterpart from the United Arab Emirates. Commenting on Iran’s nuclear program, Lapid said that “Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment, in any way,” and he stated, “We know there are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil.”

For his part, Blinken said that “time is running short” to restore the nuclear deal, and he affirmed that “Israel has the right to defend itself and we strongly support that proposition.” 

In the context of discussing Iran’s nuclear program, what Lapid and Blinken are referring to is an endorsement of an illegal and unprovoked attack on Iran in the name of “preventing” Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon that Iran is not seeking. It is a measure of how ineffective US diplomacy has been over the last six months that administration officials are now contemplating “options” that have already failed or should never be tried.

Blinken said that diplomacy is still the “most effective way” to keep Iran’s nuclear program peaceful, but the record of their diplomacy to date has been underwhelming. Slow to engage, unwilling to offer even the smallest goodwill gestures, and refusing to take the initiative in rejoining the agreement, the Biden administration has gone through the motions of diplomatic engagement without offering Iran anything of substance to kickstart the process of returning to full compliance.

The new Raisi government in Tehran has responded to this by engaging in its own delaying tactics for the last few months. As frustrating as the negotiations have been up until now, there is no realistic alternative that would restore restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program except to stick with the talks to a successful conclusion.

The fact that the Biden administration has been glancing at the exits for the last several months has hardly helped matters.

While there is grumbling from the Israeli side that their government does not believe the Biden administration is serious when it talks about “other options” or “other avenues” if diplomacy should fail, US officials are signaling that the US views Israeli attacks on Iran’s facilities and territory as self-defense.

That is dangerous, and one that puts the US in the awful position of having endorsed an Israeli attack that it cannot control. Even if this is meant only as a sop to hard-liners, it identifies the US with whatever the Israeli government chooses to do.

When Israel’s political leadership keeps hinting at taking military action, it is irresponsible for the US to be giving them a green light. As Lapid said during the press conference, “by saying other options, I think everybody understands here, in Israel, in the Emirates, and in Tehran what is it that we mean.” The threat to commit acts of war is clear.   

It is important to understand that there is nothing defensive about the actions Israel has already taken in sabotaging Iranian facilities and assassinating Iranian scientists, and there would be nothing defensive about direct military attacks on Iranian soil.

It should go without saying that having a right to self-defense is not a license to initiate hostilities against another country on the pretext that it might pose some future danger. It wasn’t self-defense when the US invaded Iraq, and it wouldn’t be self-defense to drop bombs on Iran.

Any “preventive” military action against Iran would not only be a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, which prohibits the use or threat of force in international relations except in self-defense, but it would also likely produce the outcome that it is supposedly trying to stop, namely Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.

Even if Iran were seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, that would not give any other state permission to launch attacks on their territory. Since there is no evidence that Iran currently has a nuclear weapons program, that would clearly make military strikes on their nuclear facilities acts of criminal aggression.

Nothing would give the Iranian government a stronger incentive to build its own deterrent than an attack on their country. Just as the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak 40 years ago pushed Saddam Hussein to pursue nuclear weapons in earnest, an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would likely push the Iranian government to make the political decision to seek nuclear weapons that it has rejected for almost two decades before now.

Using force to resolve the nuclear issue is a dead end, but it seems to be one that the US and Israel are willing to entertain. 

The Biden administration claims that time is running out for Iran to resume full compliance, but there is no option for restoring the nuclear deal that doesn’t involve a diplomatic compromise. “Maximum pressure” sanctions have failed, as the Biden administration has acknowledged more than once, so keeping sanctions in place or piling on more will achieve nothing except to spur continued expansion of Iran’s nuclear program.

Covert sabotage has succeeded only in provoking Iran to enrich uranium to higher levels than ever before and to end its voluntary implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. Military action would be illegal and wrong, and it would all but guarantee the outcome that the nuclear deal had already blocked. It would also expose US troops throughout the region to reprisal attacks and possibly trigger a larger war. 

Before the US undermined it, the JCPOA was a major nonproliferation success story, and it was also a victory for resolving a longstanding international dispute through compromise. The conclusion of the agreement in 2015 reduced regional tensions and made war with Iran much less likely, and it is no accident that regional tensions and the likelihood of war have both spiked as the agreement has gone on life support.

When the Obama administration was first presenting the agreement to the world, they argued that its opponents had no alternative except war. As the negotiations over restoring the JCPOA falter, we are reminded once again that this is the only real alternative that hawks have to offer. The “options” that the hawks talk about are doomed to fail, and the cost of these options will be far greater than the sanctions relief that is needed to salvage the nuclear deal.

Diplomatic compromise with Iran was the only thing that resolved the nuclear issue six years ago, and it is the only thing that is going to revive the JCPOA now.

The “other options” that Lapid and Blinken mentioned lead to more failure and possibly to new conflict. In that respect, Blinken was wrong to say that diplomacy is the “most effective way” to prevent Iran from acquiring the nuclear weapon. As we should all realize by now, it is the only way.

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