Coming soon: a new Iran day of reckoning for pro-Israel groups?

Could pro-Israel leaders here face a grim day of reckoning on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program?

Last week the UN Security Council passed new sanctions demanded by the Obama administration, which won the support of China and Russia – the biggest obstacles to a new sanctions regime. Congress seems poised to pass tougher U.S. sanctions targeting companies, individuals and states that deal with Iran’s nuclear sector, JTA reports.

Tightened sanctions are clearly worth a try, given the huge problems with all the other options, but it’s hard to find experts who exude confidence they will be enough to stop an Iranian government that has learned to live with sanctions – and to find ways around them – for years.

President Obama hasn’t slammed the door shut on diplomacy, but his diplomatic outreach to Tehran has been a bust by any measure

What’s left? Only military action and deterrence, both options Jewish groups here are loathe to talk about – in the first case because they fear creating the impression pro-Israel forces are pressing for another U.S. war while our troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the second because any nod to deterrence seems like surrender in the fight to keep Iran from going nuclear.

But the military option, while talked about freely from the safety of neo-con think tanks, seems like a long shot bet.

Israel just doesn’t have the firepower to do much more than set back Iran’s nuclear program by six months, maybe a year. And an Israeli attack would entail enormous costs, including eruptions on the Lebanese and Gaza fronts, new missile barrages, new diplomatic isolation and increased friction with its only ally, the United States.

The U.S. DOES have the firepower – but the military experts I’ve talked to, including some who tilt on the conservative side on most issues, say it would take nothing less than a full-scale invasion and occupation because the important nuclear facilities are so dispersed.

Sorry, with an economic recovery that’s hanging by a thread, with a depleted U.S. military, with things going badly in Afghanistan and with a war-weary public, that’s just not likely to happen.

I know, some polls show widespread support for U.S. military action against Iran. But our political leaders are smart enough to know that support is superficial, not likely to stand up to the inevitable setbacks and the huge costs – economic and military.

That leaves deterrence.

It’s a lousy option, by any measure; it depends on the Iranians being pragmatic beneath their extremist bluster. If I lived in Israel, the country Iran’s leaders say should be wiped off the planet, it wouldn’t fill me with confidence.

Still, Israeli leaders clearly believe that may be the one option left on the table after all others have failed; that’s why they have reportedly been so intent on developing a second-strike nuclear capability.

Pro-Israel groups have understandably focused on sanctions as the best way to avoid war – and the best way to avoid the kind of tense nuclear standoff that defined the Cold War years.

That makes sense, but they also need to be ready for the day if and when it becomes clear sanctions have failed. They were right to emphasize sanctions, it seems to me, and they’re probably right to discourage open talk about deterrence. But they’d better be ready for the day when there’s nothing left.

Meanwhile,  Politico’s Laura Rozen is reporting that a battle is brewing over the Obama administration’s press for additional waiver authority in the new Iran sanctions bill.  No doubt that will become a political hot potato – but the fact is, all presidents, Republican and Democratic, have demanded waiver provisions, which they say gives them needed flexibility in the conduct of foreign policy.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.