WASHINGTON — War is a great leap into the dark. It is a chancy affair to predict when a particular act will end with the troops going over the top.
Still, one can't help but worry that President Barack Obama's plan to negotiate with Tehran one more time might bring Israel one step closer to a direct military confrontation with Iran. Here is why.
It doesn't take a crystal ball to guess how the latest diplomatic minuet between the Iranian regime and the Obama administration will end. There will be no halt in Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The Iranian regime sees three key strategic purposes for having the bomb:
One is so the mullahs can continue to oppress their own people without fear of intervention from the outside.
When you have a nuclear weapon, no one seriously attempts to meddle in your internal affairs. That was a lesson President Dwight Eisenhower learned during the Cold War, when he had to hastily abandon his "rollback" strategy. Regime change by force is just too risky when the regime has nukes.
The second reason Iran wants to go nuclear is that it believes such weaponry will allow it to pursue a much more muscular policy in establishing dominance in the region. Tehran rightly figures that few nations will want to risk resistance that might escalate to nuclear conflict. With a nuke in its hip pocket, it will be much easier for the regime to push its neighbors around.
It will also allow Iran to hold the "great powers" hostage. True, Tehran would lose a nuclear war with any major power. But what major power would be willing to risk losing even a single city to keep Iran's ambitions in line?
Together, Tehran sees nukes as a golden ticket, guaranteed to perpetuate the revolution. No matter what Iran's leaders might say for public consumption, they will never agree to anything that would keep them from getting the bomb.
Iran has a new president, Hassan Rouhani, but the same old overlord. And that overlord's views haven't changed: Negotiations are fine if they help the regime crack the sanctions that are strangling the economy, but that is their only purpose. For Tehran, negotiations remain a short-term ploy for winning economic relief, not a game-changer in U.S.-Iranian relations.
The Israelis know the current Obama-Rouhani waltz is a dead end. And they know that if Iran dupes the West into easing sanctions, the prospects of the mullahs going nuclear become more — not less — likely. And that is something Israel cannot let happen.
The more Tel Aviv sees developments trending that way, the more pressure its leaders will feel to take matters into its own hands. And that makes dropping bombs more, not less, likely.
Israel-Iran is not like North Korea-South Korea. South Korea could be less apoplectic about the north going nuclear because they have American troops sitting on the DMZ. South Korea also rests much more comfortably under the American nuclear umbrella. Not so for Israel.
Plus the Israelis are not just worried about Iran. They are worried about the whole neighborhood. It is widely believed that, if Iran gets the bomb, many of its neighbors — including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt — will feel compelled to get nuclear arsenals of their own.
After all, they don't want to be bullied by Iran. A neighborhood bristling with nukes scattered among mutually distrustful nations is a neighborhood that few will feel safe in.
In reality, it is improbable that Israel could eliminate an Iranian weapons program with one swift, decisive military strike. Thus, if Israel were to attack, it would only be the opening gambit in a long and dangerous confrontation.
That is not a happy prospect. Sadly, Obama's faux dialogue with Rouhani increases the chanced that Israel will feel compelled to run that course.
James Jay Carafano is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.