On the surface,
Iran appears to have bested the international community in its
pursuit of nuclear weapons. As former Secretary of State Colin
Powell has observed, after two years of fruitless negotiation, the
international community is no closer to halting Iran's quest for
Instead, the great powers endlessly debate where and when a
diplomatic showdown will take place while Iran resumes its nuclear
research. In essence, the world is fiddling while Rome burns. The
West has one ace left to play before a final showdown looms.
Extending NATO membership to Israel could convince Iran's Mullahs
that developing a nuclear capability is not in their interest.
To put it mildly,
the new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, comes across as
extremely dangerous and unhinged in his opinions of the state of
Israel, a long-term American ally. His recent comments are both
anti-Semitic and fascist. By questioning the reality of the
Holocaust, threatening to wipe Israel of the face of the earth, and
urging that a Jewish state be relocated thousands of miles away,
Ahmadinejad has made clear his intentions. Too often in the 20th
century, people scoffed at statements such as these, only to watch
in horror as barbaric actions followed earlier intemperate rhetoric
dismissed at the time as the words of a madman. If we are to learn
the lessons of history, we must take the Iranian leadership at its
force must remain on the table, a precision strike would be fraught
with military, diplomatic, and economic risks. Having learned from
the brilliant Israeli raid against Saddam Hussein's French-built
nuclear plant at Osirak in 1981, the Iranians have dispersed their
nuclear projects to dozens of facilities, buried many of them
underground, and shielded some in high-density urban areas,
ruthlessly using the Iranian people as human shields.
Diplomatically, a strike would complicate efforts to promote
democracy and imperil pro-Western regimes such as Jordan, Egypt,
Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Economically, Ahmadinejad has
threatened to disrupt the oil market if a strike occurs, which
would pose a direct threat to Western prosperity. While the United
States must be prepared to use preemptive force to neutralize the
Iranian threat if necessary, the huge complexity of the operation,
plus its potential fallout, must be recognized.
On the other hand,
endless talks between the EU-3 (France, Britain, and Germany) and
Tehran are not solving the problem and will not disarm the Iranian
regime. Behind the scenes of the negotiations, many in continental
Europe secretly wish that the U.S. would simply accept the
possibility of an Islamic Republic of Iran with a nuclear arsenal.
They ignore, however, the harsh reality of such a foolhardy policy.
The fallout from inaction would be disastrous. An arms race in the
region would ensue, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt all vying
to develop their own nuclear weapons. Iran would become
increasingly vociferous in its threats against Israel and could
actively arm the myriad terrorist groups that depend upon Tehran's
protection. Israel would not play along with this game of Russian
roulette. The world would shortly face a major regional conflict,
possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons.
A Security Guarantee
There is a way out
of the present diplomatic morass that will signal to the Mullahs in
Tehran that the West is serious about reining in their nuclear
ambitions, but without allowing them to destabilize the Middle
East. The United States should propose the quick admission of
Israel into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a full
and equal member.
Israel meets NATO
qualifications: it is a democracy, has a free market economy, and
is able to contribute to the common defense. In fact, unlike many
new NATO members, it would be a net addition to the alliance,
having lift and logistics ability, a second-to-none officer corps,
and a first-rate military capable of all aspects of war-fighting.
Israel spends nearly 10 percent of its GDP on defense and has
active armed forces numbering 167,000 men and women, with 358,000
in reserve. It possesses up to 200 nuclear warheads, as well as a
well-equipped Air Force and Navy.
intelligence capabilities have been a vital asset in prosecuting
the Global War on Terror, as few understand the conflict so well.
Like the U.S. and Great Britain, history has forced Israel into
being a genuine warrior nation. Its accession to NATO could only
enhance the alliance's capabilities.
Israeli accession to NATO would explicitly extend the Western
alliance's nuclear deterrent to cover Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Now
it will be Tehran, and not the rest of the world, that has a
proliferation problem. Any nuclear or conventional attack on
Israel, be it direct or through proxies such as Hezbollah or other
terrorist groups, would be met by a cataclysmic response from the
West that would make the Battle of Omdurman look like a stroll in
Israel's accession would leave the Mullahs with no illusions about
the West's determination to respond to Iran's strategic threat to
NATO membership is
the strongest disincentive to Tehran against its aspirations to
join the nuclear club. Iran wants the bomb primarily to intimidate
Israel into a lesser role in the Middle East and, in effect, to
hold the West hostage to its desire for regional dominance.
Extended deterrence, with its proven track record in the Cold War,
remains the last, best chance to get the Iranians to back down.
Israel's joining NATO is undoubtedly the most effective way to
resolve the crisis, short of immediate military action.
Since the end of
the Cold War, NATO has been searching for a continued role in the
world after the fall of the Soviet Union. If NATO is to remain
relevant, it must adapt to new threats on the international stage
while retaining its timeless commitment to Western security and
values. The present crisis meets these criteria; it requires only
new thinking to meet this new and dangerous challenge.
In addressing the
gathering storm over Iran, the NATO of the 21st century must embody
the vision of Sir Winston Churchill, who recognized that the future
of the West depends upon its ability to forthrightly confront and
defeat apparently distant threats to its security, which are all
too often nearer than they seem. The time to change the
geopolitical calculus of the Middle East is now.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow, and
Hulsman, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in European Affairs,
at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The