Dov Zakheim Spells Out Dangers of the “Military Option”

Former Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim is coming out strongly against an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Zakheim, a foreign policy hawk, talked to The Jerusalem Post at the Herzliya Conference.

They reported:

Zakheim said in an interview that in his opinion, Israel did not have to attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. Israel, he said, has developed the Arrow 2 ballistic missile defense system, which, together with US Navy Aegis missile defense ships in the Mediterranean, would likely succeed in intercepting an Iranian missile fired at Israel.

“There is less than a 1-percent chance that an Iranian missile will get through these defenses,” Zakheim said. “Iran, however, is worried about Israel’s alleged nuclear program, and their fear is 100%, so why would they want to take a 1% chance if there is a 100% chance that they will be destroyed?” Zakheim also warned about the potential fallout Israel would face from such an attack. He said that on the one hand, Israel would turn the Iranian people into its “permanent enemy,” and on the other hand, an attack could lead to “terrible relations” with the US.

Zakheim’s suggestion that the Iranian leadership might be behaving in a rational manner goes against what Iran hawks such as Reuel Marc Gerecht, Jennifer Rubin, and Cliff May argue. More importantly, an assumption of rationality permits a realistic analysis of an Iranian cost-benefit situation. Given Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” it would seem highly unlikely that an Iranian leadership that values self-preservation would engage in a first-strike nuclear attack.

The former Reagan and George W. Bush administration official went on to deliver comments that must have sent chills up the spines of “linkage” deniers.

“The US will be attacked in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this could turn the administration against Israel like never before,” he said.

This can’t have gone over well with The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who lashed out at James Jones, President Obama’s former national security adviser. Jones told reporters at Herzliya that “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the core problem in the Middle East, and solving it will go a long way toward securing regional and even global peace.”

Rubin wrote:

One suspects that the upper echelons of the military are steeped in the brew of “Israel is the key to the region’s problems” conventional wisdom. In that regard, one is tempted to advise a great many generals and admirals to hush up and fight.

In panels and interviews at the Herzliya Conference, respected foreign policy realists, a former Mossad chief, and a former U.S. national security adviser have all echoed the message that the “military option” is an extremely dangerous and counterproductive policy choice for Israel and the U.S. But these statements don’t seem to slow down those Iran hawks who are committed to the narrative that Iran is an “existential threat” and can only be defeated through direct confrontation.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. RE: “one is tempted to advise a great many generals and admirals to hush up and fight” – Jennifer Rubin
    MY SNARK: You go, gurl! Put those generals and admirals in their place(s). That Jennifer Rubin is one ‘heavy hangin’ gal!

  2. Easy for Zakheim, who isn’t an Israeli, to put his faith in systems that had never been tested before. 1%? 10%? Can we stop inventing estimates, please? Iranian nukes ARE existential threat to Israel, period. We all hope that the sanctions and the sabotage will do the trick, but if they don’t, it’s Israel, not you, who will pay the price.

  3. Monkey see, monkey do. If the US can attack Iraq, without any good reason, if the US can invade Grenada without any good reason, why can’t Israel attack Iran?

  4. Zakheim’s words are welcome, though I wouldn’t place quite so much faith in missile defenses. But it’s truly arrant nonsense to think the Iranian regime would commit suicide by lobbing a nuclear-tipped missile (when they have one) at Tel Aviv.

    There is simply no need for opponents of Israel to undertake suicidal actions. Time is on their side. The demographic clock is ticking, not to mention the fact that America’s ability to succor an Israel in distress may be coming to an end (in 10 or 20 years, that is).

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