Panetta on war with Iran

By Gary Sick

In recent months, we have had some strong views expressed, by people who have real knowledge of the situation, about the potential consequences of a military strike by Israel and/or the United States against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan says  it is “The stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”

On Friday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking to a strongly pro-Israel audience at the Saban Center in Washington, responded as follows to a question about how long a military attack on Iran would postpone it from getting a bomb:

SEC. PANETTA:  Part of the problem here is the concern that at best, I think – talking to my friends – the indication is that at best it might postpone it maybe one, possibly two years.  It depends on the ability to truly get the targets that they’re after.  Frankly, some of those targets are very difficult to get at.

That kind of, that kind of shot would only, I think, ultimately not destroy their ability to produce an atomic weapon, but simply delay it – number one.  Of greater concern to me are the unintended consequences, which would be that ultimately it would have a backlash and the regime that is weak now, a regime that is isolated would suddenly be able to reestablish itself, suddenly be able to get support in the region, and suddenly instead of being isolated would get the greater support in a region that right now views it as a pariah.

Thirdly, the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases.  Fourthly – there are economic consequences to that attack – severe economic consequences that could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States. And lastly I think that the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.

So we have to be careful about the unintended consequences of that kind of an attack.
A responsible leader has to think not only about yielding to impulse, but also about how a decision would look on the morning after. Secretary Panetta could scarcely have been more explicit about the potential folly of a third Middle East war.

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