Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Robert Gates and Israel: There He Goes Again

by Elliott Abrams
October 6, 2012


This past week, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told an audience in Norfolk, Virginia that an American or Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear sites would be “catastrophic” and that American officials should make it clear to the government of Israel that “they do not have a blank check to take action that could do grave harm to American vital interests.”

Mr. Gates’s view that such a strike would be catastrophic is less persuasive with a bit of context: he also believed the 2007 Israeli strike on the Syrian nuclear reactor would be disastrous, opposed it strongly, and urged that the entire relationship between the United States and Israel be brought into question if Israel went forward.

In The Weekly Standard, I give an account of what happened in 2007 and conclude

This story should be borne in mind when Mr. Gates now predicts with certainty, once again, that an Israeli or American strike (this time on Iran) will produce only “catastrophic” results, and expresses, once again, these negative views of Israel’s relationship with the United States.  To be sure, the case of Iran is very different from that of Syria. But the man who thought the attack on Syria’s nuclear program would be catastrophic may not be the most reliable judge of likely consequences—nor of the entire American-Israeli relationship.

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  • Posted by EthanP

    Once again Mr. Abrams shines a light into the darkness. Mr. Gates is not now, nor has he ever been a supporter of Israel. Israel is ungrateful and the USA gets nothing???
    Intelligence? Experience? R&D? What does Gates want. For Israel to pay the US national debt?

  • Posted by Matt

    It is possible not probable that there will be a so called Persian Spring, bear in mind we are Iran centric therefore the so called Arab Spring was an is focused on Iran.

    The Arab Spring an collapse of regimes in the region are collateral damage that in the face of an Iranian nuclear weapon, is a tolerable amount of blow back.

    Now it has been almost 2 years since those other regimes collapses or faced insurrection. Yet the Iranian regime is still intact. So having absorbed 2 years of Spring, it is possible not probable that some more time may cause an outbreak, however Iran has been active in taking counter measures, like stockpiling wheat.

    So far the death toll via collateral damage globally as an example. I do not know now much of that we are responsible for and an not going to work it out. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/27/climate-change-kills-400-000-a-year-new-report-reveals.html

    Half or a quarter of that number, an the effects of the Arab Spring conflict Syria, Libya etc. The last world war was 60 to 80 million and only one nuclear power. So the current death toll can be justified.

    Anyway a strike before the US election was called off, if Romney is elected that gives Obama 3 months to do a deal and the Iranians are playing along but not serious saying negotiations after the election. This will not be like 39 and 40 and the hostage crisis. So regardless of that there is 3 extra months.

    So that is 3 months, there is likely to be early elections in Israel which will either see a change of government and policy, this is a referendum on the Iranian matter.

    There is around 6 months of increased global food prices, domestic unrest may not crack the Iranian regime but it may cause a split in the ruling class and decision makers and cause a delay on the nuclear timeline, restate may.

    That is because Iran has been under the pressure of the Spring for around a 2 year period, so that would be 2 and a half years.

    This would lead into June and the Iranian elections and a short period after so that is around 8 to 9 months. 9 months was the red line. That is almost a period of 3 years that Iranian would have withstood the Arab Spring. So far the regime has been proven to be highly resistant.

    Once again it is possible not probable that the Spring will bring down the Iranian regime in that period and or cause enough pressure to force a change in policy. Preventing the need of a military option. And these timelines are fluid, not set in stone.

  • Posted by Matt

    The point is regardless of sanctions, use of speculators on commodities markets inflating prices, even favorbale climatic events. The Arab Spring was a direct result of the fires in Russia and Russia halting exports.

    As war learned from sanctions and Iraq food for oil and current wheat sales to Tehran. As we have seen with the Arab Spring regimes collapse and face insurrection in a short period of time, when there are high food prices and a shortage of wheat on the global market and inflated prices.

    If wheat was withheld Saddam would have collapse and there would have been no Iraq war and thus Qum would have been struck in 2005 as was the case with OP Opera and Op Orchard.

    At the moment conditions are favorable climatically in increasing wheat prices. We have droughts in the US and Russia and in Iran, which Ahmadi has blamed on HAARP.

    But Iran has been able to stockpile wheat, so without a major producer being forced to halt wheat exports or a full wheat embargo of Iran.

    The regime is unlikely to crack and even then it is possible not probable in the given time frame which would avert the need for a military option.

    At that point it can be said that all not military options have been explored and exploited.

  • Posted by Prof. Taheri

    The details of an Israeli attack on Iran are revealed in Jonathan Bloomfield’s award-winning book, “Palestine.”

  • Posted by Chris Vanasse

    I should think that the difference between a start up nuclear reactor site in Syria, and an established nuclear program; with a functioning reactor, enrichment facilities – both above and below ground, all belonging to a subscribing member of the NPT, under IAEA supervision and safety protocols-Iran, are significant enough to express a warning. The obvious difference in Syria’s and Iran’s military postures and capabilities, as well as their vulnerabilities vis a vis Israel, would also suggest prudence regarding action versus Iran which sits astride 30% of the worlds supply of oil shipments.
    Not withstanding the fact a minimally successful attack, which even Israeli military experts agree is all the IAF could manage, would not remove all of Iran’s nuclear program elements, and unless vigorously prosecuted with robust US military muscle and it’s entailing sacrifice both in material and personnel, would only embolden the Iranians to proceed full speed ahead in trying to procure the deterrent affect the possession of a nuclear arsenal would provide them.

  • Posted by canadiansyrian

    I said it before and going to say it again ,,
    The Arabs/Iran/Sunnis/Shiaa MUST NOT have any Nuke .
    It is like giving a 6 years old boy a loaded gun .
    America and Isreal would be doing them a favour if they bomb them.

  • Posted by Elshan

    Gates’ position on Iran supported by Henry Kissinger. He said: “We can not transfer the right to declare war subcontractor – it should be an American solution.”

  • Posted by Shakiem Smith

    I for one believe that no matter how aggressive Iranian leaders speak that the current regime is still a rational regime to a certain extent. Excluding all internal political clashes, the current regime will not commit national suicide by lashing out at Israel even if they attain a nuclear arsenal. As far as the “Arab Spring(s)” uprisings go, I’m most positive that the Iranian regime has been paying close attention. Iranian leaders would be quick to reach some sort of compromise to assuage the Iranian citizens than commit mass slaughter, especially now then they command global attention.

  • Posted by Arnold Ziffel

    Robert Gates is a true American hero. He saved thousands of American lives by getting us out of Iraq.

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