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Winds of War at WINEP Panel on Iran

The second day of discussions at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's annual conference ended with winds of war.

Two former generals - an Israeli and an American - concurred that Iran could have the Bomb by the summer of 2010; that diplomacy alone could not retard Iran's nuclear quest; that a military strike is viable, and that such an operation could only be viable if it involves robust U.S. military power.


On the panel were Israel's former chief of military intelligence, Major General (Ret.) Aharon Farkash and the former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, General (Ret.) Charles Wald.


Both agreed that Iran is set on acquiring nuclear capability, and that it will have enough weapon-grad fissile material for a bomb by the summer of next year.


General Wald said that a military strike to retard Iran's nuclear program is possible. He added that arguing that such a military operation is undoable would be a mistake because it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody wants it, he said, but the alternative - a nuclear Iran - is something that Israel cannot live with and that the U.S. should not live with. The only party that can sustain a long, intense air campaign, involving hundreds of sorties, which would target not only nuclear sites but command-and-control targets, is the U.S. military, he said. It will take months, Wald said, and predicted that if the Israelis start something, "the U.S. will be there to help them."


General Farkash said that "the U.S. military can do the job better than us," and explained that a nuclear Iran is not just an Israeli concern but a regional and indeed a global one.


Asked whether diplomacy could stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, Farkash said that "diplomacy alone can't do it." Diplomacy, he added must be reinforced by a credible military threat. Farkash was asked if diplomacy and sanctions could suffice. He didn't reply directly. What he said was that if he had just two minutes with President Obama, he would say to him that two things would send the best message to Iran. One is not withdrawing from Iraq unless and until the U.S. can secure a clear victory. The other is that the North Korean nuclear crisis must be successfully resolved before dealing with Iran.


Wald was less careful in his reply. Diplomacy, he said, is necessary because America would not be able to go to war unless it engages with Iran diplomatically. Remarkably, he added that even if a military strike only sets Iran's nuclear program back by two or three years, a military operation is worthwhile. You can always go in again and repeat it in three years, if necessary, he said.


Yet again, there was nobody on the panel to offer a different perspective.  


The generals' panel closed a day that was Iran-heavy. Earlier in the day, two senior Iranian ex-patriots associated with the Green Movement spoke. One of them was Ataollah Mohajerani, the former vice president of Iran for Parliamentary affairs.


In a lengthy, convoluted speech, full of literary quotes, which wore down the two Farsi  simultaneous interpreters, Mohajerani strongly warned against a military strike, which would kill the opposition in Iran, will strengthen the regime and deal a death blow to any chance of democratization and a regime-change. "War with Iran will be worse than a nuclear Iran," he said. It will turn Iran into a despotic police-state and will not generate the domestic public pressure needed to push the regime to abandon its nuclear quest.


Mohajerani also opposed sanctions. They too will severely hurt the opposition by denying it the oxygen needed to sustain it: a thriving middle class.


Tomorrow, Sunday, the discussion will evolve around the prospects of engagement with Iran.


Stay tuned.