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Israel has the right to prevent its civilians from being murdered by Iranian weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction. Iran would have no legal standing to protest a surgical attack on its nuclear facilities that are designing weapons that could be used to achieve Iran’s declared goal of wiping Israel off the map and killing millions of its citizens. The leaders of Iran have publicly declared that a nuclear exchange, killing millions of Jews and Muslims, would be acceptable to them because it would destroy Israel while only damaging Islam. A suicide nation cannot be deterred by the threat of retaliation. Israel’s only realistic option may be a preventive military strike of the kind it conducted against Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. That surgical attack may have saved countless lives at the cost of one single casualty. By the way, Iran too tried to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor, but failed. Certainly Israel has the right to do what Iran itself tried to do—namely prevent a lethal enemy from developing weapons capable of mass murder of its citizens.
This is not to say that Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear reactors now. That is has the right to do so does not mean that it should not wait for a more opportune time. The law of war does not require an immediate military response to an armed attack. The nation attacked can postpone its counterattack without waiving its right. The military option should always be a last resort after all other efforts have failed. It may well be that efforts to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear computers will succeed. Although it is unlikely that economic sanctions will ever persuade Iran’s ideological zealots to end their nuclear weapons program, a combination of quasi military, tough economic and diplomatic sanctions may slow it down to a point where the military option can be postponed. But under no circumstances should the military option ever be taken off the table. Israel must preserve its ability to exercise its fundamental right of preventive self defense. If possible, it should act together with other allies. But if necessary, it has the right to act alone to protect its citizens. Nearly everybody hopes that it won’t come to that, but hope is not a policy. As George Washington cautioned in his second inaugural address, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
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