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Israel, Iran, and "Mowing the Lawn"

Given that everyone agrees Israel can't just destroy Iran's nuclear program--what with underground bunkers and secret facilities--people often wonder why Israel would launch air strikes that could have calamitous consequences. This Council on Foreign Relations analysis offers one explanation:

Israeli officials are aware that no conceivable Israeli strike could completely eliminate the nuclear threat posed by Iran and that an attack might only intensify longer-term risks as Iran reconstituted covertly, advancing an argument long made by counterterrorism officials that any effort to counter Iran’s nuclear challenge is going to be like “mowing the lawn.” Just as the grass will grow again, so will the nuclear program; Israel will just have to mow again. And as Iran’s reconstitution effort goes underground and its defenses are enhanced, Israel’s intelligence and military capabilities will have to keep pace. They also argue, however, that the advantages of buying time should not be disregarded.

Thus, the 1981 Osirak attack won two crucial decades during which Operation Desert Storm effec- tively disarmed Iraq and Operation Iraqi Freedom finally decapitated it. Neither tectonic event could have been predicted in 1981. (The counterargument is that the Osirak raid stimulated Iraq to switch to an highly enriched uranium [HEU] route and vastly increased the money and manpower devoted to the program. Whether or not the bombing set back Iraq’s program, the point is that many Israelis believe that it did.) On this Israeli view, a strike might prove worthwhile in ways that neither Israel nor the United States can anticipate at this stage.