Zakaria: A history lesson could deter Iran
An Israeli F-15 fighter jet.
February 16th, 2012
06:26 AM ET

Zakaria: A history lesson could deter Iran

By Fareed Zakaria

We are hearing a new concept these days in discussions about Iran - the zone of immunity. The idea, often explained by Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, is that soon Iran will have enough nuclear capability that Israel would not be able to inflict a crippling blow to its program.

In fact, while the specifics are fresh, this is not a new strategic concept at all. Nations have often believed that they face a closing window to act, and almost always such thinking has led to disaster. The most famous example, of course, was Germany’s decision to start what became World War I. The German General Staff believed that Russia - its archenemy - was rearming on a scale that would soon nullify Germany’s superior military strength. The Germans believed that within two years - by 1916 - Russia would have a significant, and perhaps unbeatable, strategic ­advantage.

As a result, when turmoil began in the Balkans in June 1914, Germany decided to act while it had the advantage. To stop Russia from entering a “zone of immunity,” Germany invaded France (Russia’s main ally) and Belgium, which forced British entry into the war, thus setting in motion a two-front European war that lasted four years and resulted in more than 37 million casualties.

Now, I am not suggesting that an Israeli attack on Iran would have anything close to these consequences. But I am suggesting that it is profoundly shortsighted to base a major decision - to go to war - on narrow technical considerations like windows of vulnerability. Many in Washington in March 2003 insisted that we could not wait for nuclear inspectors to keep at their work in Iraq because we faced a closing window - the weather was going to get too hot by June and July to send in U.S. forces. As a result, we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years.

Israeli officials explain that we Americans cannot understand their fears, that Iran is an existential threat to them. But in fact we can understand because we have gone through a very similar experience ourselves. After World War II, as the Soviet Union approached a nuclear capability, the United States was seized by a panic that lasted for years. Everything that Israel says about Iran now, we said about the Soviet Union. We saw it as a radical, revolutionary regime, opposed to every value we held dear, determined to overthrow the governments of the Western world in order to establish global communism. We saw Moscow as irrational, aggressive and utterly unconcerned with human life. After all, Joseph Stalin had just sacrificed a mind-boggling 26 million Soviet lives in his country’s struggle against Nazi Germany.

Just as Israel is openly considering preemptive strikes against Iran, many in the West urged such strikes against Moscow in the late 1940s. The calls came not just from hawks but even from lifelong pacifists such as the public intellectual Bertrand Russell.

Read the rest of my column in The Washington Post.

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Topics: From Fareed • Iran • Israel • Military

soundoff (245 Responses)
  1. Dan

    Israel will do anything to pull the US into this, they did this with the USS Liberty, nearly sank the ship. I fear Israel more than Iran.

    February 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  2. John Kantor

    "...we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years."

    Is this clown for real? Your kid would get an F in middle school contemporary history for a pathetic statement like that. Time has its own agenda – and it's the same as the appeasers in the 30s who brought about the rise of Hitler.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Reply
  3. jim22

    (1) I am sure that the words of Mr. Zakaria come with a warranty. Should Iran attack Israel and kill thousands, Zakaria will personally tell God to resurrect all the people. We however will need to see the warranty signed by God right now. (2) Stalin was crazy and he wanted to see US dead but he and his government were not into this martyring and 72 virgin stuff. Stalin/Khruschev/Breznev/etc did not go on TV every day saying they plan to bomb the US. (3) And last difference is the military capability. If USSR launched strike on US, it would take 30 minutes for the ICBM to reach USA which gives USA plenty of time to send US missiles. The distance from Iran to Israel is seconds. Mr. Zakaria is a journalist but he is not a physicist or psychologist.

    February 20, 2012 at 1:54 am | Reply
  4. freedomandjustice

    Do not let the Jewish-American lobby money bribe American politicians!

    Do not let the American media brainwash the American public into going to war with Iran like they did with going to war with Iraq!

    March 4, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply
  5. SemuelGirs

    May 3, 2012 at 1:18 am | Reply
  6. FuxerTipoc

    May 6, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  7. NejenAxsis

    Коллеги, открыл интернет магазин китайской одежды через сайт запасон ру – теперь вот
    думаю – может визиток в торговом центре раскидат, как вы думаете – будет эффект? На
    сайте моем дешевле намного чем в ТЦ одежда.

    July 26, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  8. moloko

    all Arab and Muslim regimes. never succeed,never equal the massacre of its own population , as did ussr soviet regime, on soviet people : 27000 000 millions died

    February 16, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  9. justiceforall

    Your wrong. Arabs murdered 120 million black africans alone. Learn your history.

    February 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  10. OJ

    Can you please provide a link or a reference to back up your claim

    February 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
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