February 19th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Zakaria: Israel, don't strike Iran

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

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.

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.

To get a sense of the mood of the times, consider this entry from the Nov. 29, 1948, diary of Harold Nicolson, one of the coolest and most sober British diplomats of his generation: “[I]t is probably true that Russia is preparing for the final battle for world mastery and that once she has enough bombs she will destroy Western Europe, occupy Asia, and have a final death struggle with America. If that happens and we are wiped out over here, the survivors in New Zealand may say that we were mad not to have prevented this. . . . There is a chance that the danger may pass and peace can be secured with peace. I admit it is a frail chance, not one in ninety.”

In a speech at the Boston Navy Yard in August 1950, Navy Secretary Francis Matthews argued that, in being “an initiator of a war of aggression,” the United States “would become the first aggressors for peace.”

In the end, however, the global revolutionaries in Moscow, the mad autocrats in Pyongyang and the terrorist-supporting military in Pakistan have all been deterred by mutual fears of destruction. While the Iranian regime is often called crazy, it has done much less to merit the term than did a regime such as Mao’s China. Over the past decade, there have been thousands of suicide bombings by Saudis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Pakistanis, but not been a single suicide attack by an Iranian. Is the Iranian regime — even if it got one crude device in a few years — likely to launch the first?

The efforts to delay and disrupt Iran's nuclear program are working. But even if one day Tehran manages to build a few crude bombs, a policy of robust containment and deterrence is better to contemplate than a preemptive war.

For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Be sure to catch GPS every Sunday at 10a.m. and 1p.m. EST. If you miss it, you can buy the show on iTunes. For more of my takes, click here.

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Topics: Iran • Israel • Military • United States

soundoff (1,810 Responses)
  1. bubbaG

    Add mine to the column that USSR vs USA is NOT ...neeeeewewwwaaaaayyyyy not anyway near to compare with religious zealots who perceive that death, when resulting from killing 'infidels' , is honorable and assures one an eternity with the 70 virgins ...um....well...do I need to say more...they are tribal bozos playing with half a brain waiting for eons of evolution to turn them into more or less fully outfitted members of a modern world which left them and their half wit religiousity somewhere before the ICE AGE. Sorry Fatwah Man, yo'r WAaaaay off base now.
    g'nite loopy loo

    February 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Truthship

      Religious zealots? Israel and Iran are quite equal when it comes to this detail.

      February 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
      • bubbaG

        Mate, you kiddin' ??? Yes Israelis are zealots in one respect but when your religion denies others the right to LIVE simply because they don't wanna play in your yard from a religious perspective THEN you are in an entire NEW league of zealotry bordering on insanity. No, Muslim fascists are the SOLE KNOWN RELIGION with this notion that all others need to die who do not believe as they believe. That's the facts.

        February 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
      • Truthship

        Have you spoken to an Iranian Jew lately? Obviously not.

        February 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  2. bubbaG

    why don't you bozos post the most current post at the TOP instead of the dang bottom so that when the page renders you don't have to SCROLL for a week to get to the latest posts...feh.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  3. Tahir

    I don't know why CNN has appointed Mr Fareed to represent the views in an American newspaper. He cannot understand the American thinking.He should suggest things the ways American think because it is an American news paper and not an Indian newspaper.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  4. son_of_soviet_officer

    Dear Fareed Zakaria
    You forgot to mention that Soviet Union never, never claim to destroy USA.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Truthship

      Yes they did, " They will sell us the rope to hang them with. "

      February 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  5. Rob Lanken

    Fareed, your swastika is showing.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  6. Tinku

    Of course Israel knows about MAD.

    Its real problem is that once Iran attains nuclear advancements which would enable it to assemble a nuclear weapon quickly, the Palestinian side will negotiate with a position of relative strength. This would ensure that Palestinians will get a fairer deal. Thus Israel could not be able to dictate its terms and impose its own version of peace by throwing crumbs out of the Palestinian's own land and the Palestinians would be less willing to take whatever little they get.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Tinku

      Also one should keep in mind that the Iranian religious leadership has issued fatwas against Nuclear Weapons saying they are unislamic and they have avowed time and again that they will never develop nuclear weapons. They have signed the NPT and have inspectors on ground checking their facilities.

      Israel is opposite of that. It has armed itself to its teeth with more than 300 nuclear weapons according to previous US president. It is not signatory to NPT.

      While Iran has never attacked any country in last several hundred years. Israel attacks its neighbors willy nilly and had occupied Palestinian land against UN resolution 242. It has displaced millions of Palestinians and other countries are bearing the burden of those refugees which are in their 3rd generation.

      Now it wants to drag the whole world in a war that wants to fight so that it could continue its expand its racist settlements without any hindrance. So other countries will be dragged into this horrible war which Israel may start but would have no control over and other countries would have to pay for with losing their civilians.

      The whole world will be dragged into a recession the likes of which we have not seen before and all the middle east will get involved.

      Say a clear NO to pro war candidates. We had enough wars for land, oil and occupation which only tend to bring misery to us and create hate against US and send us to bankruptcy.

      February 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  7. David H. Piller

    Israel has no choice. What would be quite interesting would be Israeli pilots piloting United States aircraft "sausage link" bunker bombing Iranian nuclear underground sites as the first step in eliminating the current regime. As an alternative tactic "gamma ray" bombardment of the processing sites would suffice, eliminating all life within the sites and leaving them uninhabitable for lifetimes.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  8. Brent

    FZ misses on many accounts with his comparison, but perhaps the most notable omission is the complete lack of the Religious element. One cannot compare a Communist govt, with a Theocracy. Religion is Emotion. It can not be proved, or disproved. That is why it is called faith, perhaps it should be called blind faith. Religion is a fine thing most of the time, but it should not replace reason when making decision. It is especially dangerous in this context. The Theocracy in Iran believe in the return of the 12th Imam, and seek to facilitate his return. The Supreme Leader actually had a press conference where he claimed that he had a private meeting with "Mahdi" where he was instructed that he must remove the Jews from the lands of Mohammed before he can return. No one in Iran can even call bull on his story with being labeled an enemy of God, and executed. Even as crazy as Stalin was, he never claimed that he received his orders directly from God, and that those orders required him to wipe out an entire country.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Truthship

      Are Israeli zealots wiping Palestinians off the map? Of course they are. More than enough religious zealots in Middle East to go around...... plenty here in the USA too.

      February 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  9. roy


    February 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  10. justice766

    I don't know how Israel tolerated this hateful backward iranian regime for so long. They should not waste one second in dealing with them. If Hussein Obama allows them to have nuclear weapons we will pay the price in this country for years to come !!!

    February 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  11. Truthship

    Are Israeli zealots wiping Palestinians off the map? Of course they are. More than enough religious zealots in Middle East to go around...... plenty here in the USA too.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  12. JB

    Iran may not directly strike with a nuclear weapon but they are not above using their proxy Hizbollah to do it.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • justice766

      I hope and can't wait for Hizbollah to start an attack. I will be delightfully watching its demise. This time Ehud barak will not stop at litany. He will not stop until the last Hizbollah fighter is dead.

      February 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  13. bubbaG

    Okay, here's history according to BubbaG, Zionists get a country b/c we all felt guilty that Hitler massacred them by the millions, that was bad and anyone who suffers like that deserves their own country if they so desire. SO...we looked around and said "okay, look, here...you can go have this country land here and if you can make something of the gawdawful place then it seems it once was a place where your ancestors hung out so ... yeah... okay just quit the killin' and murderin' and we'll say you can have it. BUT LOOK...you really do have to make something out of it.

    SO then the Zionists went about taking all the money they had and they went to these folks who owned big...I mean BIG swatches of the country side. Sorta like if some carpet bagger came down and told Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) he'd buy all the LBJ ranch there on the Pedernales river for gazillions o' dollars. LBJ he's thinkin' to hisself..."well this land is pretty and it's been in my family for a LOooooong time but hey, I can have gazillions o' dollars and they can have this lanky hunk of leftover scorched earth" and he sold it to them. But for one thing...a good deal ... the Zionist get the land, LBJ gets filthy rich and doesn't any longer have to worry about illegal immigrants livin' on the land....uh oh...immigrants, WHAT IMMIGRANTS...???

    Well lyou see WAaaaay back in the biblical times old AL abba muhammad whatiznut his family was allowed to LIVE on the land, grow some crops, and well sorta look after stuff when the LBJ equivalent took a hike to Turkey or wherever.
    SO the Zionists buy the land then tell the illegal aliens who lived there for centuries with generation after generation ekein' out a subsistence on land that wasn't really theirs but well..sort was by custom but not law.

    SO the Zionists toss 'em off the land and they become the bad guys and the illegal sorta aliens become the landless and lost in Gaza and Palestinian thing begins. It ain't pretty, it probably wasn't right but then according ot MODERN law it was.

    And so now 80 years later the Zionists need to die and the illegal aliens need to get 'their' land back and all us who thought it a good idea need to NOW think it a bad idean and the Iranians need to think they can just go kill the Zionists b/c well that's what their silly a** religion tells them to do. It's a helluva mess and I jus' wanna have a drink when I think of it.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  14. mujib

    No one wants Iran get the nuke .How to stop it,some wants war some wants diplomacy.I prefer diplomacy.
    It takes time but will work.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  15. Brad

    A strike on Iran will happen if sanctions do not work soon. There is no way that Israel will live in any world in which Iran obtains nuclear weapons. Because if Iran gets nuclear weapons, it could give them to its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, not to mention other terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, who it has been secretly supporting and giving weapons. Israel would be doing the world a monumental favor if it conducts a successful attack. It has taken out Iraq's nuclear program and Syria's nuclear program. There is no way they are going to let Iran get a pass. Yes, there is likely to be consequences at home in Israel, but it cannot sit by while Iran gets nukes and the potentiality of them giving them to terrorist organizations. Hopefully Israel (and others e.g. U.S.?) can reduce the amount of retaliatory damage by hitting all aspects of Iranian government and military, and not just the nuclear sites.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • justice766

      The only problem Hussein Obama has a records in Ilinois of voting abstention 90 % of the time and he thinks that Israel should go back to the 1967 borders. You would think that was Arafat reincarnated if you didn't know his middle name !!!

      February 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
      • justice766

        Sorry zakaria but you are dumb when it comes to national security. trust the iranians not to use the bomb !!. How come you didn't trust pakistan with a nuclear bomb ?

        February 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • yohan

      "There is no way Israel That Will Live In Any Which world in Iran obtains nuclear weapons" then they should change the world, I see only this solution for israel, if israel does not want to live in a world with a nuclear Iran. I do not see any, physical means, or other, strategic, economic, for a country of 6 million Jews in a strip of land to deni definitely deterrence to Iran, absolutely nothing. mossades, officials, and Americans agencies have more than once declared: the only solution is a long-term occupation. can Imagine you imagin israel occupy iran ? are you serious ?

      February 20, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • yohan

      "There is no way Israel That Will Live In Any Which world in Iran obtains nuclear weapons" then they should change the world, I see only this solution for israel, if israel does not want to live in a world with a nuclear Iran. I do not see any, physical means, or other, strategic, economic, for a country of 6 million Jews in a strip of land to deni definitely deterrence to Iran, absolutely nothing. mossades, officials, and Americans agencies have more than once declared: the only solution is a long-term occupation. can Imagine you imagin israel occupy iran ? are you serious ?????

      February 20, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • yohan

      who said "There is no way Israel That Will Live In Any Which world in Iran obtains nuclear weapons" ? then they should change the world, I see only this solution for israel, if israel does not want to live in a world with a nuclear Iran. I do not see any, physical means, or other, strategic, economic, for a country of 6 million Jews in a strip of land to deni definitely deterrence to Iran, absolutely nothing. mossades, officials, and Americans agencies have more than once declared: the only solution is a long-term occupation. can Imagine you imagin israel occupy iran ? are you serious ?????

      February 20, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • rayan

      strike, does not mean, succeed. israel will not succeed. it will take the iranian missiles on the heads, and downed planes, for nule result, Iran will continue its nuclear program in. anyway

      February 20, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  16. frederick thaufeer al-Deen

    The United States, via recommendations froma 1975 blue ribbon energy commission headed by Dick Cheney,advised Iran to embrace peaceful nuclear energy in the face of its dwindling oil resources.Now the United States threatenes the very life of the Iranian nation by waging cyberwar, assasinations, and devastating sanctions against Iran. We have seen this American calousness and duplicity before in the devastation of Iraq via sanctions. Some 500 thousand Iraqi children died as a direct result of those sanctions. Iraqis are suffering from the effects of depleted uranium munitions dumped on the Iraqi landscape in much the same heartless manner as we saoked Viet name in Agentt Orange.

    It is a Human Rights 'crime' what we are doing. And if Isreal attacks Iran it cements it's image as a rouge state. No peoples can live free if we and Isreal harbor (thus far unfounded fears of an 'ISlamic Bomb.(Does this fear arise perhaps from our guilt?)

    Look out Germany, Isreal hasn't forgotten what you did. Is Germany next?

    February 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • justice766

      OH poor Iran !! they haven't done anything wrong !! how about all the murders of lebanese people by Hizbollah, how about sending mercineries to kill syrians, how about supporting the mehdi army and supplying IED's in Iraq and don't forget supporting the babykiller in Syria. i could go on and on. Poor Iran! It is all our fault in the US.

      February 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  17. clark1b

    don't strike Iran ... it will destabilize the region... let's just wait until they have nuclear weapons and they can destabilize the region themselves.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  18. Dannie

    I have full and absolute confidence in the State of Israel's ability to make it's own decision and defend itself. The opinion is definitely a valid one.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  19. bomb them all

    bomb those pieces of sand crap into oblivion. should've nuked russia back then too.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  20. Littlebird

    We all need to study the lessons of Vietnam

    February 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Josh

      I think you mean WWII.

      February 19, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  21. Fabrizio Remotti

    Zakaria, belonging to "that" world has always a distorted and biased view of the world. The guy forgets that Israel already bombed a wanna-be nuclear power in the 80s: Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The world cryied murder at that time (and probably young Zakaria was one of the screamers), but the things turned out OK and Saddam never acquired a nuclear bomb.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  22. Forrest

    Sorry Fareed, you make far too much sense for all the warmongers to bother listening.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • justice766

      why don't you join Hussein and Fareed in their diplomacy with a regime that only understands force!

      February 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
      • justice766

        It is not us their pushing around. it is Hussein Obama who is not willing to take them on.

        February 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  23. Brian

    Value and articulate points from one who has the luxury to discuss an opinion in which he is not directly involved. For all the educational merits, Fareed is not in Isreal, and has not been under the constant threat and struggle as Isreal has. Despite who's right or wrong in this issue, Fareed has sought to establish similarities between the state of mind and relation with America and Isreal. I think the argument is invalid in that A) Americans have a very short attention span B) It was an entirely different generation that experienced that dread. Fareed, give your opinion on whether Isreal should or should not protect itself, but don't try to throw into your points that "you" or "we" understand their anxiety because we've experienced something similiar. Iran has made some serious threats in the past and present, and you are not privileged to the behind-the-scenes intelligence. It's a luxury to be able to cast an opinion without taking responsibility for the well-being of a nation as a bystander...the world is full of tyrants, and whether their rants are meant to shock or be carried out, it is irresponsible to make statements that threaten others. Iran has the attention on the world....next time they should choose their words and rehtoric more carefully. As of now, Iran has said they want to wipe Isreal off the map, who are we to think that's not what they meant?

    February 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  24. bubbaG

    If you think for even one minute that Israel will not hit Iran and that the US will not in MANY clandestine and covert ways support them then you are no doubt a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or you are Ahmadenijad himself.

    Iran is not the USSR, they are not China, they are a theocracy led by "men who stare at goats" and learn from them. They are as loony as a ringtail and will not hesitate to hand over a nuclear 'pouch' or two to their agents of death to be dumped on Manhattan and Tel Aviv as easily as they will eat a bowl of porridge. They are unconcerned that the US and Israel will analyse the resulting 'signature' decide it was Iranian and turn Iran into a glowing pile of plasmalytic poop. This because in their goombah world view they will be hangin' with the virgins and that ain't a bad way to end it here. They have taken the notion that there ain't ANY of us gettin' out of this alive and made it a way of life, a primary tenet of their religiousity and their life, albeit short, here on earth.
    FUGGGGGeddaboud it...they, no, they cannot have a nuclear weapon if it takes all our money, all our bunker busters and all OUR nukes to wipe our THEIR intent. THat's it, period, point and paragraph. Bring on the madness it's time to get it over with.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Littlebird

      Bubba, you are wrong. If you think for even one minute that Isreal is stronger than the U.S., and will be allowed to set off a regional war in that part of the world it is you who are as loony as a ringtail.

      At the end of the day Isreal is the servant, and the U.S. is the master, not the other way around.

      We may let the two dogs bark at each other, but we're not going to set up a dogfight. To Iran, a nuclear weapon is a bargaining chip, a way to assure their political parity with Saudi Arabia and with Isreal.

      The only true religious fanatics in the MIddle East are poor ones, and they are tools of the rich Bentley-driving princes, sheiks and sultans. >:O

      February 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
      • bubbaG

        uh ...yeah right. Littlebird, go get your little poster and your stick and go sit outside some office of some govt agency somewhere and just hope that Israel will EVER do ANYTHING that America tells it to if they decide for one minute it ain't in their best interest...uh uh hunny ain gonna happen

        February 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
      • Brian

        Have you seen the coverage a few months ago-or even now- about how Obama isn't looking out for Israel's interests? That the news has reported a strained relationship between both cabinets of Israel and USA? And how it affected Obama's numbers and public opinion? Isreal can manipulate our government just as easy...that's the proof...especially during an election year. If you've ever served in the military or intel....you'd know that Israel is it's own master and marches to it's own drum beat....we are in no way their master or their puppet.

        February 19, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  25. bubbaG

    I'm just tired of these little Iranian bas*a*ds pushin' us around like a wheelbarrow. Done, shoot 'em, move on.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  26. barack o'soros

    fareed will do and say anything to give cover to his buddy obama...

    fareed...obama said in his 08 campaign; "i will never let iran acquire nuclear weapons"...

    that does not mean contain fareed...

    man, are you a muslim wackjob.....go home! leave us americans alone. We dont want you here.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  27. Killian Donnellan

    Attacking would just cause more problems in my opinion. Nobody is thinking of the consequences if the Iran regime is toppled. If the Iran regime is toppled, more likely than not a civil war will break out, causing more problems in already volatile region. Look at Iraq, the west thought if we got rid of Sadaam by the crap out Iraq, everything would change for the better, now look at Iraq, its still a hell hole there, so the West or Israel should not think war is the answer to this problem.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  28. justice766

    in order to isolate iran and kill it slowly you have to hit the regime in syria and its twin in lebanon. Then you need to demolish all their nuclear and non-nuclear installations. that is the smart way of doing it.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  29. Natfka

    Instead of comparing them to the USSR, perhaps you should compare them to Hitler and the Nazi's. Both are good studies of the past, and we can learn from both. Comparing them solely to the USSR is like putting on the blinders, and picking and choosing our lessons of history.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  30. Chris

    Reasoning by analogy is a logical fallacy. I could easily do the same and mention Chamberlain and the pacifists who believed that war with Nazi Germany could be prevented.

    Is Iran another Nazi Germany? Or is Iran another USSR? The truth is that we simply do not know. What we do know is that Iran is likely trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

    Is Zakaria another Chamberlain?

    February 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • justice766

      If you read Zakaria's articles he has always sided with Iran. i sent him email about 6 months ago about a satement he made on CNN defending Iran and advocating passive dealings with it, encoureging it to continue its path to nuclear weapons. He should move to tehran and practice his journalism there to see how long he would last !!

      February 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Arif

      @Chris, come out of your cave. Israel is worst than Nazi that is killing palestinians whereas Iranis are not killing anybody. Israel was established illegally whereas Iran has no such history you morons.

      February 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • musings

      FZ is not "reasoning by analogy", though I fail to see what good there is in throwing out analogical reasoning as a "logical fallacy."

      He is saying that Americans can be worked up by a threat and told they should make a first strike against it. If there is any failure in the analogy with the Soviet Union, it is only in who is assumed to be the target of the threat. The US is acting like Israel is the 51st state, and anything which happens to Israel happens to us. But during the Cold War, Western Europe occupied a similar role as surrogate for the US that Israel now occupies.

      A lot of bluster happened, but the Soviet Union fell from within and sank into irrelevance, giving rise to today's Russia. There may have been surrogate wars but never the Big One.

      Can the present regime of Iran sink into irrelevance from within? I imagine it very well could do that.

      But nobody will help the ayatollahs more than people who attack Iran.

      February 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
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