To sustain sanctions over any length of time, however, will require international co-operation, especially from Russia, China and India. Will that co-operation be forthcoming? So far, the record is not promising. But if those countries understand that the final destination of the Iranian effort is an Israeli military strike on Iran, maybe they will rethink. For that reason, the whole world has an interest in enhancing the credibility of Israeli action. For that reason, the campaign to penalize and demonize Israel for its actions in Lebanon and Gaza is an affront to world peace. Only an effective Israel can believably threaten the strike that will incentivize Iran’s trading partners to join the U.S. economic campaign. ~David Frum
Put another way, Frum believes we should not criticize Israel for excessive and sometimes illegal military actions that it has taken in the past because this would make its next illegal military action seem less “credible.” One of the problems with Frum’s argument is that “the world” has no such interest, because “the world” at large does not care about Iranian nukes or simply doesn’t believe that Iran will have a nuclear weapon anytime soon. Consider the attitudes of the governments of the four major “emerging-market” economies of Russia, India, China and Brazil. Ahmadinejad visits Rio today, underscoring the significant economic relationship Brazil and Iran have and demonstrating how irrelevant Iran’s nuclear program is to one of the most important countries in the world. Put simply, whether or not Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon (and I would agree that they almost certainly are), the Lulas of the world have no desire to follow our lead in condemning it. We can, of course, sabotage our budding and constructive relationship with Brazil over this, or we can take the hint that very few other states seriously believe that Iran poses an international threat of the kind our government describes. Russian and Chinese indifference to Iran’s nuclear program is well known. Much like Brazil, India has a growing economic relationship with Iran and it has been pushing to build a strategic partnership with the Iranians to counter-balance Pakistan, Iran’s modern rival for influence in central Asia. When virtually all major non-Western powers don’t think they have a real interest in something, it does no good to tell them that they ought to take the opposite view.
Now let’s consider this idea of an “effective Israel,” whose reputation for being “effective” would somehow have remained intact if not for all of the naysayers and critics of Israeli actions. In 2006, Israel overreacted and waged a major military campaign against all of Lebanon when a far more limited response would not only have been warranted but would have received near-universal support. Israel was able to punish Hizbullah (and the rest of Lebanon’s population), but in the process exposed the limits of what it could achieve through military force and revealed its political leadership to be completely lacking in strategic thinking. Politically, Israel has scarcely been more isolated internationally than it was after the war in Lebanon. The exception is the aftermath of Cast Lead, which has driven an even deeper wedge between Israel and its sole Muslim ally, Turkey. The operation in Gaza earlier this year confirmed all of Israel’s weaknesses and made it even more of an international pariah. The question is not whether this is fair, but whether it happened. The reality is that the Gaza operation brought even greater international scrutiny on both the excessive tactics used against the civilian population of Gaza and on the cruel, counter-productive blockade that continues to starve the territory of supplies. Israel’s “effectiveness” has been substantially weakened because of these two military actions, and not because Western critics have pointed out that Israel’s excessive and illegal actions were excessive and illegal.
Were Israel to launch a third military campaign in four or five years, and this time without even a shred of legitimate justification, it would greatly harm the generally good bilateral relations it has with Russia and India. It could very possibly destroy the alliance with Turkey permanently, and it would probably shatter the possibility of an anti-Iranian coalition among Arab countries. Such an attack would send the global economy into a severe downturn, it would greatly strengthen every authoritarian petro-state around the world, and it would achieve nothing except a brief delay in the progress of Iran’s nuclear program while triggering an ongoing campaign of retaliation against Israeli interests by Iran and its allies, to which Israel would be able to offer ineffective responses as it did in 2006 and earlier this year. The affront to world peace is the idea that certain states can launch military actions against any other at will and can use the threat of such illegal actions as leverage in making unreasonable demands as to how other states conduct their own affairs.
P.S. It also doesn’t follow that the “credible” threat of Israeli military action would push Russia, China and India into supporting sanctions on Iran. On the contrary, the more other states threaten Iran with an attack the more likely it is that these major and rising powers will lend moral and political support to Iran on the world stage. They will not involve themselves directly, of course, but they will work to strip the attack of all legitimacy in the eyes of most of the world’s population, and given the nature of the strike this will not be very difficult. I’m sure Moscow is just terrified of the prospect of lecturing the West on international law and seeing oil prices go above $200.