U.S., Israeli Security Officials Warn Against Attacking Iran

U.S., Israeli Security Officials Warn Against Attacking Iran

Military leaders and other U.S. and Israeli security officials from across the political spectrum have warned that an attack on Iran would likely provoke a full-scale regional war and encourage Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Below is a sampling of quotes from U.S. and Israeli officials cautioning against an attack on Iran.

Also see quotes from national security experts calling for diplomacy and against sanctions on Iran, and a report from nearly three dozen former U.S. military officers and officials warning of the tremendous costs of a potential war with Iran.

U.S. Officials

Robert Einhorn, Former State Department Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control

Robert Einhorn

"Perhaps the most worrisome potential downside of the military option is that it could trigger an Iranian decision to kick out inspectors, withdraw from the NPT, and move as quickly as possible to build nuclear weapons. It could give Iranian advocates of early nuclear weaponization something they’ve wanted for years – a green light to cross the nuclear threshold."
[Brookings, 10/24/2012]

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

"[If Iran were to be attacked] the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases, and there are economic consequences to that attack....which could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States.

"The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think it could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret."
[See the video of Secretary Panetta's 12/02/2011 speech at the Brookings Institution or read the full transcript.]

Col. Wilkerson, former chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell:

"Inside the Pentagon, civilian and military, I cannot find a single voice in favor of striking Iran....Not only will we be mired in yet another interminable war, but from this one we might not recover for half a century."
[Vanity Fair, 03/02/12]

Gary Sick, National Security Council analyst and principal White House aide for Iran during Iranian hostage crisis:

"Paradoxically, the quickest way to insure that the Iranians decide to go for a bomb may be to bomb them. The most predictable result of a military strike would be Iran's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the ejection of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and cameras that watch every step of the Iranian enrichment process....The surest way to rally the Iranian people around this corrupt and repressive system is for an external power to attack it."
[CNN, 01/12/2011]

Paul Pillar, veteran intelligence officer on Middle East issues:

"If the saber rattling were ever to lead to the use of military force, among the disastrous consequences for U.S. interests would be to ensure the enmity of future generations of Iranians and to provide the strongest possible incentive for those Iranians to build, or rebuild, a nuclear weapons capability."
[National Security Network, 2/3/11]

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

"...such an attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert."

"The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world."

"[Israeli leaders] do not have a blank check to take action that could do grave harm to American vital interests."
[The Virginian-Pilot, 10/04/12]

"If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe"
[Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, 3/15/2012]

"A military solution, as far as I am concerned...it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert. The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it is not in their interest. Everything else is a short-term solution."
[Reuters, 11/16/10]

"Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it."
[Christian Science Monitor, 02/26/2011]

General Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM commander:

"I think anybody that believes that it would be a clean strike and it would be over and there would be no reaction is foolish."
[PBS, 8/04/09]

"After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next? [...] What happens if they launch them into U.S. bases on the other side of the gulf? [...] And of course the economy of the world goes absolutely nuts....what happens if another preemptive attack by the West, the U.S. and Israel, they fire up the streets and now we got problems. Just tell me how to deal with all that, okay?"

"Because, eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran."

[Think Progress, 9/28/2009]

Brigadier General John Johns, former combat arms officer in U.S. Army:

"While rhetoric about military strikes may work as an applause line in Republican debates, there is little or no chance that military action would be quite so simple. Quite the contrary. Defense leaders agree that the military option would likely result in serious unintended consequences.
"America ought not consider another war in the Middle East without a very serious discussion of the consequences. Political candidates should curb their jingoistic, chauvinistic emotions and temper their world view with a little reflective, rational thought.
[New York Times, 11/14/2011]

Lieutenant Colonel Eckholm, strategic plans and policy directorate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

"Proponents of a more comprehensive military intervention will argue that a full-scale invasion is the only means by which to crush the regime and its military apparatus, guarantee total elimination of the Iranian nuclear enterprise, and create a window for democratic change. But the price of invasion would be astronomical, and the nationalistic reaction would be fierce; thus, the projected cost in life and treasure must be weighed against the envisioned, yet unpredictable, advantages of a new regime in Tehran."
[Hoover Institution, 8/1/11]

Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs under the G.W. Bush administration:

"Air strikes would undoubtedly lead Iran to hit back asymmetrically against us in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider region, especially through its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. This reminds us of Churchill's maxim that, once a war starts, it is impossible to know how it will end."
[Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 5/6/09]

"We should learn from Iraq by proceeding carefully before unleashing war and its dangerous and unpredictable consequences in a region already in turmoil."
[The Boston Globe, 8/16/2012]

Admiral Mullen, Retired Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

"I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome… But from my perspective … the last option is to strike right now."
[Reuters, 4/19/11]

Admiral Joe Sestak, former member of Congress and retired Navy Admiral:

"A military strike, whether it's by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States' national security."
[Think Progress, 9/20/11]

Bruce Riedel, former Special Assistant to the U.S. President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council

"An Israeli attack on Iran could ignite a regional conflict from Afghanistan to the Gaza Strip. For the Americans and the Obama Administration, it will be a disaster."
[YNet, 11/03/11]

Colin H. Kahl, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East

"The lesson of Iraq, the last preventative war launched by the United States, is that Washington should not choose war when there are still other options, and it should not base its decisions to attack on best-case analyses of how it hopes the conflict will turn out. A realistic assessment of Iran's nuclear progress and how a conflict would likely unfold leads one to a conclusion […]: now is not the time to attack Iran."

"Any war with Iran would be a messy and extraordinarily violent affair, with significant casualties and consequences."
[Foreign Affairs, 01/17/12]

General Michael Hayden, former CIA and National Security Agency Chief

"When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent - an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret."
[Foreign Policy, 01/19/12]

John McLaughlin, former CIA acting director

"One of the reasons (military action is a bad option) is that Iran does have this relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah has not attacked American interests in recent years, but has lots of plans on the library shelf for doing that in the event we got into confrontation with Iran. And Hezbollah of course has been present in the United States, at least in fundraising. And so one of the big problems with Iran is if you get into an open confrontation, a military confrontation, you risk a cycle of retaliation and response with great difficulty seeing where the end point is."
[CNN, 01/17/12]

Admiral Fallon, former commander of U.S. Central Command

"No one that I am aware of thinks there's a real positive outcome of a military strike."
[Washington Times, 2/24/12]

General James Cartwright, retired Marine Corps General

"I don't see a lot of value in going in [to Iran]."
[Washington Times, 2/24/12]

General James Hoar, Retired Marine General

"Nobody ever discussed eight or 10 years ago, what the cost was going to be for invading Iraq. The cost turned out to be a trillion dollars, 4,500 Americans killed, more than 20,000 wounded and not to mention the 100,000 Iraqis that we killed. This is the kind of toll of war that we need to think through."

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

“It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran… I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us … A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives.”
[USA Today, 02/20/2012]

General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA, former CENTCOM Commander and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan

“It’s possible [a strike] could be used to play to nationalist tendencies. There is certainly a history, in other countries, of fairly autocratic regimes almost creating incidents that inflame nationalist sentiment. So that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects [of a strike on Iran].”
[Reuters, 02/03/10]

General John Abizaid, Former CENTCOM Commander

“We need to understand that war in the state-to-state sense in that part of the region would be devastating for everybody, and we should avoid it, in my mind, to every extent that we can.”
[CSIS, 09/17/07]

Israeli Officials

Ehud Olmert, Former Prime Minister of Israel

"The current situation does not require Israeli military action – now or in the near future.

...This issue inflicts massive public damage to Israel. I live among my people; I hear and see the anxiety on the faces of the citizens. This does not contribute anything to our ability to deal with the Iranian threat. (On the contrary) It only makes it harder.

I suggest that we also deal with this challenge in a restrained, responsible and discrete manner, so that we don't sow panic or create a confrontational situation with elements that are essential for Israel's security...

Iran is far from reaching the threshold from which there is no way back. Statements by which (a strike) is inevitable do not truthfully reflect the current situation from what is known to the security establishment.

There are those who try to create the impression that the United States’ position (on an Israeli strike in Iran) is somewhat vague. The attempt to create overblown drama over this matter is not wise or responsible and does not contribute to Israel's strategic security. The relations with the US are no less important."
[Israel News, 8/12/2012]

Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, IDF Major-General (res.)

"An attack is not a single strike and once it happens we are in a whole other world [...] Iran will pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will reunite and it will be clear that they need a bomb now so that we cannot attack them again."
[The Jerusalem Post, 8/03/2012]

Kobi Richter, Israeli Air Force Veteran of 20 Years

"An Israeli attack on the nuclear compounds in Iran would be an act of madness. An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would elicit an unreasonable threat to Israel’s existence, a threat that the country might not be able to withstand…I want to issue a warning here against what I see as an utterly irrational move that could endanger Israel’s very survival."

"An Israeli strike on Iran would be an untenable gamble. If Netanyahu and Barak do decide to take this dreadful gamble, they will be endangering Israel’s very survival."

"The gain from this delay would be dwarfed by the enormous cost of going ahead with a strike. For what a strike on Iran will do is give the Iranians the determination, as well as the justification, to accelerate their nuclear program….So the end result will be that, precisely because we attack Iran, the danger of an Iranian nuclear bomb falling in Gush Dan [the metropolitan area of Tel Aviv] sooner or later will have gone up dramatically."
[Haaretz, 7/20/2012]

Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency:

[Attacking Iran is] 'the stupidest thing I have ever heard...It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end."
[Haaretz, 5/7/11]

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, former Israeli Defense Minister

"Every citizen in the country has to be worried that these two fools, Netanyahu and Barak, are planning an attack on Iran."
[Jewish Daily Forward, 11/08/11]

Ephraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency:

"An attack on Iran could affect not only Israel, but the entire region for 100 years."
[YNet, 1/04/2011]

Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister of Israel

"If, God forbid, a war with Iran breaks out, it will be a nightmare. And we will all be in it, including the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. No one will remain unscathed."
[Huffington Post, 04/03/12]

Dan Meridor, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister

"I don't think Israel should use the military option. I don't agree with some of my colleagues who support a military strike. An attack on Iran wouldn't add anything to our security."
[Nuclear Threat Initiative, 04/18/12]

Yuval Diskin, Former Israeli Internal Security Chief

"...attacking Iran will encourage them to develop a bomb all the faster."
[Think Progress, 04/27/2012]

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