opinion | Graham Allison

Iran deal keeps our military options open

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out against the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the US.
AFP/Getty Images/file 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out against the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the US.

In the debate about whether the Iranian nuclear agreement provides Iran a “path to a bomb” or instead provides us a “window to a target,” Americans should listen carefully to the Israeli who knows best.

In his campaign to persuade Congress to reject this deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has focused like a laser beam on the claim that this agreement “paves Iran’s path to a bomb” because its key constraints expire in a decade. In contrast, one of Israel’s most respected national security barons, Amos Yadlin, formerly chief of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate under Netanyahu, has pointed out that when the agreement expires, an American or Israeli military attack will not be more difficult, and indeed could be easier than it is today.

Netanyahu is a politician. Yadlin is a professional who knows more about destroying enemy nuclear infrastructure than anyone else on the planet. A career Israeli air force officer who flew one of the planes that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, Yadlin oversaw Israel’s airstrikes in 2007 on the secret nuclear reactor Syria was attempting to complete. Until he resigned in 2010, he was responsible for Israeli planning for military actions against Iran.


Analyzing the physical constraints in the agreement, Yadlin published a report that deserves careful reading. In essence, he argues that if Iran adheres to an agreement for a decade and then decides to race for a bomb, a military attack to prevent them reaching the goal line would not only be feasible, but indeed easier than attacking today. The agreement would reduce the number of Iranian targets, and allow us to know much more about them.

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To quote Yadlin: “Military action against the Iranian nuclear program in 2025 would in all probability not be much more complicated or difficult than in 2015 .  . . . The Iranian program will be reduced compared to what it is today, intelligence about it will be better, and it will be less immune than it is at present.”

The Pentagon has arrived at a similar conclusion. When he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was asked, “Do our military options become marginally better or worse before or after the agreement?” He replied that “they become marginally better.”

While Congressional scrutiny focuses on the multitude of constraints on Iran’s ability to produce a bomb, we should remember whose military options the deal does not constrain: ours and those of our allies.

Graham Allison is director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. His books include “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe” and “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis.”