Will Israel bomb Iran in an effort to prevent the Islamic Republic from building a nuclear weapon? We hope not. At best such an attack could only delay, not deny, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and it is not worth the risk of touching off a conflagration in the Middle East. Neighboring nations could be drawn into the fire, as could the United States.
Of course, Israeli leaders may have a different view. The ayatollahs have repeatedly stated their desire to destroy the Jewish state, and they have used surrogates, primarily Hezbollah and Hamas, to fight a proxy war with Israel. Naturally, the Israelis see a nuclear-armed Iran in existential terms.
However, Israel itself has a nuclear arsenal which gives it the capacity to destroy Iran, even in a catastrophic nuclear exchange. That certainty should deter Iran from using nuclear weapons against Israel or slipping one to a surrogate.
And deterrence is what the Iran crisis is all about. Iran wants nuclear deterrence for itself. When you look at a map, and see that Iraq lies on Iran's western border and Afghanistan lies on its eastern one, it's not difficult to see why Iran is so focused on developing nuclear weapons. The United States has just ended a military occupation of Iraq, and it is continuing one in Afghanistan. When you have armies of the greatest military power on Earth flanking you on two sides, and that power is your sworn enemy, it tends to make you nervous.
What the established nuclear powers have learned, however, is that nuclear weapons are only good for deterrence. That's why they have not been used since the United States dropped two of them on Japan to end World War II.
Will that lesson hold with Iran? No one can know for certain. But it has held with North Korea, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Israel, France, Britain, China, Russia and the United States.
Eventually, however, the world must come to terms with the reality that nuclear weapons technology cannot be uninvented, and more states will try to join the nuclear club. Fortunately, many of the advanced industrial nations have decided that nukes aren't worth the investment and have decided to go without them.
The best hope is that more nations can be persuaded to follow that path. So far, that has not worked with Iran, despite punishing sanctions that are placing real hardships on the Iranian people, and more important, their government. President Obama is correct that the best course now is to continue that strategy.
Call it unfriendly persuasion.