...In June 1981, just before the destruction of the nuclear reactor in Iraq, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin weighed the cost of a pre-emptive strike versus the cost of inaction. The heads of the Mossad and military intelligence, then Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, opposition leader Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, Israel's national security adviser and the head of the Atomic Energy Commission all opposed striking Iraq. They presented apocalyptic scenarios that would result from such action: an irreparable rift with the U.S., harsh sanctions, conflict with the Soviet Union and Western Europe, reconciliation between Muslim countries and a pan-Islamic attack, threats to the peace treaty with Egypt and other doomsday events. They underestimated the success of a pre-emptive attack and glorified Iraq's military capabilities. Some claimed there was a greater chance of seeing Israeli pilots being dragged through the streets of Baghdad than being welcomed back to their bases.
But Begin decided in favor of a pre-emptive strike, ultimately determining that the cost of restraint could be greater than that of a pre-emptive strike; that a nuclear threat would enslave Israel both politically and militarily; that a nuclear attack could not be ruled out considering the violent, unexpected nature of regimes in the region, and that the ratio of Israeli territory to that of surrounding Arab states (0.2%) did not allow for a nuclear threat balance. Begin understood that the window of opportunity for a strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor was about to close. The destruction of the reactor drew a wave of virulent criticism even from avowed Israel supporters, but it was later followed by a sea of admiration and long-term collaboration.
In 2012, after a decade of failed attempts at dialogue and sanctions, and in light of the help (in terms of development and acquisition) Iran has received from Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and China for its nuclear program, Israel must decide between launching a pre-emptive attack to eliminate that threat or withstanding it. Opponents of an attack warn that it could potentially result in a harsh response from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, international anger directed at Israel over higher oil prices, or a wave of terror and conflict in the Persian Gulf. Yet these pale in comparison to the deadly cost of a nuclear threat, which include a withdrawal of Israeli and foreign investment in the country, a greater number of Israelis leaving and fewer immigrants coming to Israel, dwindling tourism, greater military-political-economic dependence on the U.S. and a more powerful and influential Iranian regime that takes control of the Persian Gulf. Israel's position as a strategic asset would be reversed without even one nuclear warhead needing to be launched.
The cost of a pre-emptive attack against Iran would be non-lethal and short-term, and would boost Israel's long-term strategic image. It would also provide a tailwind for the forces opposing the ayatollahs' regime. Will Israel adopt the legacy of Ben-Gurion and Begin, or that of their opponents?