The first is to reshape the focus of negotiations around clear U.S. redlines. If we really mean we have a military option and will act on it, we need to be far less ambiguous. Iran needs to know there are real limits to how long it can talk and stall. Our allies and all the members of the 5+1 need to know this as well. And Israel and our Southern Gulf allies need to know that they can truly count on the United States to act if Iran does not agree to a negotiated settlement or crosses a clear redline.
We have talked so long in vague terms that the U.S. threat may have begun to seem like political posturing to both Iran and Israel. It may well be a prelude to a U.S. acceptance of a nuclear Iran and a strategy based on containment and deterrence. If we are serious, we need to do far more to convince Iran that it does not have a choice between negotiations and preventive strikes. We also need to convince Israel that it does not have to act on its far more limited window of opportunity as Iran disperses and buries its nuclear facilities.
The second action is to make it clear to Iran that it has no successful options. The United States does not have to reveal its war plan to have its military clearly outline the ways it can defeat Iran’s defenses. There are many ways in which U.S. analysts with official connections can suggest out how easy it would be to escalate to the point of destroying Iran’s refineries and power grid, suppressing its air defenses, and reacting to any low level of asymmetric attack by destroying key Iranian military objectives. The iron law of asymmetric warfare is to never be trapped into fighting on the enemy’s terms and to use force decisively to escalate where this is possible. The time to communicate just how many ways the United States can do this-with the support of key Gulf states-is before a conflict begins.