The commander of the NATO mission in Libya that toppled Muammar Gadhafi’s regime last year vehemently opposes a military strike on Iran at this time, regardless of whether it would be carried out by Israel or the United States.
Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, who retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force four months ago, said that he doesn’t believe Israel would take such an illogical and irresponsible step as to attack Iran without international support.
And NATO won’t unanimously support a military campaign against Iran any time soon, he said, nor will the UN Security Council.
As someone familiar with Israel’s senior military leadership, because of his work at NATO, Bouchard said he is convinced that Israel will not set in motion a process that could lead to chaos in the entire region, by launching a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The military option, he said, could be a boomerang that will end up harming Israel and uniting the entire Muslim world against it.
Bouchard, a native of Quebec, is a former deputy commander of the joint U.S.-Canadian military operation NORAD. He said the strategic price of a preventative war against Iran would be several times higher than the tactical benefit that might be gained.
The chance of a 100 percent success rate in a military operation is infinitesimally small, said Bouchard, adding that Israel won’t get a second chance and that it won’t be a quick lightning strike like the Six-Day War.
He added that while all countries obviously have the right to defend themselves, Israel should take into account that global jihad would exploit an Israeli military assault and use it to incite against the West. He said Islamic fundamentalists can be expected to portray an attack as a Jewish-Christian conspiracy against Islam.
Bouchard called on whoever wins the next U.S. presidential election to look to historic ground-breaking diplomacy for examples of what could be accomplished, like Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China and Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem.
The solution is not a zero-sum game, said Bouchard, but a compromise in which each side concedes something.
Russia holds the key to securing international support on Iran, he said, adding that this is a chance for Russian President Vladimir Putin to act like a leader by preventing another round of a Cold War. The situation around the world, and in the Middle East in particular, needs to settle down first, Bouchard said, warning that Israel must not get itself dragged into hasty and premature actions.
The violence in Syria is completely different from that in Libya when Bouchard headed Operation Odyssey Dawn, he said, adding that it more closely resembles the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, in that it requires long-term international intervention.
In addition, Gadhafi was backed by sidelined leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and opposed by other African countries as well as the Arab League and Qatar, which sent aircraft to help topple him.
By contrast, Syria has strong supporters like Iran, Russia and China, as well as terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
The question, said Bouchard, is whether it’s possible to defeat Syrian President Bashar Assad and if so, at what cost? And how long will it take?
In addition, the Libyan opposition was prepared to take power, while removing Assad from power at this point is likely to result in chaos, he said. If Assad gets desperate, he is liable to attack Israel, on the assumption that if he is going down, he may as well take Israelis with him, warned Bouchard.
The retired commander said NATO was successful in Libya because it didn’t send in ground forces, but the geography and political instability of Syria mean that a battle in that country can’t be fought exclusively by air. In addition, he warned, air strikes on Syria could cause significant casualties and provoke outrage against the West among countries in the region.
In an effort to avoid such a response to the NATO bombing of Libya, Bouchard said he ordered the pilots to avoid hitting water installations, hospitals, roads and mosques at all costs, even though he knew that Gadhafi’s troops sometimes took refuge in such facilities. Two-thirds of the time, the order to drop bombs was cancelled and the planes turned around, when it became clear there was a risk they would harm innocent civilians, he said.
In the battle against Libya, NATO planned for the day after, Bouchard said, adding that the forces were in Libya to protect the civilians and that he was pleased that the Muslim Brotherhood did not win the elections there.
It’s too bad that Gadhafi was lynched by rebels, said Bouchard, adding that’s not why NATO launched its campaign. Bouchard said he would have liked to see Gadhafi facing a war crimes tribunal.