The most confusing guessing game in the Middle East right now is if and when Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
This week Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he didn't think it would be likely. But the talk of war from Israel has the world on edge.
And there is a stalemate in the so-called last-ditch negotiations between the United States and its allies with Iran.
Contrast this with events fifty years ago this October, when the world stood on the brink of an all-out nuclear war. The Soviet Union had moved nuclear weapons into Cuba – just 90 miles off the United States.
Russia and the U.S. stood eyeball to eyeball—and President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to prepare his nation for war. Yet, thirteen days later, the crisis was resolved and the threat averted.
Graham Allison of Harvard University and a former adviser on national security to numerous U.S. presidents says we can think about the current Iranian confrontation as a Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.
Allison says if President Kennedy had not stepped back and taken time to consider his options, we could have had a nuclear war in which 100 million or several hundred million people could have died instantly.
“During the crisis, Kennedy said to his brother, Robert Kennedy, that he thought the chances were something between 1 in 3, and even that it would end up in a war including a nuclear war,” Allison says. “And nothing that I've found subsequently or that other scholars have found looking at the record since then suggest that that's an exaggeration.”
With Iran’s nuclear program today, the conventional wisdom is that there are just two choices: appeasement or attack, as usual.
“These are two lousy options” Allison says.
“These are precisely the options Kennedy had at the end of the game in 1962. He rejected both options and intensified a search for finding some middle way. And that seems to me that's the appropriate lesson for the Iranian case today.”
In the Cuban missile crisis, you had two actors – the Soviet Union and the United States. President Castro of Cuba, who housed these missiles, was not allowed at the table. In the current standoff you have three actors: Iran, the United States, and Israel.
“That makes the game much more difficult than in 1962,” Allison says. Nonetheless, if the parties look at the outcome of attack – if they think about their interests, play that out and each of them will be worse off than they could have been with an alternative.”
Allison says he’s hopeful that after the November election, the U.S. will mount a major diplomatic initiative.
That’s assuming that between now and the November, Israel doesn't calculate that it must strike before voting day, believing that election pressure would be the only way to get the current U.S. administration to support a preemptive attack by its ally’s on Iran.
Christiane Amanpour, Ken Olshansky and Samuel Burke contributed to this post.