By Jeremy Herb - 10/04/12 04:50 PM EDT
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned against a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities on Wednesday, warning that the consequences could be catastrophic.
Speaking in Norfolk, Va., Gates said that neither the United States nor Israel is capable of wiping out Iran’s nuclear capability, the Virginian-Pilot reported. He said an attack against Iran would have the opposite of its intended effect.
“Such an attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable,” Gates said. “They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert."
Gates, who was Defense secretary for both President George W. Bush and President Obama, has been a voice of caution against attacking Iran for several years.
Gates repeated that prediction in Virginia on Wednesday.
“The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world," he said, according to the Pilot.
The best chance for success to stop Iran’s nuclear program is sanctions, Gates said, “to ratchet up the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation to the point where the Iranian leadership concludes that it actually hurts Iranian security and, above all, the security of the regime itself, to continue to pursue nuclear weapons.”
U.S. and European sanctions have had an impact on Iran’s economy this year, resulting in a sharp drop in the value of the Iranian rial in recent weeks. There were reports Wednesday of riots in Tehran over the currency issue.
Still, Iran has not budged during nuclear negotiations this year between Tehran and the P5+1 group, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany.
The prospect of a strike on Iran has been heightened by aggressive rhetoric from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has criticized the nuclear talks and argued that the sanctions are doing nothing to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu drew a literal “red line” on a cartoon bomb during his speech at the U.N. last month, telling the world it would soon be too late to stop Iran from acquiring a weapon.
Obama has pushed the Israelis not to launch a military strike, saying the window for a diplomatic solution has not closed. The president has said he is not taking any options off the table, including military options, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.