November 11, 2008

Will Israel attack Iran?

During the election campaign, as Barack Obama and John McCain argued about what to do with Iran, much of the world wondered how the U.S. will deal with the situation. But what's been lost in the conversation is the strong possibility that Israel will soon take matters into their own hands.

Indeed, unless the UN Security Council figures out what to do to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons -- and it doesn't appear that they have a clue or the will -- Israel may feel that they have no other recourse but to act unilaterally. This would likely take the form of strategical bombing raids -- a troublesome turn of events that would make an already unstable region even more volatile.

And Israel is not alone in the Middle East. There are other concerned nations in the region who are wary of Iran's rise to nuclear status, including the potentially strange bedfellows of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries. Iran, along with her allies like Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, would surely make the Middle East a miserable place in the event that Israel makes a preemptive strike.

There are, quite unfortunately, a number of factors that may compel Israel to do so:
  • the popular sentiment in Israel today is "stop the appeasement!" and it has transcended political divides; defense Minister Ehud Barak has been quoted as saying that a life-and-death military confrontation is a real possibility
  • it's election time in Israel, which could see the introduction of a more hawkish administration
  • the Israeli air force is likely very capable of such a mission; the destruction of a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007 and the lack of any international reaction to it may be interpreted as an example for the coming action against Iran
  • diplomatic initiatives and UN sanctions are seen by the Israelis as hopelessly ineffective; this is particularly troubling because it appears that president-elect Obama may support such measures
  • Some commentators have even speculated that Israel may attack in the coming months before the Obama administration is sworn in. The advantage of doing so would be to get quick U.S. support, to acquire needed arms and gain other tactical advantages.

    My own opinion is that such an attack would be premature. Analysts have predicted that Iran will be nuclear capable sometime between 2010 and 2015 giving Israel some time to feel out the Obama administration.

    That said, we should not understate the gravity of Israel's situation. They have been threatened with annihilation time and time again by the current Iranian regime. And in high-stakes situations like this, perception is everything. The Jews are, for very understandable reasons, very sensitive to such threats. As John McCain said during one of the presidential debates, this is an "existential threat" as far as Israel is concerned.

    Desperate times may call for desperate measures.


    Anonymous said...

    We can't stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Period, full stop.

    Technology never gets harder to build over time. It generally gets easier and more widespread. Nukes are no exception.

    The real legacy of the Bush administration is that they so forcefully drove home the defencive value of nuclear weapons by invading the compliant Iraq and appeasing the aggressive North Korea.

    Iran would have to be insane not to develop a nuclear weapons program after Iraq. The only way to stop it now is a full out invasion, and that's not viable. I'm sure they're expecting Israeli attacks and have planned for them.

    Chris said...

    Call me naive but I think there's a LOT the Israeli could do to drum up some good-will in the region. Like give up half of Jerusalem, help rebuild Gaza and not allow any more settlers to run off to 'reclaim' land that they oh so strongly feel is theirs.

    Anonymous said...

    If Israel senses an "existential threat", the weapons that the threat consists of are negligable. The REAL question should be, is the Iranian attack (Nuclear or otherwise) IMMINENT? I feel that it must be imminent in order to justify preemptive warfare. Period.

    Think back to the Cold War. If preemptive warfare was regarded then the same way it is today, the world would be a TOTALLY different place.

    In my opinion, the North American Treaty Organization and the United Nations supporting preemptive warfare is more of a threat than any weapons whether they be nuclear, chemical or biological because WARFARE is a much larger "existential risk" than weapons.

    Casey said...

    Excellent analysis, George. My hope is that the increasing unpopularity of the theocratic regime in Iran will reach a critical mass due to shifting demographics within the country. Also, Obama has an opportunity to use existing diplomatic channels in Syria to further compel Iran towards cooperation.

    Israel is a worry. Much depends on whether Ahmadinejad recognizes changes in regional temperature and backs off his incendiary statements. Most of the region will be willing to wait and see what shape the Obama administration will take before taking an entrenched position; if Iran's nuclear ambitions are negatively peer-reinforced by its Shiite peers, they may even open the doors to further inspection/oversight.

    Of course, it could all go horribly wrong, as well.

    Anonymous said...

    We can't stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Period, full stop.


    There are several drastic measures which would work, the simplest in terms of describing it in a blog comment would involve nuking/conventional bombing Iran into the stone age.

    Casey said...

    @James: preemption is not necessarily a controversial foreign policy position, as it basically says that if there's a threat against the US, we are obligated to neutralize it, through military means, if necessary. For example, with credible evidence of an impending attack on Peal Harbor, the U.S. would've been within it's rights to preemptively attack Iran.

    The so-called "Bush Doctrine" deals in "preventative" war — meaning the U.S. has the authority to act on even the suspicion of a threat emerging at an unspecified time down the road.

    Casey said...

    Oops, I meant Japan, not Iran in the first paragraph. That woulda been some kind of preemption!

    Nato said...

    Iran in 2010 and Iran in 2008 are likely to be two different places, especially with intelligent handling by the international community. Crazy right-wingers like Ahmadinejad are about as popular as Bush right now, and seem likely to get crushed in the next election. The only thing that seems likely to save them is if some foreign power becomes really threatening or actually attacks. Flawed as it is, Iran is a sort of democracy, and it's worthwhile not to treat it as a monolithic block of militant aggression.

    David Golightly said...

    It's a tragedy, and it only looks like it'll get worse. Can't the Americans just give Israel a U.S. state of their own (say, Florida), and pay to airlift all the Israelis out of there and to build a country of their own? Then the right-wing extremists on either side will just blow each other up.

    Ok, I realize that's not very realistic. I feel, like most Americans probably, tremendous sympathy with the Israeli people, but it seems like having a Jewish state at that particular location might not be worth the trouble in the long run.

    Aric said...

    I don't know about Israel but I have a hard time believing Iran would actually use nuclear weapons if they had them. A nuclear strike on Israel would bring certain and overwhelming retaliation. I think all the talk is just talk. As Kirkland said in comment 1, they want nukes to be one of the big boys and be or feel safer.

    George said...

    @Aric You may be right, but that's not the question. It's about Israel's response to a nuclear capable country that has sworn to eliminate it. Like I said in the article, perception is everything.

    dharmicmel said...

    it seems to me that we keep making the same mistake, over and over: war is a viable consideration, whether in favor of or not; there is nothing sane or worthwhile about war, no matter how you spin it; there are too many possibilities and variables to think that we can rationally plan for war, much less prepare for it; in the mix today are such things as population pressures, resource risk, the environment, management and control of accelerated growth and development across the spectrum, and a growing complexity of geopolitical concerns; it is not difficult to imagine that someday science and technology will get ahead of us, in which war could then be taken to such limits as to completely derail the present human experiment in civilization

    the possibilities for human potential are vast, and continue to increase; I for one would like to see many of those possibilities come into the ascendency; but war could stop that dead in its tracks; we need to think the unthinkable: eliminate war from the human experience; we need to do the impossible: eliminate war from the human experience; it is my view that the glorious future envisioned by futurists and transhumanists of all persuasions is at serious existential risk if we do not eliminate war, and this is primarily because of several things: the contrariness of human nature, the ever-increasing complexity of global events, the unpredictability factor in all things, especially the future, the perception of things which means, among other things, that things are never quite what they seem to be, and the increasing power of science and technology, which may someday be unmanagable by human beings

    meanwhile, the beat goes on; the middle east is a volcano which could rage when it explodes; the 20th century was considered to be a wild ride, but if we do manage to survive the 21st century, it will seem pale in comparison

    Anonymous said...

    1. Take a look at a map. The only way into Iran is over Iraq, which is US controlled airspace. Israel can only attack Iran if we let them.

    2. So we think the Iranians are building nukes. Where? Is our intel on Iran as good (heh!) as our intel on Iraq was?

    dharmicmel said...

    lightning -- right on
    if I get right down to it, I don't think anyone wants to actually use these horrid weapons and I don't think anyone will, at least in the short run
    that may not be a whole lot, but it is certainly better than the alternative
    the future, as usual, is highly uncertain, but here we go anyway, like it or not
    just one nuclear bomb going off anywhere in the middle east would hold a nearly unbelievable catastrophic potential; it's both a reality check and a wake-up call
    it is difficult to make the best of it, at times, when you realize that no matter what you might think or say, there are some things in which you have little or no influence
    it always seems to be the shape of things to come

    dharmicmel said...

    as everyone knows, the middle east is a powder keg, waiting to go off; if that happens, and should things spiral completely out of our control, then a nuclear war could happen; that would be horrible beyond comprehension
    I wonder if anyone who reads this has seen the movie "Threads"
    that movie dramatizes and shows just how horrible it could be; I have never seen a movie that portrays the subject quite like this one
    "The closest you'll ever want to come to nuclear war."

    Anonymous said...

    Have diplomatic or economic sanctions ever actually "worked" in the sense of getting a government to permanently renounce a weapons program or other policy which that government was absolutely determined to pursue? Can anyone point to even a single case?

    The Israeli government would be foolish to gamble the lives of another six million Jews on the hope that such feeble methods can persuade a government based on apocalyptic religious fanaticism to give up its stated goal of "wiping them from the page of time".

    As for how long it will take Iran to develop working nuclear bombs, how long did it take the United States to do so during World War II? Why should we think that Iran will take longer than we did to develop the same technology, which is now six decades old, well-understood, and merely needs to be copied rather than invented from scratch?

    Nato said...

    One might wish to point out that merely making a bomb is not that complex, but making a bomb small and durable enough to launch is another matter, requiring extremely precise detonation mechanics and very high grade materials. Yes, it's much easier than it used to be, but it's still a much harder problem then the US was solving in the 40s.

    Anonymous said...

    There isn't enough time before the Obama administration is sworn in to create an effective pipeline for emergency military aid to Israel. You might want to avoid the subject of prospective US foreign policy since you seem to know embarassingly about it.