Repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran
An Atlantic article argues there's a high chance of an Israeli attack on Iran next summer. What might happen next if they did?
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He says some retaliation against both Israeli and US interests is inevitable, "but not in such a visible form, such a dramatic shift that could be immediately placed upon them. They may be cunning about this, knowing that they still have a lot of their [nuclear] program, and not give us a pretext to wade into the situation and take what they have left.... the thing they really fear most is that huge attack from the United States that could, in the end, involve several thousand sorties against a great array of targets."Skip to next paragraph
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Why might Israel attack Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes? It's no secret that Israel is deeply skeptical that harsh new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program will prevent it from progressing. Israel also dismisses Tehran's assurances of peaceful intent out of hand.
Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an anti-Semitic madman who wouldn't be deterred by the risk of a massive nuclear retaliation from Israel, the region's only nuclear power. Often Israeli rhetoric compares a possible Iranian nuclear bomb with the Holocaust.
Mr. Ehsani says those sorts of fears are clouding Israeli and American strategic thinking. Both are "obsessed with the nuclear program at the expense of long term, geostrategic thinking about Iran," says Ehsani. "If everything you’re doing in terms of setting up your pieces on the chess board is to stop them from developing their nuclear program, which Iran is pursuing because of concerns about regime survival, then you've got a sort of vicious circle that could backfire."
Intentions and capabilities
The actual outcome of an Israel strike is likely to be murky. Israel's successful attacks on an unfinished Syrian nuclear reactor in 2006 and Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility in 1981 (which Iran had tried to and failed to destroy with jets of its own the previous year) are sometimes held up as models. But those were single sights, much closer to Israel and above ground.
Iran has 17 known nuclear sites and has placed many of its key facilities deep below ground, so deep that there are doubts that even "bunker buster" bombs could destroy them. But "if there’s one tunnel complex that we’ve discovered, there’s probably seven or eight we haven’t," says White. "They've been preparing for this for a long time."
And an attack wouldn't be easy: Long flights over Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Turkey, limited time over their targets, and a need to hustle home to deal with possible Hezbollah retaliation are just a few of the problems.
As Steven Simon, a senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, put it in a briefing on the odds of an Israeli strike on Iran last winter: "Israeli officials are aware that no conceivable Israeli strike could completely eliminate the nuclear threat posed by Iran and that an attack might only intensify longer-term risks as Iran reconstituted covertly, advancing an argument long made by counterterrorism officials that any effort to counter Iran’s nuclear challenge is going to be like 'mowing the lawn.' "