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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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Col. (ret.) Pat Lang, a former head of the Middle East desk at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, writes on his blog that a 50 percent chance of an Israeli attack is "about right" though he cautions of the consequences for US interests. "Goldberg doesn't think that the US would eventually be drawn into such a war? That is foolish. The escalation ladder that would be climbed would be likely to include attacks on US forces and a strike on Israel would be probable from some quarter. That would create a political situation in which US entry into the war would be likely."

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Repercussions and triggers

That's an outcome US officials are well aware of, and at least one reason that a unilateral Israeli attack, something the Obama administration opposes as the Bush administration did before it, would strain US ties.

But if Netanyahu becomes convinced that sanctions aren't working and that the US is unlikely to lead an attack, Goldberg argues the Israelis "will state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission."

White predicts that the strains on the US relationship with Israel would be manageable since "the US population is well inclined to Israelis and has a dismal view of Iran."

"The US doesn’t want to do this at all, and doesn’t want them to light the fuse, either," he says, "because it would be presumed that we gave them the green light. This is an unfortunate belief in the Middle East – it just isn't true. When the Israelis wish to do something exceedingly dramatic like the [Osirak] raid in 1981, they don’t tell us anything at all."

He says he would expect Israel to carry out a strike on Iran if it received intelligence about a specific site or nuclear progress that they viewed as "alarmingly actionable." He adds that there is no strategic hesitation "except for the difficulty of the mission, because they believe Israel will survive the bulk of the blowback.... In the long run, I’m alarmed. In the short run, I think the Israelis don’t want to do this."

Unintended consequences

At times, the US military establishment has appeared less eager for a confrontation than members of the Obama administration, who have repeatedly said that "all options are on the table" when asked about what the US might do if sanctions don't make a dent in Iran's nuclear program.

Admiral Mike Mullen, at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University in April, said that the "unintended consequences" of an Israeli attack on Iran would "be substantial in an area that's so unstable right now. We don't need more of that." He even appeared ambivalent about which was worse -- a nuclear armed Iran or a war with Iran.

"What we need is engaged political and diplomatic leadership from around the world to make sure that that doesn’t – that neither one of those things happens. And I don’t believe – I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome."

3 Reasons Israel won't bomb Iran

(This article was edited after posting to correct the name of The Atlantic magazine).

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