The Israelis have always viewed a hostile state with nuclear weapons as an existential threat. As such it is no surprise that the IAF (Israeli Air force) bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and a suspected nuclear site in Syria in 2007. Given that Iran is nearing the completion of its own nuclear program and given Iran’s constant bellicose attitude toward the Jewish state there is a significant chance the Israelis may try to thwart Iran’s nuclear capabilities by force as well.
Whether or not Israel should bomb Iran, whether such an attack would seriously disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, and whether or not a successful strike would be worth the subsequent chance of conflict spreading across the region are all valid considerations when analyzing such a course of action. However, rightly or wrongly, it is possible that the Israelis, believing that a nuclear armed Iran poses an existential threat to its people, may launch such a strike regardless of the potential costs. Considering Iran’s continuos support of Syria and terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas and the often bellicose language of its leaders (such as the President of Iran’s remarks about wiping Israel off the map and denying the holocaust ever happened, while even as recently as early February Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut”) it is perhaps not hard to see Israel’s point of view.
However, it should be noted that there are many people, including respected defense analysts and high ranking American officers, who claim that Israel simply does not have the means, or at least the opportunity, to seriously damage Iran’s nuclear program. Regarding means they cite the long distances the IAF would have to travel, the considerable amount of anti-aircraft defenses the Iranians have, and the supposedly limited amount of firepower the IAF could bring to bear against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Regarding opportunity they are assuming that for a number of reasons the Israelis would only get one shot (that is only one wave of attacks) at hitting Iran and that a successful strike against its nuclear capabilities would actually require a bombing campaign that would take days, if not weeks, to do significant damage.
The considerable distance that perhaps 100 or more planes (the average number different sources estimate the IAF attack force would comprise of) would have to travel is certainly a problem, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. When the Israelis bombed the Iraqi reactor in 1981 they devised enough measures to guarantee they would have enough fuel to get there and back, against the assumptions of many American and Western analysts that they could not. While critics point out that Israel’s fleet of air tankers is probably not enough to refuel all the planes in flight, it is conceivable the Israelis could create a de-facto airstrip in one of the countries along the way to have their planes refuel there. This is not mere fantasy as Israel’s electronic warfare potential is said to be quite extensive and some sources suggest it could disable Iran’s electric grid, communications, and most likely its air defenses (as the Israelis did to the Syrian air defenses in 2007 when they hit Syria’s suspected nuclear site). This would most likely confuse the Iranians and delay their movements and retaliation to give the IAF enough time to create a small air strip and use it to refuel and get away before the Iranians even knew of its existence.
Another potential scenario would be for a friendly country to provide an airstrip. This should not be quickly discounted as according to wikileaks the Saudis and other Gulf countries actually encouraged the Americans to hit Iran’s nuclear sites. Given that Iran (of all countries) collaborated with Israel when they targeted Saddam Hussein’s reactor in 1981 it is not inconceivable that some Arab countries would do the same against Iran now. Additionally, a friendly country such as Azerbaijan could fulfill such a role as was implied in Joel Rosenberg’s novel the “Tehran Initiative.”
The state of Iran’s anti-aircraft defenses is even less of an issue than the distances involved. Ever since the damage that was inflicted to the IAF by SAMs (surface to air missiles) during the “Yom Kippur War” in 1973 the Israelis have mastered the art of electronic warfare and the suppression of enemy air-defenses. Besides the recent example of the strike on Syria in 2007 there is the comprehensive destruction of the Syrian SAMs in the Bekaa valley in 1982 during the “First Lebanon War.” Here the IAF destroyed, in a matter of hours, the biggest concentration of the most modern soviet air-defenses ever deployed in the history of warfare. Not only did they accomplish this feat without losing a single plane, but they also shot down nearly 100 Syrian planes (again without loss) that were dispatched to try to save the SAMs.
While this was done against the most modern anti-aircraft system of its time, the Iranian equivalent is relatively obsolete. Some observers would point out that the Syrians manning the SAMs in 1982 were notoriously incompetent, but even if their Iranian counterparts were extremely professional the combination of Iranian’s relatively backward military technology, combined with an IAF that is much more advanced than it was 30 years ago, and backed by electronic warfare that would probably blind, if not disable, Iran’s SAMs, there is little reason to believe Iran’s AA (anti-aircraft) capabilities would pose a significant threat to an Israeli strike. Perhaps its greatest virtue is that even firing blindly it could force Israeli planes to execute defensive maneuvers that would waste precious fuel they would need to get back home.
A more potentially limiting factor regarding the success of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be the firepower at the disposal of the Israelis. While some analysts believe Israel may not have enough planes or specialized munitions (especially regarding the more modern bunker busters) to effectively destroy Iran’s most critical targets, other experts believe it is possible, albeit not without considerable risk and with a debatable chance of success. Of course much of the disagreement among these two school of thoughts is what would constitute a success strike (in other words whether an attack would destroy, or only delay, Iran’s capacity to make nuclear weapons).
Either way, regardless of one’s political or ideological views and sympathies it is possible to estimate how such an attack would generally play out, and what the potential consequence would be.
Regarding timing, there is some evidence to suggest that the Israelis may strike before the summer of 2012. According to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is worried that Israel may launch an attack on Iran during April, May, or June. Ignatius states that Panetta was alerted by Israeli estimates which suggest that after this point the Iranians may have been able to move enough of their nuclear operation underground, beyond the range of Israeli missiles and bombs. A more controversial assumption is that the Israelis believe this would include enough enriched uranium to construct a nuclear weapon. Once this stage has been reached the Israelis believe they would no longer have the ability to take out Iran’s nuclear program unilaterally (that is without the aid of American military power). Given that the Israelis doubt the American’s resolve to bomb Iran if necessary, we are looking at a significant chance the IAF will strike Iran before July.
As for the assault itself the Israelis would probably use several squadrons of F-15s and F-16s, equipped with a variety of features such as extra fuel tanks, bunker buster bombs, anti-radiation missiles, electronic warfare pods, etc. They would likely be backed by aerial tankers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and even Israeli submarines that could launch cruise missiles. The electronic warfare component is important as it is rumored the Israelis used electronic counter measures to disable the Syrian anti-aircraft defenses during the strike on the suspected nuclear facility in 2007. Whether or not the Stuxnet worm that delayed progress at the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr was created by Israel or not, there is no doubt that Israel probably has the capability to shut down much of Iran’s air defenses, as well as other vital systems, in the event of an attack.
There is some debate as to whether the Israelis would attack Iran by going through either a northern route via Syria and Turkey, a central route via Jordan and Iraq, or a southern route via Saudi Arabia, or a combination of all three. However, such a debate is mostly academic as a combination of Israeli methods (such as having its planes hug the ground during the journey to Iran to avoid radar detection), electronic counter-measures, the indisputable superiority of the IAF over its Arab counterparts, and the not so secret revelation that the Arabs have no wish for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, all suggest that the Israelis can choose any route they want. However, if one had to guess the Israelis would probably either attack via the southern route given the less extensive Arab anti-aircraft defenses and airpower if they were to attack with a concentrated group of planes, or a combination of all three routes if they were to attack in smaller groups (a theory introduced in Joel Rosenberg’s “The Tehran Initiative.”)
What the Israelis would do once they reached Iranian airspace would depend upon the capabilities of the IAF and the goals such a strike would be trying to serve. Ideally such goals would reflect the actual capabilities of the IAF, but as “Operation Accountability” and “Operation Grapes of Wrath” and the aerial campaign during the “Second Lebanon War” in 2006 show sometimes Israel’s leaders over estimate what the IAF can actually accomplish. Even the raid against the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 was ultimately a limited success as the Coalition’s aerial campaign against Iraq during “Operation Desert Storm” was what ultimately destroyed Saddam Hussein’s capacity to complete the Iraqi nuclear program. That said, the surprise aerial assault against the Egyptian air force in 1967, the rescue of Jewish hostages at Entebbe in 1976, and the comprehensive defeat of Syria’s SAM batteries and air force in 1982 surprised the majority of defense analysts and military experts of their day.
However, it is easier to begin with what the Israelis could not accomplish via strategic bombing. For a combination of logistical, geographic and political reasons, the Israel’s could not launch a protracted aerial assault against Iran. Any assault(s) would likely have a limited window of perhaps a few hours to one or two days at best. While it can be assumed the Israeli rate of attrition regarding planes in such a strike would be relatively low (easily under 10%), such a rate would arguably increase in the event of additional strikes considering the Israelis would no longer have the element of surprise and the Iranians would be on full alert. This was the case during the subsequent attacks on Egyptian and Arab airfields after the devastating first wave on Egypt’s airfields during the “6 Day War” when the Israelis lost many more planes in the following waves. It should be noted that during such a short war the Israelis lost nearly 25% of its Air force. The “Yom Kippur War” in 1973 provides further proof as the Israelis lost almost 50 planes in the first three days and an American airlift during the conflict arguably saved the IAF from being grounded due to a lack of spare parts and electronic counter-measures.
Even if the Israelis were willing to accept such horrific rates of attrition there are several reasons they would probably desist. Firstly, the Israelis would probably want their air force to be in good shape in case the Iranians, the Syrians, Hezbollah or Hamas (or potentially all of them) decided to retaliate against Israel for attacking Iran. Secondly, the countries in between Israel and Iran (despite the fact they would tacitly support a strike on Iran) would eventually be forced by public opinion to fight against an IAF that continuously violated their air space. Thirdly, and arguably most importantly, the Americans (who would probably be angry at the Israelis for likely attacking Iran without their permission) would put enormous pressure on the Israelis to stop any additional attacks. While the Israelis could probably launch additional strikes against the Iranian facilities with its fleet of UAV’s, its ballistic missiles and its fleet of submarines, they would probably not be able to launch many more attacks due to many of the reasons cited above.
The inability of the Israelis to launch a protracted bombing campaign against Iran rules out any attempt to produce regime change, or seriously degrade Iran’s conventional fighting capabilities (such goals being mostly fantasy anyway). This reduces the Israeli operation to what can be accomplished during the first, and perhaps only, attack wave. This would probably include Iran’s most important nuclear facilities and her direct means to retaliate against Israel (her ballistic missile capabilities; Iran’s air force being too obsolete and ill-trained to seriously threaten Israel anyway). According to a study written for CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) in 2009 “the success of the Strike Mission will be measured by how much of the Enrichment program has it destroyed, or the number of years it has delayed Iranian acquisition of enough Uranium or Plutonium from the Arak reactor to build a nuclear bomb.” As such, and according to most experts, there are at least four critical targets the Israelis would have to hit to cause significant damage to Iran’s nuclear program.
According to the study the Israelis would have to at least hit the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fardow (which was unknown to the West when the study was published), the heavy water reactor at Arak, and the yellow cake conversion centre at Isfahan. Even if we discounted the efforts the IAF would likely expend to hit other important targets such as the support facilities for the nuclear reactor at Bushehr (though one expert at least implied it could be a possible target for Israeli subs due to its relatively exposed location on the Gulf) and Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, the force required to hit the four aforementioned targets would still be considerable. The study suggested that to cause significant enough damage to the Natanz, Arak and Isfahan sites alone (keeping in mind the Fardow site was unknown to the study group) the Israelis would need between 34-63 F-16s and F-15s equipped with conventional weapons for the above ground facilities and bunker busters for the ones buried deep underground.
The difference in number of planes is explained by the fact that several of these planes could carry one or two massive bombs. The Israelis would have to debate whether or not they should launch less planes to provide the Iranians with less targets, or if they should launch more to increase the chance that more bombs would hit their objectives. The study assumed that the IAF planes would operate at a 90% systems reliability (assuming that 10% of the planes would experience malfunctions or have to turn back).
Hitting the enrichment facility buried in a mountain near Fardow would be even more difficult than the underground enrichment facility near Natanz, but is not necessarily beyond the capabilities of the IAF. In one scenario, according to Austin Long (who did a war game regarding an Israeli strike against Iran for the RAND corporation) the Israelis could use an armada of 25 F-15s equipped with 3 bunker buster bombs each and launch them in succession at a single point and hope at least one bomb would penetrate the facility and destroy the centrifuges that are in a relatively small and concentrated area. While it sounds simple on paper Long reminds us of the dangers due to the length of time the Israeli planes would have to linger over the target area, their limited supply of fuel and the threat of Iran’s air force and anti-aircraft capabilities.
Another possibility is that despite claims to the contrary the Americans may have, or soon could, provide the Israelis with a complement of GBU-57A/Bs (also known as the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator”) that could take out such a facility much easier than a score of older American supplied bunker busters. Additionally, and while it cannot be completely discounted that the Israelis may have produced more modern bunker busters on their own, it is not likely given their limited resources and reliance on American hardware. Finally, the Israelis could consider options like collapsing the tunnels leading to the facility or even sabotage. The destruction of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps base near Tehran last november, which some analysts believed was Mossad’s handiwork, shows that this is not as far fetched as it would seem.
Now in addition to the already considerable strike force needed (in theory at least) to take out these four critical site and Iran’s ability to retaliate (her ballistic missile capabilities) the Israelis would likely commit other planes to neutralize Iran’s SAMs, and fight off its air force. According to the sources listed above there would be 34-63 planes devoted to Arak, Isfahan and Natanz, 25 for Fardow and according to the CSIS study at least 10 for Iran’s missile capabilities in the general area of these sites. Assuming these are the only targets the IAF would be attacking (which of course we cannot) the Israelis would be sending between 69 and 98 planes to attack Iran (minus Israel’s tanker fleet, potential UAVs, other fighters for air superiority and air defense suppression missions, etc.). While no study or amount of analysis can realistically predict the actual amount of air assets the Israelis would commit to such an undertaking, there is no doubt they would have to be considerable.
So, what would a potential Israeli aerial assault against Iran look like? There are too many variables and unknown elements to offer any certainties. However, if we accept the sources, historical precedents and logical reasoning stated above it is possible to make a few educated guesses.
The Israeli assault would likely consist of a force of more than 100 fighter aircraft and would probably be backed by air tankers, UAVs, Israeli subs and ballistic missiles. They would likely attack Iran via the southern route going through Saudi Arabia if they were attacking in a concentrated group or a combination of all three routes if they proceeded in smaller groups. The IAF would fly as low to the ground as possible to go under the Arab states and Iran’s radar networks but would also employ electronic counter measures to either fool, or disable, their air-defense capabilities. Reaching Iran they could also use electronic warfare (according to a recent U.S. intelligence estimate) to disable “Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.” This would temporarily cripple Iran’s communications, defensive capabilities and the ability to limit damage to sites the Israelis would be targeting.
Entering Iran the Israeli force would split up and focus on destroying their respective targets (nuclear facilities, ballistic missile sites, SAMs, etc.) while other fighters would guard against Iranian fighters, and Israeli subs and ballistic missiles would strike other objectives. Such an assault would last perhaps a few hours, particularly at Natanz and Fordow which would likely require extensive bombing and other measures to neutralize effectively. Elements of friction that would effect the timeframe would be the strike force’s fuel consumption, the extent to which electronic measures compromised Iranian defenses, the possibility of Israeli pilots being shot down in Iranian territory, etc.
Either way, having expended their munitions and being low on fuel (keeping in mind the Israeli planes will have had to have found a way to re-fuel their planes at some point during their mission) the Israeli force would probably rise to high altitude and gun it back to Israel via the quickest route (Iraq and Jordan). Based on several precedents and the IAF’s indisputable superiority compared to the Arab States’ air forces it is likely that the Jordanians would either fail to launch fighters, or do so belatedly to claim it at least tried to intercept the IAF, while the Iraqis (having no real air force of their own) would be unable to do anything anyway.
While in the aftermath, and for reasons stated above, even if the IAF would probably not launch additional strikes against Iran (in the case its nuclear facilities were not sufficiently damaged) the Israelis could probably get a away with a few more limited strikes via its UAV’s, ballistic missiles or submarines to rectify this.
Anyway, a probable outcome would be that Israelis would significantly delay, at best for a few years, the completion of Iran’s nuclear program, and would probably lose between 5 to 10% of its strike force. As the CSIS study on such an assault noted “we can conclude that a military strike by the Israeli Airforce against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible, however, it would be complex and high risk in the operational level and would lack any assurances of a high mission success rate.” Of course, as already stated, what constitutes a success in such an operation is subjective depending upon one would hope such a strike would accomplish. The same study estimated the IAF strike force would lose between 5 and 10% of its planes and as it assumed the attacking force would comprise between 100 and 150 planes it estimated the Israelis would lose between 5 and 15 planes. Arguably worse from a strategic and political view than the loss of any planes would be if any Israeli pilot(s) survived and had to be rescued; leading to potentially complicated search and rescue missions that would turn an already complex situation into perhaps all out war between the two nations. However the Israelis would arguably have greater concerns in the aftermath of any aerial assault against Iran.
And herein lies most of the objections regarding an attack on Iran by the IAF: The consequences of such an operation. While no one can guarantee what such consequences would be, there is potential it could result in significant bloodshed and widespread economic fallout.
The first consequence no matter what would be an increase in the price of oil. This should not come as a surprise considering nearly every threat of action, or action itself, in the Middle East inevitably produces such an outcome. How much an increase would depend upon the subsequent intensity and duration of any and all retaliation against Israeli and possibly American and European interests. It goes without saying that additional economic fallout, be it mild or catastrophic, would also depend upon the same circumstances.
The next consideration would be the potential of such retaliation against Israel for mounting a strike against Iran. Of course the Arab world, most of the U.N, and maybe even America would all issue verbal condemnations and censure Israel for its actions. Sanctions would be unlikely as the U.S. would veto such a resolution at the U.N. and many countries would privately approve of the Israeli strike. The Americans would probably grumble and delay aid and weapons to Israel for a short while, but ultimately the considerable Jewish Lobby in America would prevail and U.S.-Israeli relations would likely stabilize eventually.
However, the real threat to Israel would involve direct military retaliation via Iran and its allies, specifically Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. In the worse case scenario Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria would launch a combination of rockets, missile and terrorist attacks against Israel while Syria would initiate a conventional war with the Jewish state. In such a case the Israelis, having an indisputable technological and conventional advantage would beat back the Syrians and inflict considerably more damage to her enemies than she would suffer. However, the cost, especially among civilians, would be high to both sides and it is difficult to see how such a war would end.
It is assumed that Israel, learning from the 2006 war against Hezbollah and the 2009 war against Hamas would realize that the only significant chance of halting the terrorist’s ad-hoc and inexpensive rockets would be to physically overrun the launch sites by invading enemy territory. This they could do by mobilizing their reserves and invading Southern Lebanon up to the Litani river and the Gaza Strip. As for the more advanced Iranian and Syrian missiles, it is ironic that their more sophisticated nature would allow the Israelis a much better chance to target and destroy them due to Israel’s unquestionable dominance in conventional warfare and the many anti-missile Defense systems the Americans have provided her with. These systems can easily track and destroy big expensive missiles but not cheap and small rockets produced by terrorist proxies (hence the potential need to physically overrun their launch sites). As for the threat of a Syrian conventional assault against Israel, the last four wars between the two nations provide ample proof that the Israelis would easily quash the Syrians.
A more realistic scenario would involve a combination of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran either launching token rocket and missile attacks against Israel, or not responding to the Israeli strike and playing the victim card. While critics of the use of force against Iran, not to mention many military and intelligence cadres, like to emphasize the worse case scenario there are many credible reasons why any retaliation against Israel would either be extremely limited or non-existent.
History is illuminating in this regard considering that during the war against Hezbollah in 2006, the strike against the suspected Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, and the war against Hamas in 2009 none of their supposed brothers in arms came to their aid during the Israeli attacks.
In the case of Hezbollah and Hamas it should be noted that while both organizations survived Israel’s considerable assaults against them in 2006 and 2009 respectively, both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip suffered horrendously in both conflicts. It is likely that the Lebanese and the Palestinians have little inclination to suffer further hardships for the sake of solidarity with the Iranians. Hezbollah and Hamas, both organizations that rely upon popular support from these groups in order to govern would probably hesitate before launching all out rocket attacks on Israel. It is possible they would launch a very limited campaign of rocket attacks (in terms of numbers and duration) for the sake of appearing to back Iran but the chances they would launch a protracted and extensive campaign against Israel is unlikely. An additional motivating factor is that the Israeli public, frustrated by the lack of progress during both previous conflict against these organizations, would likely back more comprehensive methods (including ground assaults) against both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in the event of hostilities. Considering the Israelis performed better in their war against Hamas in 2009 than Hezbollah in 2006 due to more emphasis on firepower and relaxing the rules of engagement there is no reason to believe Israel would react less violently to sustained rocket attack than the last few times.
In the case of Syria, and as already noted above, the military history of the “Arab-Israeli Wars” is almost a catalogue of constant Syrian defeats at the hands of the IDF. Perhaps of greater consequence is that for the last year Syria’s President, Bashar-al Assad, has been fighting an insurrection against his rule that may or may not overthrow his Alawi dominated regime. In other words the Syrians have more serious problems to deal with than an Israeli attack against Iran.
All of which leaves Iran. The Iranians could either launch ballistic missiles and their air force against Israel, blockade the Strait of Hormuz, or attempt to launch terrorist attacks against Israel, Europe, or the United States. In the case of the first three options the Iranian air force and missiles would probably do minimal, if any, damage to Israel. Iran’s air force is mostly obsolete and has little capacity to hit Israeli cities. Even if it could the IAF with its superior training, weaponry and equipment would probably do to Iran’s air force what it did to the Syrian Air force over the Bekaa Valley in 1982.
Regarding the Strait of Hormuz the Iranian navy would only be able to occupy it for a few days, or maybe only a few hours, before the U.S. Carrier fleet docked in nearby Bahrain would confront and destroy it due to its indisputable advantages in technology and firepower. A more problematic situation would occur if the Iranians mined the Strait in which case, dependent upon how extensive the minefield would be, it would take the Americans between a few days, to a few weeks, to clear. Either way, considering the Iranians are dependent upon free passage of the Strait to export their oil (the lynch pin of their economic power) closing it would be an extremely irrational thing to.
Iran could also theoretically attack U.S. forces in the region with its ballistic missiles and/or American naval assets in the Gulf via swarming tactics with its countless smaller attack boats. However, as stated above, America’s supremacy in conventional warfare would ensure that such an exchange would be exceedingly one sided.
The threat of launching terrorist attacks, especially against Israel, is potentially a more credible threat yet not as severe as many pundits would like to believe. Iran’s ability to launch terror attacks against the U.S. is very limited and any attack would result in significant military backlash against Tehran (maybe even provoking the Americans into launching even more devastating attacks against Iran’s already damaged nuclear program). Apparently Hezbollah at least has the infrastructure in the U.S. to potentially launch terrorist attacks on American soil. However this would probably be harmful to the organization due to all the funding it raises in the U.S. and would likely turn it into an international pariah just as the “September 11 attacks” did to Al-Qaeda. Additionally, attacking Europe would be reckless since much of Europe has little sympathy for Israel and the United States and it would risk sacrificing the potential sympathy Iran could gain from being attacked by the IAF.
However, Iran does have the ability via its proxies (Hezbollah and Hamas) to launch terrorist attacks against Israel. While Hezbollah and Hamas would probably refrain from seriously launching rockets against Israel due to the damage they experienced in 2006 and 2009 respectively, they could arguably launch at least some suicide attacks against the Jewish state. In such a case Israel is well prepared from decades of counter-terrorists operations and would probably not incur significant casualties.
Perhaps it is too obvious to state that the real negative consequences for Israel, the United States, and much of the rest of the world regarding an Israeli attack on Iran would be economic and diplomatic. As noted earlier the price of oil would increase, though whether or not it would be economically devastating would depend on the duration and intensity of any potential conflict that would follow such an attack, and whether or not the Iranians blockaded or mined the Strait of Hormuz.
Israel would not lose much sympathy or support in the Middle East or among the international community. As the Israeli state is vilified by every country in the region and is treated with disproportionate disdain at the supposedly neutral United Nations, it is hard to see Israel’s stock falling further in these quarters. As for their best ally, as has already been mentioned the Americans may feel compelled to verbally chastise the Israelis and perhaps delay the delivery of some aid and weaponry but the strong jewish lobby in Washington, or the eventual election of a more pro-Israeli American president, would likely reduce the chance of a long term rift developing. Of course the exception to this would be if the Iranians decided to launch severe conventional and terrorist strikes against American military assets or civilians in lieu of an attack by Israel in which case American policy makers may finally conclude supporting Israel is not worth all the negative consequences it entails.
Diplomatically, the Americans have the most to lose from an Israeli attack on Iran. Any conflict or violence between Israel and any of her enemies almost invariably damages American prestige in the region. This is not necessarily fair as America has not always condoned Israeli actions to supposedly protect itself. In some situations such as the “Suez Crisis” in 1956 and Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 America has been outright hostile. Even in situations where America has had more sympathy for the Israelis, such as the “Yom Kippur War” in 1973 or Israel’s countless invasions and air campaigns against Lebanon, it is usually American pressure that forces Israel to stop fighting. Yet fair or not, the lowering of American prestige in the region is always a by product of any Israeli action against its perceived enemies and an attack on Iran would be no exception.
Whatever anyone’s view on America’s role in the Middle East, it is possible that the more influence they lose in the area the more prestige countries like Iran and Syria and terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, will gain. If people actually believe that these entities would provide more stability, prosperity or democracy for the region in the place of relative American dominance they are mistaken. Interestingly enough the people in the region seem to understand this more then the Western world does. The fact that all of the movements in the “Arab Spring” have requested American aid, rather than help from Iran and its proxies, is undeniable proof that Iran’s fundamentalist style of governance has little real appeal among the arab people. Even in Iran and Syria the people are getting tired of their rulers as seen by Tehran’s ruthless crack down on the protests following the supposedly rigged election in 2009 and the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Therefore, while it is possible that an Israeli attack on Iran could harm American prestige in the short term it is not likely that the Iranians would be able to take advantage of it in the long term. There are ample precedents for this as the political capital the Iranians accumulated from the Israeli wars against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009 have not improved its geopolitical position in the region vis-a-vis the Americans. Even more incredibly Israel’s previous strikes against nuclear targets in Iraq and Syria caused little backlash in the region. In the case of Iraq it led to a few condemnations at the U.N, and in the case of Syria there was barely a murmur at all. While none of this guarantees an Israeli strike against Iran would not result in a significant increase of violence or anti-Americanism in the region, it is likely that it would not be unmanageable.
Yet ultimately nothing is certain. It is unknown if the Israel will actually strike Iran, and whether it even has the capability to serious damage its nuclear program. It is also unknown if, or how, Iran and its proxies would retaliate against Israel or the United States. Finally, there is no telling how such variables will effect Israel, Iran, the United States, the Middle East, and possibly the global economy, in the long term.
There is enough evidence to suggest that an Israeli attack against Iran could result in a substantial, though probably not longterm, success and that it would not result in serious conflict or economic fallout in the aftermath. However, there is a chance, however minor, that the worse case scenario could play out and that the resulting war would be the most bloody conflict the Middle East has witnessed since the “Iran-Iraq War.” Whether or not the Israelis believe targeting Iran’s nuclear capabilities is worth potentially igniting such a war, is perhaps the most important question of all.
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Wikipedia article on “Iran Nuclear Program”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_nuclear_program [March, 2012]
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Wikipedia article on “Operation Orchard”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Orchard [March, 2012]