Chances of War with Iran Have Dropped for 2012, Risen for 2013


The graph above charts the chances of war with Iran as judged over the past few months by the wisdom of the crowd. More specifically, it reflects betting on the proposition "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt air strike against Iran before midnight ET 31 Dec 2012."

As you can see, the collective wisdom of people who are willing to put their money on the line is that the chances of Iran getting bombed by the end of the year is hovering around 40 percent. And that number has dropped sharply in recent weeks.

This roughly reflects my own view. Certainly the last week, in particular, has reduced the chances of war happening this year, for reasons I'll enumerate below. But, as I'll also argue below, the price paid for a reduced chance of war in 2012 is an increased chance of war in 2013.

As for why chances of an airstrike during 2012 have dropped:

1) A few weeks ago, Iran offered to return to the bargaining table, increasing the chances of a negotiated solution.

2) Within the last week, we learned that President Obama had rebuffed Bibi Netanyahu's request that the negotiations not start unless Iran first suspended its enrichment of uranium. With that obstacle cleared, the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) has accepted the Iranian offer, and negotiations are expected to start in April.

3) Obama also did something that increased the chances of the negotiations succeeding. He had long held that Iran shouldn't be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu had long held that Iran shouldn't be allowed to have even a nuclear weapons "capability"--that it shouldn't be left with the technical wherewithal to produce a bomb should it decide to do that.

Netanyahu's position, if adopted by Obama, could have impeded a deal with Iran. A ban on an Iranian nuclear "capability," if interpreted broadly, would mean that Iran shouldn't be allowed to enrich its own uranium for peaceful purposes, since even a modest enrichment infrastructure reduces the amount of time it would take to produce a weapon (if only reducing it to, say, two years). And pretty much nobody thinks Iran would agree to a deal that meant giving up its entire enrichment program; the hope had been to keep the enrichment modest and place it under intrusive monitoring that could detect any moves toward a weapons program.

Happily, Obama stood firm against Netanyahu. He signaled this in an interview late last week with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, when he repeated that what was unacceptable was Iran's developing a nuclear weapon. He maintained that position through Netanyahu's visit to Washington this week.

4) Standing firm against Netanyahu on this issue not only increased the chances that negotiations will succeed; it decreased the pressure Obama will feel to conduct or support air strikes during 2012 in the event that negotiations fail. Depending on how loosely you define "nuclear weapons capability," Iran could have it well before the end of the year--in fact, if you define it loosely enough, Iran has it now. So if "capability" was the "red line" that Iran can't cross, Netanyahu could argue that Obama is obliged to start bombing any moment now. But there's pretty much no chance that Iran will have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. So Obama can get through the November election and beyond without bombing Iran and without anyone claiming that he's reneged on his promise to keep Iran from going nuclear.

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In