Iran War Dial: Odds of Conflict Now at 37%

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A poll of experts reflects a significant cooling of tension between Tehran and Washington.


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There's a 37 percent chance that the United States or Israel will strike Iran in the next year, according to The Atlantic's Iran War Dial.

We've assembled a high profile team of experts from the policy world, academia, and journalism to periodically predict the odds of conflict, including: Daniel Byman, Shahram Chubin, Golnaz Esfandiari, Azar Gat, Jeffrey Goldberg, Amos Harel, Ephraim Kam, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Matthew Kroenig, John Limbert, Valerie Lincy, James Lindsay, Marc Lynch, Gary Milhollin, Trita Parsi, Paul Pillar, Barry Rubin, Karim Sadjadpour, Kenneth Timmerman, Shibley Telhami, Stephen Walt, and Robin Wright.

It's a diverse group ranging from a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, to a military correspondent at Haaretz. Each panelist makes an individual prediction about the percentage chance of war and we report the average score. For more on the Iran War Dial and the panelists, visit our FAQ page.

In recent weeks, the crisis temperature has cooled. The estimated 37 percent chance of a U.S. or Israeli strike is down from a figure of 42 percent in April, and 48 percent in March. This decline is consistent with the betting site intrade.com, which predicts a roughly 30 percent chance of war by the end of the year.

The receding odds of conflict reflect the fact that negotiations have resumed--with the next round of talks starting in Baghdad on May 23. Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the six nations bargaining with Iran, said she aimed to secure "the beginnings of the end" of the dispute. The United States is reportedly willing to ease some sanctions in exchange for a suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Shaul Mofaz, leader of the centrist Kadima Party, joined Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition. Some analysts see the move as enhancing the odds of war by creating a national unity government to rally Israelis around a strike. But Mofaz has criticized Netanyahu's handling of Iran, and described an early Israeli strike as potentially "disastrous."

What is the effect of the 2012 U.S. presidential election on the chances of war? One argument is that Israel may strike before the election because Obama will face intense political pressure from Republicans to back America's ally. Alternatively, Obama may restrain Israel from attacking Iran until after the November vote, to prevent an escalating conflict from imperiling his reelection.

According to our panel, the upcoming election will not have a decisive effect on the odds of war. The panel predicted a 19 percent chance of conflict in the six months before November. Compared to the overall 37 percent chance of war in the next twelve months, this means there is a roughly equal chance of a strike before and after the election.

For a second month, the Iran War Dial suggests a dovish ascendency in the Middle East. This spring Greece may be unraveling but there is cautious optimism about the Persian puzzle.

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Dominic Tierney is a correspondent for The Atlantic and an associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College. He is the author of How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War. More

Dominic Tierney is associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College, and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He completed his PhD in international politics at Oxford University and has held fellowships at the Mershon Center at Ohio State University, the Olin Institute at Harvard University, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

He is the author of Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (Harvard University Press, 2006), with Dominic Johnson, which won the International Studies Association award for the best book published in 2006, and FDR and the Spanish Civil War: Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle that Divided America (Duke University Press, 2007).

His latest book is How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War (Little, Brown 2010), which Ambassador James Dobbins, former Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, described as "A great theme, beautifully written and compellingly organized, it's a fitting update to Russell Weigley's classic [The American Way of War] and an important contribution to a national debate over the war in Afghanistan which is only gathering steam." (More on Facebook.)

Dominic's work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, TIME.com, and on NPR.
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