Odds of War With Iran Remain at 40%


Our panel of experts gauges the probability that the United States or Israel will strike the Islamic Republic in the next year.


The chances of conflict with Iran have held steadily at 40 percent according to the 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 hostilities, 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, Karim Sadjadpour, Kenneth Timmerman, Shibley Telhami, Stephen Walt, and Robin Wright. For more on the Iran War Dial and the panelists, visit our FAQ page

The odds of war steadily declined in the spring, but have ticked upward since June's figure of 36 percent.

The last week has been a tale of three speeches at the United Nations.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave his swansong address as Iranian president before he retires next summer. Ahmadinejad claimed that his country was endangered by "uncivilized Zionists," and "the self-proclaimed centers of power who have entrusted themselves to the devil." But there were fewer explicit threats against Israel and truther-style 9/11 conspiracy theories than usual. One of our panelists, Karim Sadjadpour, believes that Ahmadinejad is "positioning himself to be kind of a global political figure, the Bill Clinton of the Islamist anti-imperialist world."

If Ahmadinejad's speech to the UN was slightly less hostile than normal, Barack Obama's was slightly tougher in tone. Obama said the space for a diplomatic solution was "not unlimited." Back in March, he told the AIPAC conference: "Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment." Here there was a firmer, "make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained." The United States "will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Obama's language won praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address to the UN. "I very much appreciate the president's position, as does everyone in my country." Netanyahu said by early next year, Iran would be just a few months from having the bomb. To prevent this, the international community must provide clear red lines that would trigger war if Iran continues to enrich uranium. But the message also seemed to be: Israel won't attack before the spring.

One of the panelists, Azar Gat, commented about why he sees a relatively high probability of war. (Note: Gat was writing before the Israeli prime minister's speech at the UN).

I have been consistently registering a high score for an Israeli/American military action against Iran's nuclear program, a much higher score than the average of the panel. I have little faith in forecasting the future, and regard this panel as scarcely more than a game of probabilities. Furthermore, I am privy to no inside information and speculate only as an outside observer. With this in mind, the reason for my vote is the following: My firmest assessment is that both the US and Israel are very serious in their determination and formal commitment to prevent an Iranian bomb. Thus, with or without a negotiated settlement, either Iran avoids further progress, above all, the uranium enrichment from 20 to 90 percent necessary for the weapon; or, if Iran chooses to take the vital steps towards the bomb, Israel or the US - in whatever combination - would strike. My second (and weaker) assessment is that Iran will not back off, and therefore the chances of a clash are high. Either way, the main point is this: Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear.

Gat, at least, believes Obama when he said, "as president of the United States, I don't bluff."

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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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