Bombing Iran

By Terrence Henry

This January, Iran announced that it would resume uranium-enrichment research, breaking an agreement set more than two years ago with several European powers. After a series of breakdowns in negotiations—and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the move was widely perceived as an indication that Iran has decided to pursue nuclear weapons, whatever the consequences. U.S. and Israeli officials have publicly refused to rule out a military solution. When might such an attack— by the United States or Israel—take place? Here are the odds set by tradesports.com earlier this year, just after Iran resumed enrichment research, along with some factors the site’s bettors may (or may not) be considering.

4:1: Overt Air Strike by the United States or Israel by June 30, 2006.

By this date, the United Nations Security Council may have only recently enacted sanctions, such as travel bans or freezing the assets of Iranians associated with the nuclear program. More important, neither the United States nor Israel is likely to risk a strike in the midst of an election year. Israel will have only recently voted in a new parliament, and the United States will be mere months away from mid- term elections.

3:1: Overt Air Strike by the United States or Israel by December 31, 2006.

The November elections will be over in the United States, and a new government will be firmly in place in Israel. But the two powers may continue to defer to the international community, and wait to assess whether sanctions and diplomacy curb Iran’s ambitions.

2:1: Overt Air Strike by the United States or Israel by March 31, 2007.

If Iran continues to make progress toward nuclear weapons capability, despite heavy international pressure, a surgical military strike against one of its key facilities—such as the uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz or the uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan—would become more politically feasible. Analysts at the Eurasia Group, an international consulting firm, predict that surgical strikes are likely “by the [United States] or Israel during the first quarter of 2007.”

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/04/bombing-iran/304706/