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Will Israel Bomb Iran?

Finding the "Point of No Return"

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Jeffrey Goldberg, in the cover story for the new issue of The Atlantic, explores whether Israel would launch military air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites. Speaking to a number of senior U.S. and Israeli officials, he finds "a consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July." Goldberg says Israel would be motivated by "the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism" that, rooted in "a line of Shia Muslim thinking that views Jews as ritually contaminated," could seek the destruction of the Jewish state. Is he right? Here are the cases for and against.

The Case That Israel Will Bomb Iran

  • Only Israel Can Solve Iranian Nukes  Israeli blogger Carl writes, "I don't believe Obama is constitutionally capable of waging the kind of all-out war that would be required against Iran. I don't believe he is capable of inflicting the civilian casualties that would be inflicted in such a war. And I don't believe he's capable of doing that where he doesn't see that war as a war for his or his country's existence. And that's where Israel is different because we understand that a war with Iran is an existential necessity for us, no matter how many times Netanyahu tries - in vain - to convince the world that it's not just our problem."
  • Obama Hoping for Israeli Strike?  Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds sighs, "I think some people in Washington — and elsewhere — have been letting the Israelis twist in the wind in the hopes that Israel will solve our Iran problems for us, and take the blame. I don’t think these 'leaders' will like the outcome, and if I were the Israelis I wouldn’t be trying too hard to make it pleasant. Irresponsibility can be expensive."
  • With 'Weak' U.S., Israel Must Take Lead  The American Thinker's Rick Moran writes, "with success, the Israelis will buy time (probably putting the Iranian program back 3-5 years), earn the secret thanks of most of the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East, and will have stopped potential proliferation to terrorist groups in its tracks. ... This will be the first world crisis since the end of World War II where American power and prestige will not be used to intervene in order to prevent catastrophe. Obama is betting the farm that his worldview will be more conducive to defusing a crisis than the more realpolitik and pragmatic point of view that has dominated American foreign policy for 65 years. We are shortly going to find out whether good intentions really matter in international affairs."
  • U.S., Israel, Iran Already Preparing Response  Conservative blogger Allahpundit writes, "Pay attention to the part near the end where Goldberg writes about Iran keeping Hezbollah in reserve for a counterattack in case Israel strikes. According to an Arab newspaper, Israel nearly launched a large operation against Lebanon just last week, ostensibly as a reprisal for the recent border incident in which an Israeli soldier was killed. I wonder if there’s more to it than that, though, in light of the Atlantic piece: Clearly, the IDF will want to do something about Hezbollah’s missile cache before making its move on Iran. ... Meanwhile, Obama will have to plan for the risk of Iranian attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of an Israeli strike. Whether that means accelerating withdrawal later this year or forcing some sort of change in tactics to better protect troops in the field I’ll leave to military readers to opine on."

The Case That Israel Won't Bomb Iran

  • Israel Lacks Military Capability  Think Progress' Matt Duss explains:
    There’s quite a lot that’s wrong with this calculus. Numerous analysts doubt that Israel is capable of carrying out a successful strike. As Brookings’ Ken Pollack wrote in his 2004 book The Persian Puzzle, “Given the size of the various Iranian nuclear facilities, it would not be possible for Israel to destroy all of them in a single raid as it did Osiraq. Nor would it be politically, militarily, or logistically possible for Israel to sustain multiple such strikes over the many days, if not weeks, it would take for all its F-151s to accomplish the job.”

    Likewise, a March 2009 study by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that, while an Israeli strike was possible, “the number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate."
  • Costs Clearly Outweigh Benefits  New America Foundation's Steve Clemons, in a lengthy response, writes, "I have previously outlined my doubts about America's and Israel's willingness -- in the end -- to take military action against Iran. In short, the costs and blowback could be astonishingly, strategically high for the United States and Israel runs the risk of rupturing relations with its only key ally in the world by making a unilateral strategic choice for the United States ... My own hunch is that whether Israel is serious about striking Iran, or not - it wants the world, Iran's Mullahs, and President Obama to think it will. ... I think based on the interviews he has shared with all parties that more rational heads will prevail in finding a way to contain or redirect Iran's course. Otherwise, as in a simple game theory exercise, both Israel and the US may end up in the box of very worst outcomes with none of their basic strategic objectives achieved."
  • Could Israel Be Bluffing?  Politico's Ben Smith wonders, "The Israelis, obviously and openly, would prefer that the U.S. bomb Iran. ... There's a kind of unstated logic here that, if Israel is going to bomb Iran, the U.S. might as well do it itself. So one of the things the Obama administration is wrestling with is the degree to which Israeli tough talk is a bluff aimed at pushing the White House to action, and how, if it isn't a bluff, it should affect U.S. policy."
  • Iran Not Seeking Second Holocaust  Foreign Policy's Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett question the premise that Iran poses an immediate and existential threat to Israel. "The Islamic Republic is not Hitler's Germany, particularly regarding Jews. No matter how many anti-Zionist or even anti-Semitic quotes Gerecht, Goldberg, and others may marshal from Iranian politicians, inconvenient realities undermine the Islamic Republic/Third Reich analogy: Roughly 25,000-30,000 Jews continue living in Iran, with civil status equal to other Iranians and a constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary seat. It is illegal in the Islamic Republic for Muslims to consume alcohol --but Jews (and Christians) are permitted wine for religious ceremonies and personal consumption. Iranian politicians frequently question Israel's legitimacy and predict demographics will ultimately produce a 'one-state' solution in Palestine. It's true that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made provocative statements questioning the Holocaust. But neither Ahmadinejad nor any other Iranian leader has threatened to destroy Israel by initiating military conflict."
  • Suspiciously Vague 'Red Line'  Blogger Patrick Disney writes, "Israel has not yet clearly defined its red lines. ... what they didn’t define clearly was any sort of triggering event. ... So what is the actual 'Point of No Return'? According to Goldberg’s sources, it’s an Iranian weapons 'capability.' But that is a vague and ephemeral term. ... as red lines go, this one leaves a lot to be desired. Which brings me to my second point. Odds are that Iran already has a covert enrichment facility separate from the one unveiled at Qom last year. ... As the threat of attack grows, however, the need for Iran to have a secret backup facility becomes more and more powerful." That is, the noisier the tough talk from Israel, the more likely Iran will prepare for an attack. So, if Israel is seriously preparing to strike, wouldn't a surprise attack be more effective?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.