this has to do with Iran's internal problems. Its government is mired
in chaos and infighting, its military is weak and disorganized, and its
economy is crippled. Iran's main proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, are not
eager to attack Israel, and the United States is less vulnerable in Iraq
now that its military has withdrawn. Tehran's lone ally in the region,
Syria's Bashar al-Assad, is fighting a civil war. Iran "basically only
has three asymmetric options for retaliation," says Matthew Kroenig, who
recently published a controversial essay in Foreign Affairs urging a U.S. attack on Iran as "the least bad option."
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it could support terrorists and proxy groups. But Kroenig points out
that Hezbollah and Hamas, which both possess missiles and rockets along
Israel's border, do not want to relive the devastating Israeli
counterattacks of the 2000s. "Neither wants to provoke another Israeli
invasion," Kroenig says. "They might engage in some kind of token
retaliation just to satisfy Iran," but it wouldn't fundamentally change
life for Israelis.
Second, Iran could fire ballistic missiles "at
population centers in the region and at U.S. bases and ships," says
Kroenig, who until last July was a special adviser to then-Defense
Secretary Robert Gates. "But their missiles aren't all that accurate."
its irregular navy, run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, could
wreak havoc in the Persian Gulf or even possibly close strategic
oil-shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, as Tehran warned recently.
"They do have a bunch of guys on speedboats," Kroenig says. "But if we
bombed half a dozen nuclear facilities, I don't think their response is
going to be to close the straits, especially if we issue a clear
deterrent threat.... We could completely destroy their navy in a matter of
weeks." Anyway, Iran desperately needs oil sales to keep its
sanctions-damaged economy going, so it is unlikely to halt the petroleum
trade. That fact could assuage White House fears about a spike in gas
prices bad enough to shake the global economy during an election year.
pressure is growing to act soon. Israel has previously used its air
force to demolish nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, and it has
warned for a decade that it would do the same to prevent Iran from
getting a bomb. "This time, the Israelis seem truly serious," says one
European diplomat who works on Iran negotiations. The reason is that
Iran's new facility at Fordo is buried so deep in the mountains that
Israel may not be able to destroy it. So if it can't at least cripple
the station before Iran transfers many more than the several hundred
centrifuges it already has there, Fordo's enrichment program may be out
of reach. Those transfers are happening this year.