For perspective, recall Prime Minister Menachem Begin's decision to attack Iraq's nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981. In that case, the principal trigger
was not a change in the facts on the ground in Iraq, but Begin's fear that he would no longer be Prime Minister. He believed that he would be succeeded by
Shimon Peres, and that Peres would not have what it took to do what was required, when it was necessary. The runner-up in the last Israeli election, Yair
Lapid, has already declared that he will be the next Prime Minister. In assessing prospects of an Israeli attack, power shifts in Netanyahu's cabinet will
be more important than the latest IAEA report.
10. What would trigger a U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear facilities?
Were the U.S. to discover unambiguous evidence that Iran had begun breaking out on a timetable that could be stopped by an American attack, an attack would
be likely. Aware of this threat, Iran is highly unlikely to take such an action.
A more likely trigger of U.S. military action against Iran would be an Israeli airstrike prompting an Iranian response that threatened U.S. interests,
including the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz or Saudi Arabia itself. The U.S. has made clear to the Supreme Leader that any attempt to close the
Strait of Hormuz would cross a "red line" and invite an American military response.
What is the most likely future for 2013: a bomb or be bombed?
My best bet is that Iran will proceed cautiously, carefully, and steadily. Indeed, I agree with Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's assessment that Iran
is "going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided whether to go the extra
mile." In my view, the Obama Administration will pursue every alternative to attack, recognizing the costs and risks.
A bomb or be bombed? Both are real possibilities; either could occur without violating any laws of science and engineering or observed political behavior.
But my best judgment is that neither is likely in 2013. If required to answer yes or no: no bomb; no attack.
12. Why could I be wrong?
After having heard (or made) a convincing argument for a controversial conclusion, America's greatest Secretary of State, George Marshall, would frequently
ask: "Just one more question: Why could I be wrong?"
While the future is strictly unknown, some futures are more easily predictable than others. Bets about whether Israel will attack Iran before the end of
this year hinge on choices made by one individual or by a small group. Regardless of the strong opposition from his military and security establishment,
and his own president, and the fact that 80 percent of Israelis oppose a unilateral attack without U.S. support, if Prime Minister Netanyahu ultimately
decides to attack Iran, then he is likely to be able to do so. This would depend on Netanyahu's ability to convince his new "security cabinet," made up of
eight ministers, on the merits of an attack. So far, it is unclear how new members such as Yair Lapid or Tzipi Livni would cast their votes.
Betting about outcomes based on one person's calculations of an uncertain future is
inherently vulnerable to error. Nonetheless, I have registered my bet.
This article develops arguments initially presented at the Aspen Strategy Group.