Only one nation has called for a military strike against Iran and that, we learned from Wikileaks, is Saudi Arabia. Still, the main focus of media attention has been on the prospect that Israel will attack Iran because it is the one country the Iranians have threatened with destruction and Israel’s leaders have declared a nuclear Iran an existential threat.
Many analysts argue that Israel lacks the military capability to stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few years and assert that the cost of any attack will exceed the benefit. This is the conventional wisdom, but it is just that, conventional, and Israel has repeatedly proved that it has the daring and creativity to disprove the skeptics.
Consider Israel’s history. American officials have been consistently wrong about Israel’s capabilities. They did not expect Israel to survive the Arab invasion of 1948. In the early 1950s, the Arabs were seen as strategic allies, but, by the end of the decade, Israel was acknowledged as the only pro-Western power in the region.
In 1967, no one anticipated that Israel would surprise their neighbors and destroy their air forces on the ground.
In 1976, Israel shocked the world when it rescued 102 hostages in Entebbe.
In 1981, Israel flew through Arab air space and destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
In 2007, an Israeli raid destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear facility.
Now Israel’s capabilities are again being doubted. Only a handful of Israelis are privy to plans that could be far more audacious and innovative than critics imagine. As Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, who flew a fighter escort on the raid on Iraq told the Jerusalem Report, “you can introduce dozens of improvisations and creative ideas and get much more out of the basic conditions than would seem possible at face value.”
Assuming Israel can launch an effective strike, what about the argument that it will only set Iran back a few years?
Maybe the strike will succeed in destroying more of the program than the naysayers believe. But let’s say that it doesn’t. This does not mean that Iran will be able to rebuild their program quickly, if at all. Sure, they will still have the knowledge, but it took them about 20 years to get to where they are today.
They will also face much greater international scrutiny.
The world kept its head in the sand for years, and the International Atomic Energy Agency acted like the three blind mice.
That will not happen in the future. Furthermore, sanctions can remain in place, inspections could become more rigorous and other measures taken to ensure the nuclear program is not rebuilt.
Some argue the Iranians will become more united as a result of their nation being attacked. They may also become more determined to get a bomb to ensure that no one can attack them in the future.
This is indeed one scenario, but others are also conceivable.
Given the dramatic changes in the Middle East in the last year, isn’t it possible that an upheaval will occur in Iran as well and that new leaders will abandon the nuclear option? The people may conclude that their fanatical leaders brought a catastrophe upon them and that it is time to revolt and to restore Iran to the community of nations. Senior leaders may die in the attack, which might facilitate regime change.
Opponents of a military option say the consequences would be catastrophic. Iran could launch a military attack at Israel, target Americans or block the Persian Gulf. Iranian allies in Gaza and Lebanon might launch thousands of missiles into Israel. Terrorists may seek revenge on Jews and Americans around the world. These are all possibilities that must be weighed before acting.
Other scenarios are also possible.
Israel attacked both Iraqi and Syrian facilities and neither country counterattacked Israel. The Iranians know that if they strike back, Israel can respond in devastating fashion. Israel would overwhelm Lebanon and Gaza if Hezbollah and Hamas entered the fray. An Iranian attack on American targets or interference with oil supplies would provoke an overwhelming U.S. response and might bring other Western powers into the fight.
Everyone prefers an alternative to a military option, but there is little evidence to date than any other approach will stop Iran from obtaining a bomb. It is wise to consider all the possible consequences of going to war, but it would be a mistake to assume only the worst case scenarios and to underestimate Israel’s capabilities.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst. His latest books are "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East" and "Israel Matters: Understand the Past -- Look to the Future."
Mitchell Bard is the author of "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East" (HarperCollins 2010) and "Israel Matters" (Behrman House 2012).