Why might Israel attack Iran

According to this line of thinking, which has adherents…focusing on the tactical questions surrounding such an operation — how much of Iran’s nuclear program can Israel destroy?  how many years can a bombing campaign set the program back? — is a mistake.  The main goal of a hit would not be to destroy the program completely, but rather to awaken the international community from its slumber and force it to finally engineer a solution to the crisis…any attack on Iran’s reactors — as long as it is not perceived as a military failure — can serve as a means of "stirring the pot" of international geopolitics.  Israel, in other words, wouldn’t be resorting to military action because it is convinced that diplomacy by the international community cannot stop Iran; it would be resorting to military action because only diplomacy by the international community can stop Iran.

That is Shmuel Rosner in the 30 July The New Republic.  Personally I do not think that Israel will attack Iran, but since I had never heard this argument before I thought I would pass it on.


I think that I prefer Schelling's wisdom: the US and its allies are going to have to get used to being deterred by a country that doesn't like us - Iran.

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My bartender barred a guy for pissing off a regular who never bothers anyone. It's the same principle.

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With all due respect, this sounds like one of those Internet jokes that go something like:

1. Bomb Iran
2. ???
3. Profit!!!

What is the "Step 2" that will magically turn a hornets' nest into a negotiated diplomatic solution?

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let me see if I can understand this. You've got this dispute with a neighbor, and you can't resolve it on your own. You've got a bunch of friends that are more-or-less on your side, and they're trying to resolve the dispute, but they don't think it's as big a deal as you do. So you need to convince them to do more to help.

How is firebombing your neighbors house going to accomplish this? Is the problem here really that your friends don't realize how important this is to you? And isn't there a possibility that your friends are going to decide that *you* are the problem, and maybe they shouldn't be friends with you anymore? Especially since the smoke from the fire is probably going to ruin the block party they have planned.

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As for the airspace, Israel has perhaps the best air force in the air, bar NONE. I don't see why they would really care about anything on the ground that they don't want destroyed. If they want to get 'r done, I assume they'd beg forgiveness for flyovers. Riling up the neighbors would only play into the proposed "stir the pot" strategy.

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You have to look at it from the perspective of Marty Peretz and his boys at The New Republic:

If Israel nukes Iran, one of two things will happen:

1. The entire world would then step in and disarm Iran.


2. Not.

But, in either case, Israel gets to nuke Irans, killing lots of Muslims. So, from Marty Peretz's point of view, what's not to like?

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Remember, the whole MAD is not good enough hinges on the Iranians being "crazy", and thus MAD proof...or basically suicidal...This argument has been sold hard here in the U.S. to get the public onboard this game of brinksmanship. The game escalates on cue, despite the weaknesses obviated by the Iranian political system, comprised of, an under powered president, and over powered deeply religious theocratic leadership. Itself comprised of a diffuse decision making structure.....all of which point to vey effective MAD deterrence qualities.

As to the international community, I can’t find anyone who buys into the Iranians are crazy argument. What I here is that the emperor and his favorite mistress can’t stand not having an free hand in the area, and the restriction’s that will come about in a MAD environment is worth the brinksmanship, particularly since the MAD is local. For now, everyone's just playing along to the emperor’s favorite mistresses’ neurosis. But when push comes to shove, the nobles are going to tell the mistress to just live with it. As the first commenter pointed out, this horse left the barn the day the Israeli’s acquired their considerable stock pile of adult toys, and the second Act is just running itself out to script.

The really big question is the second half of the play. The role the Iraq adventure and the pandering to Israeli tantrums, is having on the emperor's credibility. The gathering storm is ushering in the moment the world places a firm hand on the steering wheel and insists it's time for America to slide over to the passenger seat. Up to now, what had been a good bit of driving skill post WWII has become a scary ride, and with both, nuke-play and $500 oil, no longer a tiny probability event, it's become evident that Israeli neurosis is threatening everybody’s peace of mind.

Of course it's hard for the kids to grab the wheel just because Pa's swerving the car all over the road, hollering out the window at those Muslim bikers scratching the car, but the kids are full grown now, and ma's been itching for a divorce for a while, and all the older kids in the car reckon they can drive better.

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the game theory answer is simple: (Israel|Iran|US|North Korea) wants somewhat crazy rationales like this to circulate, because (Israel|Iran|US|North Korea) can achieve influence by appearing to be unpredictable.

I agree with Tyler and with Stratfor, which has been saying for weeks that the escalation in rhetoric is a sign we are closer to negotiation and further from military action. Note the Israeli strike against Syria was not preceded by any leaks, rhetoric, or pundits talking about what a great idea it would be.

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My apologies for going a little off topic.

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Actually, there is one way this preemptive attack idea works, if you have the goods on the other guy.

Let's say Israel has its own private incontrovertible evidence on Iran's nuclear program.

Israel has 2 choices:

1. Israel gives up their evidence to the offical body of hemming and hawing, pats itself on the back for "following the process," and awaits annihilation.

2. Israel takes a big fat punch at Iran, and when everybody's saying "Why the Hell'd you do that?" Israel presents their evidence, says "THIS is why!" And everybody says "Oh."

However, I tend to agree with the poster that the rhetoric may be a signal of diplomacy and hardball negotiation. Certainly the element of surprise is lost.

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I don't buy the "we're just that crazy" argument on Rosner, tho it may be guiding our own diplomacy.

A "wild man" would not concede that bombing won't actually have much effect on Iran's nuclear program other than to strengthen Iran's will to build nuclear weapons.

Rather, Rosmer sounds like someone desperately trying to contrive a new rationale for bombing because the old rationale was so lame.

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How about we have NO alliance strong enough that we are ever forced into a fight we didn't start. Any while we're at it, how about we stop picking fights ourselves? We don't need best friends - we need trading partners with relationships based on mutual benefit and big huge bombs in our back pocket in case someone wants to start a military fight with us. Geopolitical conflicts sacrifice the lives of many innocents for the agenda of the few and powerful. Stay out of it whenever possible.

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So much time and energy wasted on proliferation that is going to happen anyway. Shouldn't we be more worried about Pakistan's real nukes than Iran's fabled/future ones?

It utterly baffles me that a country that put a man on the moon 40 years ago hasn't - in the past 28 years - figured out a way to shoot down nukes.

I'm also not sure I would rely on MAD as a deterrent when the 'opponent's' leadership is comprised of devout Muslims.

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"We" should turn the Middle East into a nuke-free zone, and it will be good for Israel? I seriuosly doubt the Israelis agree, and if they do not, "we" are not going to succeed in that, desirable as it might be from broader perspectives.

More generally there is an issue here that has not been noted, the fact that it does not seem that Iran is currently pursuing a nuclear weapons program, even though most people in both the US and Israel (and a lot in UK, France, and Germany also) think they are. All 18 US intel agencies signed off on the NIE report that attested to the apparent fact that they are not doing so, a report that was sat on by VP Cheney for nearly a year because he did not like its conclusions. And, if the Israelis had any slam dunk evidence that they were doing so, I am sure they would have either leaked it or just plain presented it outright to some of our intel agencies. But, they all agreed: no active nuclear weapons program going on Iran.

So, why do so many people think they are? Well one reason is that they are doing so much uranium enrichment. They are near having the capacity to enrich enough uranium to a high enough degree to make a weapon, and that is certainly a main reason why many are worried about them, the Israelis most especially. But, all that uranium they are enriching is at too low a level for use in weapons. It is all indeed clearly for civilian power use, as they have publicly proclaimed they are doing, and in fact which they have a perfect right to do under the NPT, to which they are party. Indeed, it is this level of enrichment that the IAEA is keeping its closest eye on.

The other reason is all the loud rhetoric coming out of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and I must confess that if I were an Israeli, his loudmouth would have me plenty worried. But, he is not the Commander-in-Chief. Vilayat-el-faqi Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i is. And he issued a fatwa condemning nuclear weapons as "un-Islamic" several years ago, after they shut down what had been an active nuclear weapons program. It is him to whom the much-hyped leaders of the al-Quds Brigade report, not President Ahmadinejad, who does appear to be using his loudmouth rhetoric to hype up his foreign policy credentials internally in order to overcome much domestic unahappiness with his failure to improve the economic situtation.

Also, regarding the raid on Iraq, we know that indeed at that time, if not after 1991, Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The world may have made disapproving noises officially, but many were privately glad that the Israelis did what they did. That would not be the case this time in Iran if they did it, or at least not nearly so much, especially if the Iranians reacted by blocking the Straits of Hormuz and shooting the price of oil to $200 per barrel or even higher.

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J Thomas,

I doubt that the Israelis would give up their nukes even if the US not-at-all-subtly used its Med fleet to back up a sanctions program against Israel.

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As a side point; a nuclear-free middle may be desirable for the US, but may not be desirable for Israel. This is one of those areas where preferences are clearly inconsistent across actors. It nicely highlights some of the difficulties of using utilitarian moral constructs and confusing moral rights with actor preferences in policy analysis.

I would suggest a moral distinction between the right of a democracy, even a paranoid and twitchy one, to posess nuclear weapons and the right of a dictatorship. I don't believe the latter have the right to own a sharp stick.

Hmmm. I've just suggested that criminals can't even arm themselves against other criminals. Interesting....

Side-side: Stratfor are ****. Ahem. Pardon me. They've been going on about an imminent US-Iran "grand bargain" for years. To paraphrase a better commentator; they've predicted it 9 out of the last 0 times. Also, their vaunted internal methodology and portentious press releases are an insult to the profession. OK, rant over; its very late and I'm turning in....

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I doubt that the Israelis would give up their nukes even if the US not-at-all-subtly used its Med fleet to back up a sanctions program against Israel.

How long could the israeli economy hold up using their own oil wells plus what they could smuggle in from jordan? My estimate is less than four months. How long could they maintain an offensive conventional war? Maybe a week. Ten days if the tempo was slow enough.

If they can't import enough oil, and they can't capture it, their choices would be limited to nuking somebody to show they won't give in, or else give in. And if what they're giving in to is only that they give up their nukes and accept inspections, and each of their enemies does the same.... Is it time for a sanity check?

I think Khamene'i believes his own fatwa, although I certainly cannot prove that assertion. But I would say the probability is a lot better than your 50-50 estimate.

If he's lying, the time will come when the whole muslim world will know that he was lying all along. That he didn't just change his mind, but he publicly forbade anyone who followed his guidance to make nukes, while he secretly told his followers to make nukes.

I don't know how seriously shia muslims would take that. Are there a lot of precedents? I could imagine it might be something like the Pope publicly admitting that while he had been forbidding contraception etc he had a whole secret project to get abortions for pregnant nuns. But I can also imagine it might not be so serious. It isn't my specialty.

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Steve Sailer sez:

If Israel nukes Iran, one of two things will happen:

And who is saying that Israel will nuke Iran as a first step?
I mean besides you and your comrades at your taki place?

And why Israel will have to nuke the Mullahs?
Don't they have enough conventional military hardware to do it?

I recall seeing a well argued article that compared Iran and Israel militaries and found overwhelming Israel advantage.
I even have a link to that important article:

Somebody named Steve Sailer, must be your impostor, totally proved that Iran will be an easy pickings for the wild zionist war machine.

Steve, you should stop writing about Israel.
Your hate for the Zionist Entity totally negates your very high IQ.
Every time you write about Israel, you look stupid.

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generally there is an issue here that has not been noted, the fact that it does not seem that Iran is currently pursuing a nuclear weapons program,

The Fact, Barkley Rosser? The fact?
You are not serious, are you?

You are proposing that a tiny state, smaller in size than San Francisco Bay Area puts its trust in a set of very stretched asumptions that you keep pushing.

For 2 or 3 years Iranians supplied reasonably sophisticated IED to Iraq "dead-enders" and lied to everyone about doing so.
And you want Israelis to place their survival into hands of some senile, cancerous mullah, who may or may not against nukes.

Did you consider an almost new bridge as investment, Barkley? I have one for sale, very cheap.

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For 2 or 3 years Iranians supplied reasonably sophisticated IED to Iraq "dead-enders" and lied to everyone about doing so.

Where is your evidence? And who are these "dead-enders" you speak of? Do you have evidence there were ever such people outside the imaginations of US government functionaries?

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My neighbor keeps playing loud music late at night (and maybe he's got a meth lab in there!), so I set our apartment building on fire...

Andrew, if weeks of unopposed Israeli bombing could not stop Iranian-trained Hezbollah from launching rockets into Israel at will, why should we think that the much larger and better equipped Iranian military would be crippled by a much smaller series of strikes? Worse, why should we think that the anti-Iranian war would end when the American/Israeli bombers fly home? When you set out to Pearl Harbor somebody, consider that they are 100% justified in shooting back (at soldiers, not civilians). Is a temporary setback to a nuke project which may or may not exist worth a worsened nightmare in Iraq and a Persian gulf which is too dangerous for oil tankers to sail through?

Frankly, I'm worried that the USA cannot be rationally deterred. Unlike the US, Iran does not have a recent history of unjustifiably invading and occupying random foreign countries even when doing so is not in the national interest.

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It's understandable that people who survived the Nazi experience would believe that the world won't lift a finger to save them

Gee, you think?

Why did they get that idea? From the fact that UN produced 10 million resolutions condemning Israel for defending itself, many more resolutions than those excellent humane regimes in Saudi Arabia, Libya, North Korea, Belarus, China, etc, etc COMBINED!

Those stupid Zionist running dog imperialists. Don't they know that the world just loves them and ready to have a biggest, most touching funeral in history for them.

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in fact the
only serious way to deal with this is through negotiation and convincing
them more strongly not to go for nukes.

Like how?

Negotiations, or whatever self-pleasuring exercise Euro-weenies do, are going for what, 5 years?

Any progress you like to report Barkley?

And while you are at it,
If Iranians have absolutely no bad intentions as far as nukes, why all facilities are hardened to such degree that you say it is impossible to destroy?

Mullahs have enough troubles with nuclear research as it is, why complicate process so much and make it massively more expensive by hardening all research facilities?

How about that bridge, Barkley, why don't you believe me. After all you believe insane barbarians from seventh century.

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Do Google on "Iranian IED Iraq photo" and enjoy the reading.
Especially educational is this article by excellent Brian Ross of ABC:

Oh, that stuff. That was debunked years ago.

And unless you are 2 years old, you should know who "dead-enders" are.

Ah, I know something about a story Rumsfeld etc told about dead-enders. I know a bit more about Santa Claus. I have the same amount of faith in both. Do you believe in Santa Claus the way you believe in Dead-Enders?

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Negotiations, or whatever self-pleasuring exercise Euro-weenies do, are going for what, 5 years?

Any progress you like to report Barkley?

I can answer that one. At this point there is absolutely no evidence that iran has a nuclear weapons program. That's doing pretty good.

If Iranians have absolutely no bad intentions as far as nukes, why all facilities are hardened to such degree that you say it is impossible to destroy?

That one is easy. They try to defend their sites because they think they might get attacked. Makes sense, doesn't it? If you thought somebody was going to attack your hospitals or schools or something like that, you'd have a choice. You could decide not to have hospitals or schools because they'd probably get destroyed, or you could try to build them so they could take some damage.

You probably didn't even notice your circular reasoning there, you didn't notice that you were assuming your conclusion. It's like,

1. If they weren't doing something bad they'd know israel wouldn't attack them, they'd be safe.
2. So if they think israel might attack them, it shows they must be doing something bad.

But they have the example of iraq. Israel bombed the civilian Osirak reactor with absolutely no effect on iraq's nuclear weapon program, apparently to influence an israeli election. And the USA invaded iraq to eliminate iraq's nuclear weapons program when iraq didn't have one.

Our collective track record on not attacking nations that lack nuclear weapons programs is not particularly strong. They would have every reason to harden their civilian nuclear facilities. The question is whether they hardened them enough. If they did too good a job on that it would take tactical nukes to destroy those sites.

Because objective is to damage nuclear facilities so that nuke production could be delayed by 3-5 years at least.

If israel or the USA starts a war of aggression against iran, do you believe the war will be over in 3-5 years? What kind of peace treaty do you expect will be signed at the end?

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Actually, the latest word is that the US is becoming more directly involved in negotations with Iran.
A lot of people think something is afoot.

Regarding Khamene'i as an "old Muslim Nazi," well I can appreciate that the term "Nazi" might well be
applied with some reason to Ahmadinejad, but calling Khamene'i that simply makes you look like a hysterical
name caller.

BTW, some of the Iranian mullahs are extremely well-educated and intelligent. Have you ever read anything by
any of them other than mistranslated speeched about Israel? And their physicists tend to be very well trained
technically. Whereas the Israeli nuclear program was begun with French support, the Iranian one dates back to
the period of the Shah, that good pal of Israel, and was supported by the US, where many of those physicists got
their training.

It is really too bad. There was a time when Israeli intel was the world's best. More recently they have been
making fools of themselves over quite a few things, starting with their misgauging of the likely outcome of their
idiotic invasion of Lebanon two years ago. Nearly as stupid as the US invasion of Iraq, although at least there
were people in US intel who were warning against that, only to be shut up by the Cheney intel machine.

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Thanks for the considered reply; I think I actually agree on most points, especially the internal analysis. It is, as you say, hard to prove a negative, and I'm eager not to demand impossible proofs.

But I don't think I'm unreasonable to ask "If innocent, why is Iran acting so shifty?". Given that European and Russian packages would have given Iran plenty of ways to get to nuclear power without a possessing a short route to a bomb, why do they hold pretty much the only bargaining position which does give them that short cut?

Oh well, set that aside for a moment and grant, for argument, current disavowals are truthful. I think it would be fruitful if we considered the stability of such an arrangement, with regard to the potential changes in leadership and clerical guidance you identified. When intentions are uncertain or unreliable, analysts turn to worrying about capabilities....

Now this is just a quibble; and perhaps I misinterpret your intended (narrower) meaning. But I wouldn't describe Iran as semi-democratic in any form. The policy elites might be better described as oligarchic at higher level. Such democratic mechanisms as exist are sufficiently subverted by structural vetting as to be meaningless (You can elect anyone you want....but only from our list). There's little popular input to decision making, especially with the press controls. I think Ahmedinejads attempt to use populism to bolster his position vis-a-vis Rafsanjani or Khamenei have been luke-warm successes, at best? And don't let's get started on the dismal story of the liberal opposition.

Finally, and importantly, there is no mechanism for popular selection whatsoever for the Supreme Leader. (Whom I classify without hesitation as the main chief executive based on control of army and the security services). Incidentally, wikipedia gives the power to remove him as theoretically resting with the Assembly of Experts, not CoG, but I stand to be corrected on this? Apologies if I'm flogging a dead horse on this one; I can be a bit of a pedant around the office when it comes to classifying political structure.

I was relieved to see your candid assesment of Arab popular sentiment towards Israel (you can speak Arabic?). Honesty in that regard is a bit of a litmus test for me.

Best regards,

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But I don't think I'm unreasonable to ask "If innocent, why is Iran acting so shifty?".

Alistair, I can provide you with a detailed answer to that. But of course it may not reflect their actual thinking.

First off, note that if the iranian economy were to improve to an acceptable level, they'd be using a whole lot more electricity. Currently they get their electricity by burning oil that they could otherwise sell at $130+/barrel. And in 20 years or so they can expect to run out.

So if they think ahead 20 years or so, they *have to* get another way to get their electric power. They mine uranium; nuclear power looks like their best bet.

The NNPT which they signed gives them the right to enrich their own uranium, but we are naturally concerned that they will want to build bombs. So we offer them a different deal.

Let's look at two alternatives. Their way, they mine their uranium, refine it, enrich it, build reactors, and they wind up with spent fuel. They can either store that or reprocess it to put it through the reactors a second time. Meanwhile, the reactors produce plutonium which can also be used in reactors. They have spent a whole lot of money to enrich their uranium -- once they have decent reactors they can make as much plutonium as they want from the depleted uranium and run that in reactors too. Far far cheaper. And they can sell their surplus enriched uranium on the world market at the going rate. They wind up self-sufficient with a marketable product. (And if they want to, they can also make bombs.)

Our way, they continually get inspected to make sure they aren't enriching uranium. They mine uranium and sell it to foreign powers who enrich it and sell it back to them at a fat profit. We give them reactor designs which are guaranteed to be useless for producing weapons -- these designs are particularly expensive to build and to run, but they do have that special advantage for us. When the bought fuel is expended they give it back to the foreign power who recycles it and sells it to them again at a fat profit. There are only a few sellers. If at any time, like in 20 years when they're totally dependent on reactors for their civilian electricity, the USA might try to get their limited number of suppliers to impose sanctions and cut off the supply of nuclear fuel.

If you were in their position would you accept the US plan?

But once they decide to enrich uranium -- which is their right under the NNPT -- it's predictable that the USA and israel will want to stop them. We will worry that they might make bombs. They have iraq's example to look at. In 2003 Cheney threatened to invade them unless they changed their whole system of government to something he approved. If it was practical for us to invade iran we'd be using their civilian nuclear power program as an excuse. It's probably feasible for us to do airstrikes. So why wouldn't they harden their sites?

And they have iraq's example for inspections, too. Saddam let us send in inspectors who looked wherever they wanted. Whenever they found a site that had military significance they took GPS positions so it would be easy to bomb. Saddam later demanded that the inspection teams not have americans on them, which perhaps helped some.

If we're planning to bomb iran's civilian nuclear facilities, why should they let us inspect the defenses first?

I hope you can see that their observed behavior is not in itself a sign that they're building weapons. Their observed behavior is a sign that they think we are likely to attack them.

Of course, they could be building bombs. Just, their responses to our threats to bomb them for building bombs isn't really evidence that they are.

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Ian, I completely agree. The natural thing would be for iran to respond to an attack, and then for us to respond to that, and we wind up in a continuing war, real unlikely it's over by Christmas.

And there's a decent chance somebody helps them. Iran isn't particularly burdened by allies at the moment, but with us getting so weak and our "allies" getting so frustrated with us....

We could easily lose our agreements for ground transport into afghanistan. Those are lucrative for the nations involved, but they don't have to agree. Or they could hold out for more money.

Oil is fungible, but the more nations that refuse to sell to us, the fewer contracts we can bid on. We might have to go higher to get the high bid on those.

It doesn't really make sense that China would impose sanctions on us, but if they did....

Far easier if we could say it was just israel and we had nothing to do with it. Maybe they could fly over turkey instead of iraq?

It isn't really plausible we could lose an aircraft carrier, is it? The experts say they're safe against anything iran can send against them, even in fairly close quarters. But the experts will say that until one of them is seriously damaged, won't they? If we had a carrier sunk or heavily damaged could we accept that, or would we feel like we had to actually win the war?

The USA hasn't been very good at fighting wars for limited objectives. We tend to take them personally and want to go for the unconditional surrender. We did manage the Gulf War, where we got the objective and quit, but part of the reason was we were burdened with lots and lots of allies who wouldn't go farther.

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Barkley Rosser sez:

In 2003 Cheney threatened to invade them unless they changed their whole system of government to something he approved.

Your sensitivity to Mullahs concerns is really touching.

Off-the-wall statement by VP and Iran has a right, accordingly to you, do in secret something with nukes.

However, repeated genocidal calls by President "I'm dinner jacket" (quite funny, that) to whipe Israel off the map should be ignored by the Jews, they have no reason to be concerned.

Like they say, only intelligensia can believe that.

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If you go back and look at my statements you would see that I said that if I were an Israeli I would be concerned about Ahmadinejad's statements. However, it is also important to remember that he is not in charge, something the MSM does not remind most readers of, although it used to point out the "no in charge" status of his position all the time back when it was Khatami who was president.

You are free to view the Vilayat-el-faqi of Iran as a lying hypocrite, if you wish, although I am unaware of any evidence that this is they case.

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