Speculation about a potential Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has helped push oil through $145. This possibility is understandably nerve-wracking, but the chances of it actually happening are slim.
First, although Israel obviously wants Iran to believe otherwise, an attack on Iran likely wouldn’t be effective. In a 2006 campaign against Hezbollah, Israel ultimately failed to supress Katyusha rocket fire despite weeks of air strikes against a far less sophisticated and organised enemy than Iran. Against Iran, moreover, Israel would likely only have the opportunity for one massive strike to disable all relevant targets, and the attack would require mid-air refuelling. If Israel couldn’t destroy Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket infrastucture in the space of weeks, it won’t likely be able to destroy Iran’s hardened and concealed targets in a single, distant strike. And it almost certainly knows this.
Politics also make an attack unlikely. Israel would have to use either Turkish or Iraqi airspace to conduct the attack. The Turks would never permit a strike, and the U.S. would likely be less willing than most people think. Allowing an Israeli attack would mean forfeiting all of the progress the US has made during the troop surge in Iraq, and then some. The U.S. would also risk furthering the perception that it is an Israeli stooge. If the US were concerned enough over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions to consider a strike, it would likely do it itself, since a US strike would be more likely to succeed.
Israel’s Iran policy is now effectively hitched to American policy, which has favoured a mix of economic sanctions and clandestine operations aimed at exacerbating Iran’s ethno-sectarian divides. The Bush administration might like to attack Iran, but there has been considerable resistance from the Pentagon and CIA. So while some kind of strike against Iran remains a possibility, it’s a remote one.
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