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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 01/19/2011

Will Israel strike at Iran's nuclear program?

By Steven Simon
Guest Blogger

About this blog: Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program remain despite some reassuring remarks from Meir Dagan, the outgoing head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Last week, Dagan said that Iran could not acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015 because of technical problems. To Dana Allin and Steven Simon, Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability is the latest of six crises the United States has confronted in the Middle East since World War II. In “The Sixth Crisis: Iran, Israel, America and the Rumors of War,” the authors assess the depth of the challenge and weigh the likelihood of Israeli air strikes to stop Iran’s nuclear progress. Allin is senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, while Simon is an adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Here, Simon assesses the tension over Iran’s program.


The year 2010 has now passed without a new Middle East war being set off by Iran’s march towards a nuclear weapons capability – and Israel’s determination to stop it.

The end-of-2010 deadline was reportedly set in May 2009 by Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak; according to one of the Wikileaks cables, Barak told visiting U.S. congressmen that air strikes to stop Iran’s program “might still be viable” for 18 months; after that, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

Of course, both Israel and the United States have been drawing lines in the sand for years, and then watching Iran cross them.

In more recent months, there has been something of a lull in expectations of immediate conflict. In the first instance, this is because Iran has encountered unexpected – and, from our perspective, welcome – difficulties in the process of spinning centrifuges to enrich uranium to make the fuel that goes into both bombs and nuclear reactors. Sabotage, technology trade sanctions, and the inherent difficulty of the whole enterprise have played a role in this.

More broadly, both the United States and Iran have an interest in playing the crisis long. For Iran, it was never a crash program but rather a steady project to master the technology that would bring Tehran the option to build a nuclear weapon if and when the regime decides to do so.

For the Obama administration, entangled already in two Middle East wars, its military over-stretched, a fiscal crisis looming and the body politic aching from the effects of a sick economy, there are good reasons to put off the choice between preventive strikes and accepting some form of Iranian nuclear capability.

Israel is the wild card. Its perception of the threat is, for understandable reasons, far more acute. To be dissuaded from taking matters into its own hands, Jerusalem has to be convinced that it can not only survive but continue to prosper even under the shadow of an Iran whose nuclear capabilities are growing.

Convincing Israelis of this depends on a strong security relationship with the United States, wrapped in a healthy political relationship. This is, of course, a two-way street. It would help a lot if Israel would get its own priorities straight – rather than expanding settlements in occupied territories, rendering peace with the Palestinians progressively less viable, and damaging U.S. credibility in the region. (The flip side is that progress on the peace process would damage Iran’s credibility and slow its strategic momentum in the region.)

It is not entirely clear what Defense Minister Barak meant when he spoke, many months ago, about “unacceptable collateral damage.” His words confirm, though, that Israel’s leaders are alert to the likely damaging consequences of military action.

There may be a temptation in some circles to believe that air strikes would be relatively painless, and accepted by Iran just as Iraq accepted an attack on its Osirak reactor in 1981.
This benign scenario cannot be disproven categorically.

More likely, however, is a spectrum of escalation, including possible new conflict in Lebanon, attacks on U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf, a spike in oil prices with deleterious effects on a fragile economy, spasms of terrorist violence, and lasting damage to hopes for Israel-Arab peace.

Most worrying would be the likelihood of Iran redoubling its nuclear efforts in far more dangerous regional circumstances.

We argue in our book that a regime of containment and deterrence, unsatisfying as it may be, is better than risking these consequences. In the meantime, another year without another war may be the best we can hope for.

By Steven Simon  | January 19, 2011; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  
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I think that the current Israel Gov. believes that war is the only solution that will allow Israel to achieve it goals, by its actions of never slowing down in make the military stronger, while pushing hard for more wide spread building in W. Bank and E. Jerusalem.
The question now is if Lebanon will be removed as a threat first and was getting Hizbollah to separate from the Gov. the first step in weakening them, with attacks on leadership or weapon supply centers next.

Posted by: Bloodyscot | January 19, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

The rogue Zionist entity did not make peace with the Palestinians as I have said it many times before and her belligerents attitude towards the Muslims of this world has now spread to blame Turkey for their hostilities and killing of innocent people on an unarmed boat in the international water.

The Zionists have refused peace and snubbed us and our president for attempting to bring about peace to that region. Now they are looking for more blood and want to start a war with another Muslim nation Iran. when are we going to wake up and learn that the Zionists goal is to murder every Muslim around the world and their hatreds for the Muslims and the gentiles has no limit?!

Wake up and smell the coffee.

Posted by: Esther_Haman | January 19, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Blah blah, Zionists bad, Iran government lovely people, blah blah.

Posted by: gzuckier | January 19, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Provides for the right of countries to engage in military action in self-defense, including collective self-defense (i.e. under an alliance) FOR IRAN TO NONSTOP FIGHT FOR ITS RIGHTS AND FREEDOM, LIBERTY. IRAN IS A LAND OF THE BRAVES.
History shows, Iran is another sample of a muslim country in mideast being damped for its grows and properities by zionist US, after Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of unbreakable bond israel.

WikiLeaks – A fabricated conspiracy of nonstop propaganda lies to isolate Iran from other Muslim nations for US's benefits on behalf of unbreakable bond Israel.

This is all propaganda lies of nonsense like in IRAQ. Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
For about 12 years, Israel claimed that Iran will have a nuclear bomb within 6 months or a year.
The USA constantly issues accusations about Iran's "nuclear weapons" but to this day, has not produced one shred of evidence to support those accusations.
So, why should one believe anything they say now? any potential delay in it is just imaginary.

Posted by: lipservice007 | January 19, 2011 11:18 PM | Report abuse

We can't contain proliferation with the current actors...this post completely ignores that Iran will sell (maybe give away) this technology to countries like Syria, or even worse, groups like Hezbollah.One cannot ignore this in their calculus, which is done here, which makes this conclusion naive at best, but quite literally uniformed.

Posted by: Bosoxfan | January 20, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

We can't contain proliferation with the current actors...this post completely ignores that Iran will sell (maybe give away) this technology to countries like Syria, or even worse, groups like Hezbollah.One cannot ignore this in their calculus, which is done here, which makes this conclusion naive at best, but quite literally uninformed.

Posted by: Bosoxfan | January 20, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Will the international community strike at Israel's ILLEGAL CLANDESTINE Nuclear WEAPONS program?

Probably not. Dimona wasn't even mentioned in this article and neither was Mordechai Vanunu.

Iran is a signatory to the NNPT and the IAEA has not found Iran to not be in compliance. The same things cannot be said of Israel.

No mention of that. There's only one nation that is a rogue nuclear power in the Middle East, and that's Israel. Why does our farce of a media ignore that? Too obvious?

Posted by: fuzzywzhe | January 22, 2011 1:37 AM | Report abuse

Israel has no choice, but it'd be with more stink than their Iraqi and Syrian bombings, as the bombing of the Iranian nuclear facilities will probably bring about killing of thousands of Russian, Chinese and North Korean technicians and engineers who participate in the Iranian nuclear program. Let's not forget that Israel imports a lot of oil from Russia, bypassing Arab embargoes. I believe they are ready to pay the price, because the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran undermines the very existence of the state of Israel. Just to be clear, I do condemn Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and their repressions, but Palestinian militants should stop firing their rockets on Israeli civilians. Somebody has to stop that spiral of violence and, in the lack of Iranian support after the possible bombing, the Palestinians will be possibly more willing to take peace negotiations seriously.

Posted by: optionrider | January 25, 2011 5:34 PM | Report abuse

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