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The 9 most important questions (and answers) on an Iran strike

As talk of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran veers from frenzy to doubt, I outline the nine most important questions (and answers) regarding this operation: Are the Iranians willing and capable of developing a nuclear weapon? What will happen if they get it? Is a military strike necessary and effective, or harmful? Who is against and who is for the strike?

1. Does Iran intend to develop a nuclear weapon?

Probably yes. Iran (unlike Israel) has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which bars all signatories from developing nuclear weapons, aside from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. But Tehran has already violated its commitments under the NPT, and at least two countries (Iraq and North Korea) have developed or come near to developing nuclear weapons after signing the NPT. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued a religious decree, a Fatwa, ruling that possessing or using nuclear weapons is contrary to Islam. Yet this ruling does not seem to exclude the development of a nuclear breakout capability, where a country could quickly construct a nuclear warhead if it felt the need for it (e.g. Japan). Despite Iranian denials, this seems to be the main aim of their Uranium enrichment program, not to mention work they may have done on developing a nuclear warhead.

2. Can they do it?

Probably yes. Building a nuclear weapon is an immensely difficult and expensive undertaking, requiring the gradual accumulation of complex technical skills. This is part of the reason why predictions about Iran’s imminent possession of such weapons have been disproven again and again over the past two decades.  Yet over that period, Iran has made progress towards that goal, albeit much more slowly than Western intelligence has estimated. If North Korea could do it, it is certainly possible for Iran, although it will have to decide at each point whether it is willing to invest the necessary resources and efforts.

3. Will they launch a nuclear attack on Israel or other countries?

Probably not. Iran has certainly threatened Israel many times, and has not disguised its objection to the country’s very existence. Many argue that a country run by fundamentalist clerics cannot be trusted to operate on a rational basis: its leadership may decide that a divine imperative to destroy Israel overrules any other consideration. But this argument is belied by the conduct of Iranian policy since the Islamic Republic was formed, almost a quarter of a century ago. After an initial period of working to spread Islamic revolution, Tehran has adopted a largely pragmatic approach to foreign relations. It has shown no sign of being willing to countenance the country’s entire annihilation, which would surely follow if they launch a nuclear attack on Israel. It is highly unlikely that Iranian clerics believe the religious duty to fight Israel trumps their duty to avoid the death of tens of millions of Muslims.

4. So is there a problem if they get a nuclear weapon?

Yes. Presumably, the main reason Iran wants to have a nuclear weapon, or nuclear breakout capacity, is to deter its enemies, mainly Israel and the United States, from attacking in retaliation for its sponsorship of terrorism and subversion outside its borders. Right now, Iran has been spared an attack due its conventional deterrence capability, mainly ballistic missiles which could be armed with chemical warheads; and its ability to initiate massive terror attacks abroad. Nuclear deterrence could expand Iran’s freedom of action. In response, neighbors (such as Saudi Arabia) could decide they must also achieve nuclear military capability, to counter-deter Iran from attacking or subverting their regimes. This could cause a nuclear arms race, and if it spreads, undermine the NPT on a global scale. While this scenario is certainly possible, it seems unlikely. So far, the nuclear capacities possessed by Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have not caused such a global domino effect.

5. Can anything stop them, short of a military strike?

Probably yes. As part of the pressure to curb its nuclear program, the international community has imposed severe sanctions on Iran, which have had major effects on the country. In addition, various incentives have been offered to Iran, if it drops its nuclear efforts.  This can ultimately push the regime to decide that the costs of the program outweigh its potential benefits. But so far, neither carrots nor sticks have worked. Even if they do, it would be difficult (though not impossible) to verify that Iran is sticking to its commitments. It would also be impossible to make Iranian scientists and technicians unlearn the knowledge they have accumulated, allowing them to recreate the program at a later point, even if physical installations are dismantled.

6. Will a military strike stop them from getting the weapon?

No. This is precisely for the same reason that non-military means have limited efficacy: an attack can only target physical installations; it cannot erase the knowledge accumulated by Iranian experts, which is the most critical and difficult-to-achieve element of a nuclear weapons’ program (that is probably the reason these experts have been targeted for assassination in recent years). General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has argued that at best, an Israel strike could delay the Iranian nuclear program for a few years.

Proponents of the attack, like Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, are not really disputing this point. Instead, they argue that the delay will buy enough time to allow the toppling of the regime. This is quite a dubious claim. There is no reason to believe the Iranian regime is closer to collapse today than it has been at any point since 1979. An attack might actually strengthen it, by causing Iranians to rally around the flag against a perceived foreign aggressor. Even the regime falls, it is unclear whether its successor would be any less interested in a program, which was initiated under the Shah, or any less dangerous than the Islamic Republic.

7. Is there a significant downside to a military strike?

Yes. The price will be paid mostly by ordinary Israelis, who could be the target of Iranian retaliation through missile attacks and Iranian-sponsored terrorism. Hundreds could die, thousands might be injured, and the country’s economy could suffer a devastating blow. If neighboring countries under Iranian influence, such as Syria and Lebanon, are drawn into this conflict, it could end up enflaming a regional escalation, with unpredictable consequences for the stability of many fragile regimes. Furthermore, an attack could cause an international backlash, undermining support for the sanctions, and strengthening the regime’s hand (and its ability to pursue the nuclear weapons program) both internally and externally.

8. So, is anybody in favor a strike?

Yes. As mentioned above, Israeli Defense Minister Barak is supporter and so is the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. They are supported by a lot of American neo-cons, including former Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, who even offered a musical tribute on the topic, riffing of the Beach Boys song ‘Barbara Ann’.

9. If the Prime Minister and Defense Minister are for the strike, can anyone stop them?

Probably yes. The Obama Administration is opposed to the strike, and as General Dempsey’s comment implies, its position is largely supported by the American defense establishment. But it has also made it pretty clear that the US will not veto a strike if Israel is determined to go ahead. The real veto point resides within the Israeli system, which has shown a remarkably high level of opposition for our normally militant and offensive-minded nation. Security and military chiefs, both past and present, are largely opposed; and so are many prominent cabinet members, President Shimon Peres, and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (who is also former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister). Public opinion is at best split on the topic, and skeptical of a solo Israeli operation. If these sentiments persist, opponents of military action might actually have the upper hand, for once.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. aristeides

      The real problem is people who believe it’s a problem that Iran would be able to defend itself and acquire a deterrence capacity.

      Reply to Comment
      • Prometheus

        “The real problem is people who believe it’s a problem that Iran would be able to defend itself and acquire a deterrence capacity.”
        .
        Nonsense. No-one wants or needs or might gain any profit from attacking Iran.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Jack

      There are some points that I want to add and also concur with.

      1. a) There is really no proof that Iran intend to build them. This is an assessment that US and even Israel have admitted.

      b) Iran has not been in violation of the NPT. They have however been, according to US/Israel/some western states, been in non-compliance with some their sub-agreements with the IAEA.

      c) The nuclear warhead argument stems from information that probably US or Israel said they have accuired by a stolen or found laptop. This information have never been confirmed by the IAEA, simply because Israel and the US have refused to share this information
      “The report contains allegations of secret Iranian plans to obtain a nuclear warhead based on information contained in a stolen laptop computer.”
      http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1117-30.htm

      3. Of course will they not use nuclear weapons if they ever possess them.

      4. Here is a counter-solution, pressed by the whole world. A nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east. What makes NPT weak is that states (like Israel, India, Pakistan) could be outside of the NPT and have nukes. That invite others to follow the race. So total disarmanent for all.

      9. Cabinet (military leaders) are from what I know at the moment against war, as far as carrying it out unilaterally.

      Reply to Comment
      • Prometheus

        “There is really no proof that Iran intend to build them. This is an assessment that US and even Israel have admitted.”
        .
        As idiotic as it could be.
        By your logic someone who runs towards another person with a knife and shouting “I’M GONNA KILL YOU NOW” must not be stopped because it’s not clear whether his intentions to kill are real. Nonsense.
        .
        “Iran has not been in violation of the NPT. They have however been, according to US/Israel/some western states, been in non-compliance with some their sub-agreements with the IAEA.”
        .
        Jack, you are wrong. Again.
        Iran VIOLATED few of major agreements which comprise NPT.
        .
        “The report contains allegations of secret Iranian plans to obtain a nuclear warhead based on information contained in a stolen laptop computer.”
        .
        Now that’s a nice and large chunk of nonsense.
        1 – Iran violated NPT agreements, which by itself is sufficient to suspect illegal activity.
        2 – The fact that a laptop was stolen does not automatically turn all information in contains false.
        .
        “Here is a counter-solution, pressed by the whole world. A nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east. What makes NPT weak is that states (like Israel, India, Pakistan) could be outside of the NPT and have nukes. That invite others to follow the race. So total disarmanent for all.”
        .
        That counter-solution is only pressed by people who are not able to calculate more that one step forward.
        .
        “3. Of course will they not use nuclear weapons if they ever possess them.”
        .
        How do you know that they won’t? And what if they do? Are you gonna assume the responsibility personally?
        Of course you don’t. You are not able to do anything besides generating stupid ideas.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jack

          Prometheus,
          I thought you were banned from this place after all insults, xenophobic views and insincere attitude you bring to this site.

          Your analogy is false on 2 points.
          1. There is no saying ‘we are going to kill you’ 2. there is no knife (read nuclear weapons).
          I just refered to what american and israeli intelligence have said.
          I havent said it was stolen but this was the argument US/America have offered. The point was that there was no hard proof that this was legit material.

          There is no “major agreements” likewise there are no “npt agreements”, Iran have agreements with IAEA if anything, I dont think you know what you are talking about and I proved you wrong on this thesis in another channel so please stop stalking and repeat your false accusations.

          Yes you are against nuclear disarment because you think that Israel should only be allowed to possess nukes. It this mentality that leads to more states wanting them. You should study the theory of MAD.

          If you think rationally for some time you will quickly understand why they wouldnt use nukes. Let me know if you dont understand.

          Reply to Comment
          • Prometheus

            Jack,
            “I thought you were banned from this place after all insults, xenophobic views and insincere attitude you bring to this site.”
            Sorry to disappoint you.
            1 – I’ve never insulted anyone. To call a racist – a racist – is not an insult. At least you have no problem calling people racists, fascists, xenophobes and what else. And if you think that to call someone a xenophobe is a less of an insult than to call someone an idiot – you are wrong.
            2 – Only an insincere individual could call me xenophobe due to one simple reason – I dislike everybody equally.
            3 – Insincere is exactly what? You don’t like that I laugh at your ridicule arguments and disprove your false claims. Well, I’m really sorry but I can’t help it.
            .
            “Your analogy is false on 2 points.”
            .
            Come to daddy…
            .
            “1. There is no saying ‘we are going to kill you’”
            .
            Actually there is, and quite many of those. Really dunno how could you have missed all of them.
            .
            “there is no knife (read nuclear weapons).”
            .
            Well, in my analogy I’ve not referred to a machine gun, bazooka, flamethrower, tank or battleship.
            .
            Do you really think that Iran is not capable of completely wiping Israel off the map? Provided there is no help by US and no nukes.
            .
            Certainly, there is a knife. And a rather large one.
            Persian are known to be anything but peaceful people. Ask their neighbors.
            .
            “I just refered to what american and israeli intelligence have said … The point was that there was no hard proof that this was legit material.”
            .
            Actually that kind of proof is not needed. The fact that Iran violated safeguard agreements is sufficient proof by itself.
            .
            “There is no “major agreements” likewise there are no “npt agreements”, Iran have agreements with IAEA if anything, I dont think you know what you are talking about and I proved you wrong on this thesis in another channel so please stop stalking and repeat your false accusations.”
            .
            Yawn. Iran violated NPT safeguard agreements, thus became non-compliant to NPT. Whatever you personally think of that is irrelevant.
            .
            “Yes you are against nuclear disarment because you think that Israel should only be allowed to possess nukes. It this mentality that leads to more states wanting them. You should study the theory of MAD.”
            .
            Right now I’m studying the theory of IDIOT.
            .
            You are not proposing TOTAL disarmament + peace agreement with Israel.
            No.
            Why?
            Because peace is not your goal, obviously. You are only interested in giving Israel’s enemies upper hand.
            .
            “If you think rationally for some time you will quickly understand why they wouldnt use nukes. Let me know if you dont understand.”
            .
            And again – you have not even remote idea of what you are talking about.
            You can’t think rationally on this issue – you simply don’t know how it works.
            .
            For example, a nuke could be sent to Israel, or to any other country for that matter, by a naval container. Rather easily. 20 tons is more than enough for the warhead + cryogenic equipment. Impossible to trace.
            .
            There are numerous other possibilities of using nukes covertly, making sure the sender can’t be detected, but I won’t elaborate for obvious reasons.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jack

            Prometheus,
            Please dont put words into my mouth. Be polite and use arguments on this dicussion, why do I have to repeat common reason? Check the 972 rules.

            Your analogy was false because there is again neither someone threaten to kill you nor running with a gun against you as your said. This is simply false. There are nukes in Israel and threats coming from them. This doesnt seems to bother you one bit though which is insincere.

            There is no “persians” there are iranians. And iranians have been subjected to hostility by talibans in Afghanistan, by groups in Pakistan, by Iraq during Saddam, by the US, by Israel and some western regimes.
            You are maybe thinking of Israel. You should ask its neighbours what they think of them.

            Your insincerity comes to show here on this next topic too, I have told you repeatedly that Iran didnt violate the NPT, now in silent you admit they didnt but then again use it as a argument against me. Another insincerity is when you insult me again, calling me an IDIOT. Why are you even here on this board? You have no interest in debating. I am not interested in replying to people with fundamentalist views that arent interested in a giving debate which could change his/her view on these topics.

            Why are you against peace and nuclear disarment? This pretty much sums up the view that you are insincere and think that what is ok for jews in Israel is forbidden by arabs in lets say Iraq or iranians in Iran. This hypocrisy is exactly what leads to tensions and inbalance and the reason why more states than Israel might want to get nuclear weapons.

            I urge you to read the theory of MAD before speaking on this subject more. Your arguments are quite naive, immature and lack the knowledge for dealing with this topic. Again if you need help with soures etc just let me know.

            Reply to Comment
          • Prometheus

            Jack,
            “Please dont put words into my mouth.

            .
            Dunno what you are talking about.
            .
            “Be polite and use arguments on this dicussion, why do I have to repeat common reason? Check the 972 rules.”
            .
            Oh, I certainly use arguments – most of the time lol.
            .
            “Your analogy was false because there is again neither someone threaten to kill you nor running with a gun against you as your said.”
            .
            I said with a knife. You see – you are the one who put false words in others mouth.

            And yes – there are constant threat of death to all Zionist. If you need help on finding sources just ask.
            .
            ” This is simply false. There are nukes in Israel and threats coming from them.”
            .
            What threats exactly? Could you list the?
            .
            “This doesnt seems to bother you one bit though which is insincere.”
            .
            There is nothing to bother – Israel is only threatens those who impose threat on her security.
            .
            “There is no “persians” there are iranians.”
            I’ll stick to their traditional name – Persians.
            .
            “And iranians have been subjected to hostility by talibans in Afghanistan, by groups in Pakistan, by Iraq during Saddam, by the US, by Israel and some western regimes.”
            .
            You really should go and study the military history of Iran alongside with the humanitarian situation there.
            PEACEFUL PEOPLE DO NOT HANG OTHER PEOPLE.
            Capish?
            Again – if you need help on sources just ask.
            .
            “You are maybe thinking of Israel. You should ask its neighbours what they think of them.”
            .
            Yawn. I dare you to list countries that Israel threatens + list of threats.
            .
            “Your insincerity comes to show here on this next topic too, I have told you repeatedly that Iran didnt violate the NPT, now in silent you admit they didnt but then again use it as a argument against me.”
            .
            To me there is no big difference between a violation of safeguard agreement and violation of treaty which is based on said agreement.
            If it was Israel who violated such safeguard agreement you’d certainly were ringing all bells and yelling of warmongery etc. so gimme a break.
            .
            “Another insincerity is when you insult me again, calling me an IDIOT.”
            .
            I’ve never called you an IDIOT. Don’t lie.

            “Why are you even here on this board? You have no interest in debating.”
            Oh, I ACTUALLY AM DEBATING.
            It’s your argument that suck badly and could not stand any ground.

            “I am not interested in replying …”
            It’s third (3rd) time I’m telling you that you really don’t have to reply me.

            “Why are you against peace and nuclear disarment?”

            Don’t put false words in my mouth. I’m not against peace, I only don’t believe that such disarmament could lead to peace.

            Gotta get some sleep now – will write you some more tomorrow.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      Roi,

      Why exactly is it that Israel and Iran are enemies to begin with? The way I see it, that hate is one-way. Since their revolution 30 years ago, the mullahs in Teheran have exhorted their followers to hate Israel. ‘Death to the United States’. ‘Death to Israel’. This policy is politically useful as it gives that regime anti-Zionist ‘street creds’ while at the same time insulating the regime from criticism.

      I also believe that after 30 years, this anti-Israel mantra has seeped into the core beiefs of Iranian society and that what had once been useful agitprop is now accepted truth.

      How very sad.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Joel – the agitprop is clearly flourishing in your brain.

        During the Iran/Iraq war, Israel supplied arms to Iran, over and above the shipments involved in the Iran/Contra crime. It’s not likely that Israel would have sold arms to its deadliest enemy.

        What happened was that Israel decided that Iraq had been weakened by the war, leaving Iran the stronger power. Thus Israel shifted its primary hostility to Iran. The change wasn’t in Iran, it was in Israel, which can’t exist without some external “threat.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          Death to Israel was on the lips of Iranians before, during and after the Iran-Iraq war. Khomeini was anti-Israel and his hate against Israel became State dogma.
          Why hate a country that arms you when your in a death struggle? I don’t know. Ask Iran?

          BTW. France,Great Britain and the USSR aided Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. Why don’t Iranians chant ‘Death to France’?
          Why?

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            There’s a difference between slogans and policy. If Israel’s policy once involved arming Iran, it can’t be that Israel regarded Iran as a serious threat at the time, despite the slogans. What changed? Not Iran.

            Iran has had a nuclear program since the days of the Shah. It had a nuclear program when Israel sold arms to Iran. What changed?

            Israel changed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Prometheus

            “There’s a difference between slogans and policy. If Israel’s policy once involved arming Iran, it can’t be that Israel regarded Iran as a serious threat at the time, despite the slogans. What changed? Not Iran.”
            .
            And yet more nonsense. Iran certainly has changed a great deal since than – they violated NTP treaty, provided great support to Hizbullah and Hamas et cetera.
            To claim that Iran has not changed is a blatant lie.
            .
            “Iran has had a nuclear program since the days of the Shah. It had a nuclear program when Israel sold arms to Iran. What changed?”
            .
            Peaceful nuclear program turned into military nuclear program?
            .
            “Israel changed.”
            .
            Yes. But you are a judeophobe nevertheless.

            Reply to Comment
        • Prometheus

          “During the Iran/Iraq war, Israel supplied arms to Iran, over and above the shipments involved in the Iran/Contra crime. It’s not likely that Israel would have sold arms to its deadliest enemy.”
          .
          Nonsense.
          1 – at the time Israel still hoped to normalize relations with Ayatollah regime.
          2 – None of weapons supplied could impose any kind of threat on Israel.
          .
          “What happened was that Israel decided that Iraq had been weakened by the war, leaving Iran the stronger power. Thus Israel shifted its primary hostility to Iran. The change wasn’t in Iran, it was in Israel, which can’t exist without some external “threat.””
          .
          Nonsense. Just nonsense. Israel has more than enough external and internal threats.

          Reply to Comment
    4. What twaddle. Korea developed nukes after LEAVING the NPT.

      ” Despite Iranian denials, this seems to be the main aim of their uranium enrichment program, not to mention work they may have carried out on developing a nuclear warhead.”

      There is no evidence Iran is seeking nukies. Accusations are not evidence and repeated accusations are only repeated accusations.

      “Iran has made progress towards that goal” Really? A search of tenders and contracts for the infrastructure necessary for the large scale transmission of electricity to neighbouring countries shows us Iran’s “goal” is actually generating and selling electricity. Try this search:// “Iran” India” “Pakistan” “Afghanistan” “UAE” “Turkey” tenders contracts engineering infrastructure electricity transmission //

      You’ve started with unsubstantiated accusations then attempted to build an argument.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ali Saleh Shamkhani

      We dont have anything to talk with the zionist entity. Dialogue with the zionist entity would mean that we accord some form of legitimacy to it. We do not

      Reply to Comment
      • Prometheus

        “We dont have anything to talk with the zionist entity. Dialogue with the zionist entity would mean that we accord some form of legitimacy to it. We do not”
        .
        Please, don’t. You really don’t have no. Nobody cares.

        Reply to Comment
    6. shady

      it is nonsense to attack iran. why will iran attack on israel with nuclear weapon? why tehran open a way for self suicde?they know it very well if they nuke israel they too have to suffer.the culprit is israel. israel wants its dominanace in the middle east especially in the islamic countries. wheather its due hatred towards islam or what i dont know.

      Reply to Comment
    7. IF YOUSAY OBAMA WILL NOT STRIKE WHY HAVE THE AMERICANS OVER 25,00 MQARINES AND 3 CARRIER FLEETS IN THE AREA ???

      Reply to Comment

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