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Apocalypse Soon: The aftermath of an attack on Iran

Consensus opinion now seems to be that Israel will attack Iran. So it might be worth thinking about what sort of war might follow. It might also be worth thinking about how such a war would end.

In the last month or so, there seems to have been a shift in perception about Israel’s plans for Iran. If before, a lot of informed people might have bet that if and when push came to shove, Israel would hold back from bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, I don’t think there are many such bettors today.

Quite a bit has happened recently. There was the International Atomic Energy Agency report, which offered more evidence that Iran is pointing toward the Bomb; the news reports in Israel about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s determination to attack Iran, even though the security establishment opposes them for now; the two big bombs that went off in the faces of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hizbullah; Barak’s statement that an Iranian counterattack wouldn’t result “in even 500 deaths if we all stay inside our homes” (he meant to calm the public with that); Netanyahu and Barak’s refusal to promise CIA head Leon Panetta that they would clear any attack on Iran with the U.S. first, which is what Panetta came to Jerusalem for; and the Republican presidential candidates’ televised enthusiasm (except for Ron Paul’s Quixotic dissent) for an Israeli, American or Israeli/American assault on Iran’s nukes. All this, plus whatever other items slipped my mind, seems to have brought folks in general around to the idea that if Iran doesn’t change its mind and give up its nuclear project – which seems unlikely – and unless Obama decides to do the job – which also seems unlikely – Israel will start a war with Iran within the next year.

That’s certainly my bet. And I think it’s going to cause a catastrophe for Israel, the Middle East and the world at large. I’ll let Niall Ferguson describe the sort of thing I’m talking about. Ferguson, a British-American historian and one of the West’s leading “public intellectuals,” wrote a showcase essay last weekend in The Wall Street Journal titled “2021: The New Europe.” The futuristic piece ends with a look “back” at what happened in 2012:

The events of 2012 shook not just Europe but the whole world. The Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities threw a lit match into the powder keg of the ‘Arab Spring.’ Iran counterattacked through its allies in Gaza and Lebanon.

Having failed to veto the Israeli action, the U.S. once again sat in the back seat, offering minimal assistance and trying vainly to keep the Straits of Hormuz open without firing a shot in anger. (When the entire crew of an American battleship was captured and held hostage by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, President Obama’s slim chance of re-election evaporated.)

Turkey seized the moment to take the Iranian side, while at the same time repudiating Ataturk’s separation of the Turkish state from Islam. Emboldened by election victory, the Muslim Brotherhood seized the reins of power in Egypt, repudiating its country’s peace treaty with Israel. The king of Jordan had little option but to follow suit. The Saudis seethed but could hardly be seen to back Israel, devoutly though they wished to avoid a nuclear Iran.

Israel was entirely isolated. The U.S. was otherwise engaged as President Mitt Romney focused on his Bain Capital-style ‘restructuring’ of the federal government’s balance sheet.

It was in the nick of time that the United States of Europe intervened to prevent the scenario that Germans in particular dreaded: a desperate Israeli resort to nuclear arms. Speaking from the U.S.E. Foreign Ministry’s handsome new headquarters in the Ringstrasse, the European President Karl von Habsburg explained on Al Jazeera: ‘First, we were worried about the effect of another oil price hike on our beloved euro. But above all we were afraid of having radioactive fallout on our favorite resorts.’

So ends the war that Israel started – with mediation by Germany, which Ferguson foresees as the dominant power in a new Europe. There’s one problem, though – he doesn’t say how Germany persuaded Israel not to fire its nukes. Nor is there anything about what happened in the Middle East afterward. (There’s nothing about the extent of the death and destruction that occurred, either.) The war’s happy ending just happens.

Anybody want to bet on that?
For background and related posts on +972:
Israel Hayom: Manufacturing “consensus” on Iran attack
Is Israel preparing an assault against Iran? The media is ready
Bloggingheads: Will Israel strike Iran?
Finally, Iran plan wakes Israel up to “the Israeli threat”

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    1. Philos

      Larry, I usually like your posts but this one isn’t so good. Firstly, Niall Ferguson is a conservative hack. His writings ooze white-man burden condescension to non-Westerners and aristocratic condescension to the working-class and poor. In fact I find him infuriating because he is very good at ignoring “revisionist” historians work and simply regurgitating the usual historical propaganda we all learned in school. He’s like a Roman historian who painted the Gauls all savages when in fact they were probably more sophisticated than their Roman foes.
      Secondly, Obama has been a lot more aggressive in his foreign policy than Bush Jr. and I don’t see why his chances for re-election are slim. Haven’t you been watching the Republican debates? Obviously Ferguson would like to live in the delusion that the American’s are stupid enough to vote in one of those incompetents but I don’t buy it. I have a little more faith in the electoral sophistication of the American people.
      Finally, a war in an election year works well for Obama and no doubt the Democrats can tie it to some kind of “military Keynesian” lie.
      Fourthly, you, Ferguson and me are all engaging in a great deal of speculation and intellectual masturbation. We should always be cognizant of that fact.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      “Better Brits Than Brussels.” A “Reunited Kingdom of Britain”
      This is Ferguson’s idea of satire? What a c**t as we’d say in Old Blighty.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Philos, I appreciate your agreement and/or disagreement, but I think that Ferguson, whatever his ideology, has a vision for an Israeli-initiated war that’s in line with the left, not the right. (Except the happy ending.) But I’m surprised you think Americans are too smart to vote in a dumb Republican (and the two frontrunners, Romney and Gingrich, aren’t even dumb, they just really like war). About Obama, he doesn’t want to go to war w/Iran by any means, and he doesn’t want Israel to, either. On your last point, that we’re all just pulling our respective intellectual puds – I can’t disagree with you, but a guy’s got to make a living.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      Yesterday, Ahmenidijad stated that if Israel attacked Iran, that Iran would attack Turkey for the implied support of NATO radar installations on Turkish soil.

      The day before, another Iranian official declared that they would attack ANY target in Israel, including active nuclear plants.

      Iran declared a couple days ago that the explosions in Iran were definitively NOT of Israeli origination, but of some other “foreign”.

      Also this week, Hezbollah arrested a significant ring of Israeli spies, possibly uncovered in taking action (explosions), rather than just collecting information.

      I’m not convinced that there is a “concensus” of observers. Key current and former Israeli defense officials have made public statements opposing a military attack (only the former officials made public statements).

      Nothing is known from what I’ve read.

      I think you are right though, that no Israeli military action has ever been publicly broadcast, and the discussions that I’ve read about have been more public than secretive.

      Both the destabalization of Iran’s incremental development of additional “deterrence” capacity and the destabalization of regional war, are very difficult, dangerous.

      What do you recommend?

      Reply to Comment
    5. I recommend doing just about everything short of starting a war to make the Iranian regime pay a price for developing nukes – so long as it doesn’t hurt the Iranian public, which would be not only wrong but counterproductive – it would solidify support for the regime. The goal should be to bring the reformers to power. And if, in the meantime, Iran goes nuclear, we rely on deterrence, which has worked with Stalin and Mao, so it should work w/A’jad and mullahs. Under no circumstances should we try to bomb out Iran’s nukes – it could very well start a catastrophic regional war with no way out. This is a much, much greater risk for Israel, not to mention the people of surrounding nations, than Iran having nukes.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      inspired title.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Philos

      I don’t buy it. Think outside our Israeli egocentric selves for a moment and ask if Germany, Italy, France and Britain (all within Iranian missile range) can live with a nuclear armed Iran? Or Russia and Turkey for that matter?
      I think the concern is that Israel will attack not according to the timetable ALREADY DECIDED by the great powers that run this world. Don’t underestimate Obama; the guy extra-judicially executed an American citizen in Yemen. He told Pakistan to shove their claims of sovereignty over their Pashtun provinces it up their you know what. Anyway, Congress and the White House don’t really run the show. The American bureaucracy does and there’s no way they’re going to let Iran boot them out of the region.

      Reply to Comment
    8. The 6-hour War?

      There’s another strong possibility here – that we are all underestimating Iran’s progress in deverloping nuclear warheads. Once Iran believes it has overwhelming odds on destroying Israel, I believe the WILL launch a nuclear attack.

      Many Israelis will die when the first missiles hit Tel Aviv, BUT Israel will be on the alert for this and they DO have a Samson Policy – immediate missile response against all hostile forces (ie. the surounding Arab/Islamic nations).

      The other point to bear in mind, though some may disregard this, is that “He who keeps Israel neither slumbers, nor sleeps.” In other words, many of those missiles, I believe, will miss their intended targets – or malfunction. Remember, none of these missiles have been proven in battle – but whose technology would you care to rely on – Israel’s, or Iran’s?

      Those who believe, or at least are interested, in Biblical prophecy should check out Isaiah 17 & 29, Psalm 87 and Zechariah 12 – which talk of a war of all those nations surrounding Israel, specifically intending her destruction, but whose outcome will be that her enemies will flee far away (remember 1948?) and become as dust, chaff and tumbleweed before a gale!

      Chapter 8 of ‘The Whore and her Mother’ (available FREE online from kingdomcome.org.uk) covers this prophetic war in detail, along with many related prophecies. {:-{>

      Reply to Comment
    9. Edithann

      We know Israel wouldn’t survive an Iranian retaliation. Is Netanyahu resigned to being the last PM of a once Israel?
      Are the Jews willing to sacrifice Israel for ego?

      Bombing Iran would go further then just killing Iranians … It will go to the heart of Judaism and it’s justification for being…

      Gilad Atzmon, ‘THE WANDERING WHO’, Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Sholom Sands, The Invention of the Jews’…


      Reply to Comment
    10. Matt

      Wait until they need 100,000 of troops to chase around our Para’s and special forces all around Iran, hit and run all over the country, yes Amhadi it is a big country.

      Wait until there is civil war in Syria with Hizbullah forced to fight on two fronts, wait until the civil war spreads from Syria to Irak because Iran has sent the Mahdi to kill Sunni’s in Syria and they are fighting on two fronts, Quds Basiji to Irak to help the Mahdi.

      Who is left to guard the shop keep the green movement down, it is either keep the people down or let the para and special forces run amok around the country, lose Syria, Iraq, Lebanon.

      They are going to fighting on four fronts, in 2006 they had to send Hizbullah fighters from Iraq to Lebanon, in 2009 they had to bring people into crush the protest, they have been trying to help Assad for months.

      I did not see much reaction from the population other than government stooges after Israel attacked them last week, no mass rallies they all thought it was Israeli striking.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Matt

      Why get rid of the Presidency 2009, afraid to have an election, what happens if they cancel the vote afraid of that too.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Matt

      Then I am going to open up the flank on the Syria/Lebanon border and hit Hizbullah like I did in Gaza. We will be able to walk right in, just as someone could of in Libya. OP Cast Lead was many things, but it was also a live fire exercise of a mock up of Lebanon.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Matt

      Unlike 2009 the Ayatollah’s plane will not be ready to fly to Syria it will be to South America, DPRK or Russia. Then were every they go as I am the Arab Spring I will overthrow the regime until they have no were to go but back to Iran and to be tried for crimes against humanity and the noose.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Piotr Berman

      Matt, you better stick to LEGO and wooden trains.

      I see the structure of dependencies very different from Ferguson. Iran has to trade with someone for industrial goods, and the relationship with EU is not that good. This means that Iran is very dependent on China.

      Iran may close Hormuz, but it must be done in a way that would get some Chinese backing. My formula would be to promise to open as soon as USA guarantees future non-agression and Israel pays reparations for the destruction, whatever the destruction was. Perhaps tankers heading for China, India and similarly “blameless” countries will be allowed to pass? Iran will also promise to close the strait, like, forever, in case of further attacks, especially by USA.

      In that vein, I do not think that Iranian proxies would attack Israel without being attacked first. Israel may be sufficiently insane to actually do it.

      In case of minor destruction Iran will forgo the bother of expensive or ultra expensive retaliations, instead they will simply declare victory and concentrate on a slower but painful blowback by proxy in Afghanistan and Iraq. If Taliban in Pakistan will once more stop the truck traffic supplying weapons to NATO in Afghanistan, all the better. Central Asia may well side with Iran, so that supply route may be gone too.

      Closure of Hormuz in the near future would coincide with oil markets already tight and banking systems already wobbly. Economically, it may be a perfect storm. The question who will be blamed most. The warm feeling toward the beacon of democracy in ME in USA and Europe may cool considerably if that plucky little beacon is associated with the doubling of gasoline cost, rationing etc.

      Both Russia and China think that it is long overdue to cut USA down to size. Russia will be troubled mostly by excessive amounts of cash with no good place to invest (think what will be happening with the price of THEIR export!). If Russia and China make a protest combined with threats concerning further escalation of armed conflict, what can USA do? Especially if the Russian threats would include supplying Iran with better weapons.

      Among riots, EU will be debating a motion of total embargo on all sides in the conflict (meaning, mostly Israel). What will be happening on the “Arab street”? Globally this will be a relatively minor issue. But what will be happening on American streets? Imagine all those Christian Zionists with their pickup trucks and SUVs with gasoline at, say, 10 dollars per gallon? Paleocons may have their hour — Ron Paul can get the GOP nomination.

      Reply to Comment
    15. KL Ching

      Patrick J. Buchanan and Ralph Nader reviewed Buchanan’s new book “Suicide of A Superpower; Will America survive to 2025?” on C-Span (public access TV). Buchanan’s new book is #4 on the New York Times bestseller list. Both Buchanan and Nader see the Iranian political/power situation in disarray with A’jad and the mullahs struggling to retain power against the Green movement. They see any effort by Iran to develop a nuclear bomb capability as time consuming and disruptive and, therefore, do not see A’jad pursuing the bomb capability and posing a threat. They see Obama with a purposeful strategic and tactical plan to impose a US solution in the Middle East dragging Israel kicking and screaming to a Obama US solution. No one will bomb Iran.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Piotr Berman

      “Both Buchanan and Nader see the Iranian political/power situation in disarray with A’jad and the mullahs struggling to retain power against the Green movement.”

      My impression is that “the mullahs” (pretty misleading label, but let us keep this for a moment) want to get rid of Ahmedinejad while Green movement is largely gone if not forgotten. There is no sign of “struggling” against the Green movement.

      About “the mullahs”: so-called Green movement was lead by clerics. There exist liberal Zionists in Israel and liberal Shia clerics. Perhaps liberal theocracy is a possible better future in this region.

      Reply to Comment
    17. juan govea


      Niether you nor anyone else seems to be talking about the even greater danger to Israel from a “go it alone” strike on Iran. That is the huge and possibly global increase in anti-Semitic sentiment (some of which will be entirely justifiable anger) at the willingness of Israel to risk the economic welfare of many other states for its own selfish interests. Such sentiment could be longlasting and, ultimately, devastating…

      Reply to Comment

      No need for nukes on Iran,(Lefty scare tactics?) Just endless bombing.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Mordechai ben Yosef

      After seeing what happened to dear neighbor, Sadam, of course Iran will make every effort to go nuclear. They remember what happened 60 years ago to a militarily weak Mossadegh. The impetus for the bomb goes beyond mid east politics. Please don’t forget imperialism. The Iranian people of all political stripes don’t forget. Israel provides Iranian leaders with a convenient whipping post, but the fundamental fears go beyond Israel and have a history. The USSR showed that internal decay trumps even nuclear weapons. Iran will learn this as well as Israel, and the U.S.

      Reply to Comment