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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bolton: 'Maybe the fallout from an Israeli attack on Iran wouldn't be so bad after all'

Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton looks at the likely fallout of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and concludes that Israel's military option is 'unattractive' but failing to act would be 'even worse' (Hat Tip: Hot Air and Memeorandum). Significantly, if Bolton is correct, most of the Iranian response to an Israeli attack would be absorbed by Israel and not by the United States or other western countries. The retaliation would likely come from Hamas and Hezbullah, while Iran's own military response would be less significant. Here are some of the highlights.
1) Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz. Often cited as Tehran's knee-jerk answer -- along with projections of astronomic oil-price spikes because of the disruption of supplies from Persian Gulf producers -- this option is neither feasible nor advisable for Iran. The U.S. would quickly overwhelm any effort to close the Strait, and Iran would be risking U.S. attacks on its land-based military. Direct military conflict with Washington would turn a bad situation for Iran -- disruption of its nuclear program -- into a potential catastrophe for the regime. Prudent hedging by oil traders and consuming countries (though not their strong suit, historically) would minimize any price spike.


3) Iran attacks U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some Tehran hard-liners might advocate this approach, or even attacks on U.S. bases or Arab targets in the Gulf -- but doing so would risk direct U.S. retaliation against Iran, as many U.S. commanders in Iraq earlier recommended. Increased violence in Iraq or Afghanistan might actually prolong the U.S. military presence in Iraq, despite President Barack Obama's current plans for withdrawal. Moreover, taking on the U.S. military, even in an initially limited way, carries enormous risks for Iran. Tehran may believe the Obama administration's generally apologetic international posture will protect it from U.S. escalation, but it would be highly dangerous for Iran to gamble on more weakness in the face of increased U.S. casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan.


5) Iran launches missile attacks on Israel. Because all the foregoing options risk more direct U.S. involvement, Tehran will most likely decide to retaliate against the actual attacker, Israel. Using its missile and perhaps air force capabilities, Iran could do substantial damage in Israel, especially to civilian targets. Of course, one can only imagine what Iran might do once it has nuclear weapons, and this is part of the cost-benefit analysis Israel must make before launching attacks in the first place. Direct Iranian military action against Israel, however, would provoke an even broader Israeli counterstrike, which at some point might well involve Israel's own nuclear capability. Accordingly, Iran's Revolutionary Guards would have to think long and hard before unleashing its own capabilities against Israel.

6) Iran unleashes Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel. By process of elimination, but also because of strategic logic, Iran's most likely option is retaliating through Hamas and Hezbollah. Increased terrorist attacks inside Israel, military incursions by Hezbollah across the Blue Line, and, most significantly, salvoes of missiles from both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are all possibilities. In plain violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, Iran has not only completely re-equipped Hezbollah since the 2006 war with Israel, but the longer reach of Hezbollah's rockets now endangers Israel's entire civilian population. Moreover, Hamas's rocket capabilities could easily be substantially enhanced to provide greater range and payload to strike throughout Israel, creating a two-front challenge.

Risks to its civilian population will weigh heavily in any Israeli decision to use force, and might well argue for simultaneous, pre-emptive attacks on Hezbollah and Hamas in conjunction with a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Obviously, Israel will have to measure the current risks to its safety and survival against the longer-term threat to its very existence once Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

This brief survey demonstrates why Israel's military option against Iran's nuclear program is so unattractive, but also why failing to act is even worse. All these scenarios become infinitely more dangerous once Iran has deliverable nuclear weapons. So does daily life in Israel, elsewhere in the region and globally.
Read the whole thing.

What Bolton only hints at is what the US reaction might be if Israel attacked Iran and Iran hits Israel back. While I could have seen George Bush having the same kind of reaction that Ronald Reagan had in 1981 to Israel's attack on Iraq (he is reported to have said "boys will be boys") and then helping us out, I doubt that the Obumbler would be so nonchalant about it.

My guess is that Obama would allow Israel to be condemned in the UN for an attack on Iran, that he might even go along with sanctions, and that to the extent that American-supplied equipment is used (highly likely), he might even suspend arms exports to Israel and 'reassess' America's arms export policy when it comes to Israel. I don't believe he would order the x-band radar that President Bush gave us (a different version than ours is pictured above) shut off, because that would endanger the lives of its American operators. If we were to - God forbid - be in serious danger due to an Iranian retalation, I believe that the Congress would force him to act. But like the Yom Kippur War before President Nixon undertook the airlift, I believe we would - God forbid - sustain significant casualties before Obama acts.

At the end of the day, I believe that Obama would try to force us to create a 'Palestinian state' to compensate the Arab world for the embarrassment of Iran's defeat - even though Iran's defeat is something the entire Arab world will quietly applaud.

But I don't see any better choices on the horizon.


At 7:08 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

If its an EMP attack, Hezbollah can retaliate but perhaps will think twice if Israel was to explode an EMP bomb over Lebanon. The fallout in all likelihood wouldn't be as bad as people imagine. In contrast, the consequences of doing nothing and allowing Iran to go nuclear are and should be - literally unthinkable.

At 7:56 PM, Blogger Captain.H said...

"I don't believe he would order the x-band radar that President Bush gave us (a different version than ours is pictured above) shut off, because that would endanger the lives of its American operators."

I don't share your confidence on that point. BTW, Here's some interesting reading. Any comments on it, Carl?

At 10:54 PM, Blogger Mr. Gerson said...

This misses another form of attack... the Jewish community around the world are targets.


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