We can’t crush Iran

Jordan Michael Smith reports: This month’s Vanity Fair has a feature on Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. “An Israeli strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities gone awry may pose the single greatest peril to his political future, which may be the biggest guarantee — more than American opposition to any move or the effectiveness of sanctions — that it won’t happen,” the article reads. Indeed, gradually and without fanfare, the possibility of a military strike against Iran, which only a few months ago seemed imminent, has lately receded from view. It seems that perhaps the U.S. and Israel came to their senses and realized that an attack on Iran would be disastrous.

The turning tide against a military strike is underscored by three new reports on the problems of an attack. Taken together, they suggest that significant parts of the U.S. establishment are pushing back against the notion that, in senior Romney adviser John Bolton’s words, “There is no doubt that Washington could shatter Iran’s nuclear program,” and that “Iran’s real options, post-attack,” would be “limited.”

First on the table is a monograph from the staunchly pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. The report is called “Beyond Worst-Case Analysis,” suggesting that it intends to avoid what it calls “apocalyptic” conclusions about an attack on Iran. And yet, as former CIA analyst Paul Pillar notes, the paper’s ideas suggest that the “consequences would be very bad indeed.” The report’s authors, Michael Eisenstadt and Michael Knights, write that Iran would “respond in a way that deters additional Israeli strikes and U.S. intervention.” They suggest Iran would strike against any attacking country, which even if it is meant to be “limited” could easily escalate into a full-blown regional conflict. Iran would want to make retaliation as “painful as possible” for Israel, employing direct and indirect measures.

It would use Hezbollah and other proxies to sabotage petrochemical infrastructure in the Gulf, and attack “commercial ships or elements of the U.S. Fifth fleet in the area.” In other words, it would attack the United States military. Iran also “would likely respond almost immediately with missile strikes on Israel, to punish it and deter follow-on strikes.” The Persian nation would attack Israeli military and civilian population centers with its hundreds of long-range conventional missiles. Hezbollah could launch thousands of rockets from Lebanon, and attacks could be forthcoming from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even beleaguered Syria. Israeli or Jewish targets around the world would not be immune. The list goes on: terrorism against U.S. targets on several continents, attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, kidnapping American citizens, strikes against neighboring countries, harassment of U.S. vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and a revitalization of the popularity of the Iranian government. And all of this, according to the report, is far from a worst-case scenario. [Continue reading…]

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