As Israel and Iran War Odds Increase, Here is How the US Should Respond

In recent weeks, all indications have pointed to an increasingly imminent Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Whether it be the account of the reporter who was granted access to observe the Israeli Air Force prepare for a strike and subsequently recounted his belief that Israel is now “closer than ever” to mounting an attack, or the former prime minister warning, “If I were Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” Israel has made no attempt to hide the contents of its short-term agenda.

It is generally agreed upon (widely, actually here) that a potential Israeli mission would do substantial damage to Iranian facilities, enough to affect a multi-year setback, but not enough to eradicate the program altogether. The fatal flaw of an Israeli assault is that some of the facilities lie underground and out of reach. Worse, many, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, fear the “unintended consequences” an Israeli strike could sow. The American Security Project, among others, points outthat an attack — which would only amount to a flesh wound — would unite Iranians around hardliners and would not only guarantee further nuclear production, but also legitimize it even in the opinion of Iranians previously opposed to the nuclear program.

All that is bad news for Israel, but America has a dog in the fight as well. Iran would certainly respond by waging unpredictable warfare (just look how well America has responded to such a threat in Afghanistan and Iraq), and you would be foolish to suggest that this violence would be focused solely on Israel, were the country to attack. In addition, Iran could and probably would attempt to close the Straight of Hormuz with mines, pirating techniques, and any manner of irregular warfare. Even if you find the efficacy of such a plan to be questionable, combined with the inevitable escalating of instability in the region that an Israeli attack would engender, oil prices would undoubtedly surge. If there is anything that Americans fear nearly as much as a nuclear threat it is an economic shock, something that an Israeli attack promises to produce.

Perhaps because of the foreseeable consequences, Israelis are mixed in their opinion of striking Iran. A striking 58% of Israelis polled recently stated that Israel should not strike without the backing of the U.S., while only a meager 19% support a unilateral Israeli strike. Public opinion in America is somewhat more obtuse, if only in the picture that surveys have provided. One poll asked Americans to choose between an American strike and international diplomacy-seeking, to which 7 out of 10 Americans responded by choosing the peaceful alternative. But when Reuters asked if, given the assumption that Iran has nuclear capabilities, the U.S. should launch an attack, this time 56% of respondents answered in the affirmative. What is clear, and unsurprising, is that Republicans and Democrats differ in their opinions. Reuters found that 70% of typically hawkish Republicans would support an American strike given evidence of nuclear capabilities as opposed to 46% of Democrats and 51% of Independents. 

Though some have claimed the rhetoric and war-mongering that the Israeli government have been stewing is an elaborate bluff, such a view is tenuous when Rabbis and legitimate political figures are describing Arabs as “evil and damnable” and prescribing “missiles to annihilate them.” Obama’s official stance favors preventative measures such as sanctions as alternative to warfare, but he has repeatedly indicated that he is not entirely averse to neither an Israeli nor an American strike. He has stated that “all options are on the table ... when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say,” and, most ominously, “as president of the United States, I don't bluff." 

Setting aside the comparative merits and potential pitfalls of a strike one cannot help but see the reflections of violent confrontation on the horizon, and by extension, the probable ramifications of such a conflict.