Israel and Iran War Odds: Why Rumors of Attack are Just Israeli Political Maneuvering

It’s frightening to think that the world might have only two months to prepare for an Israel-Iran war. I mention this because The Times of Israel reported this week, “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is ‘determined to attack Iran’ before the U.S. Presidential elections.” But these tactical headlines are simply directed at influencing the public opinion that it is necessary to have in order to carry out military action against Iran. Reading between the lines, what this actually tells the world is that Netanyahu is ‘determined to coerce the United States to affirm the need to attack Iran. There is little doubt that the consequences of an Israeli decision to strike Iran without the support of the United States would be a disaster. Moreover, an Israeli military strike would force the United States to support Israel, get involved, and drag America into another war in the Middle East.

The likelihood of a successful unilateral Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is slim for several reasons. First, Israel understands very well it does not have the strategic military capabilities to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. Second, the Mossad, the most powerful of the Israeli security and intelligence elite, and President Shimon Peres, oppose Netanyahu's and defense minister Ehud Barak’s pro-war stance at this point. More significantly, a majority of the Israelis are against an attack on Iran, and agrees that it would be a risky operation without support from the United States. Israel is simply using the last of its scare tactics to convince the Israeli and American publics that the Obama administration must exert more pressure on Iran. By convincing the public that the threat of Iran is so dire that the Israelis must attack now, they are actually hoping to convince the United States to step up its position on military threats and re-assure its support for Israel. 

There is no question that if Israel were to strike Iran before November, the United States would have to get involved. The Obama administration would have no choice but to support Israel to justify the importance of Israel’s security, although obviously another war is the last thing America currently needs. However, there is the unfortunate possibility that Obama could head into the election with the kind of popular support that accompanies new wars. But Iran’s response could bring devastating repercussions, as Hezbollah, Palestinian factions, Iran, and perhaps Syria, are heavily prepared for an Israeli air strike.

The bottom line is that headlines about an Israeli attack on Iran before November’s elections are simply all talk. The instability in the region itself, particularly involving Israel, is a greater threat than Iran at this point. It would be a grave mistake for Netanyahu and Barak to attack Iran without U.S. support, but there’s no doubt that the Israelis are showing a clear indication that they will eventually take action. Netanyahu and Barak do not want to be known to the world as the Israeli administration that allows Iran to further develop its nuclear program. If America does not want to be dragged into another Middle East conflict this year, Obama is going to have to appease Israeli officials and step up its rhetorical threats to Iran. But if the Israelis did decide to attack in November, they will have all their odds stack against them. The lack of support from the public and the international community, and going against the wishes of the United States, would significantly damage their friendship.