Talk of military action of some kind by the state of Israel against Iran, and in particular the latter’s nuclear facilities, has escalated of late, with what appears on the face of it to be a disagreement between Israel’s Prime Minister and President at the weekend. But the measure of that disagreement is not actually serious. The serious consideration is whether such a move would succeed.
The state of Iran’s nuclear programme is fiercely debated, and whether or not Tehran is about to get its hands on The Bomb is for the most part speculation. That there is a programme, and that it is capable of enriching uranium, is more certain. So any decision to attack by the Israeli Government rests mainly on justification by demonstrating intent – the intent to attack or at least threaten Israel.
That basis for action is not in dispute between PM Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. And the possibility of the action taking place is also not disputed. The only divergence in opinion – apparently exaggerated by the Netanyahu camp – is whether such an action should be taken by Israel acting alone. Peres would rather the USA be at least on-side beforehand.
And that brings us to the potential for success, and the greater potential for fall-out, the latter not just being of the nuclear kind. Israel has always spent a relatively high proportion of its GDP on ensuring its security – which mainly means the IDF, and associated bodies such as the Mossad – and whether the country’s economy could stand a sustained military campaign is uncertain.
Previous military actions, as in 1967 and 1973, were over in a matter of days. They also involved a mainly land based campaign. Iran has no land border with Israel. In fact, Iran does not share a land border even with any of Israel’s neighbours. So any kind of land based action is out of the question. And an air attack would require several hundred miles of overflying other countries’ territory.
So any action, even though the mood in Israel is generally favourable, would be logistically difficult. And then there is the problem of gauging the capability of Iran’s defences, and its ability to strike back. Saddam Hussein managed to send a few ageing Scud missiles, but as we now know, his military capability was more bluff than substance. The Iranians will be a different proposition.
On top of all that is the potential for other players to be dragged into any conflict. What might the Russians and Chinese make of it all? Would the USA continue to make their weapons technology available to a state that did not listen to requests for restraint? Would the USA continue to give the current level of aid to Israel in the light of international condemnation of any action?
There is no “clean strike” or “consequence free” solution here. So think on, Bibi.