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Israeli could attack Iran without causing a major war in the region (GUARDIAN UK COMMENT) Thomas Rogan 08/18/12) Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/18/israeli-attack-iran
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While it is likely Israel will attack Iran in the near future, it is not in either party´s interest to allow retaliation to escalate
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Over the last few days, Israeli newspapers have been consumed by reports that the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has decided to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities some time this autumn. Although Netanyahu has an obvious interest in increasing pressure on Iran, it would be an error to regard these reports as simple rhetorical sensationalism. In my opinion, whether this year or next, Israel is likely to use its airforce to attack Iran.
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While it is impossible to know for sure whether Netanyahu will act, it is possible to consider the likely repercussions that would follow an Israeli attack. While it is likely that Iran would retaliate against Israel and possibly the US in response to any attack, it is unlikely that Iran will instigate a major war. Albeit for different reasons, Iran, Israel and the US all understand that a war would not serve their interests.
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First, the Israeli policy angle. If Netanyahu decides to order an attack on Iran, his focus will be on maximising the success of that action and minimising any negative consequences that might follow. In terms of Iranian retaliation, Israel would expect Iran´s core non- state allies Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah to launch rocket attacks into Israeli territory.
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However, present success with advanced defence systems has helped increase Israeli confidence in their ability to absorb this method of retaliation. Beyond rocket attacks, the Israeli leadership also understands that a likely mechanism for Iranian retaliation is via attacks against Israeli interests internationally. Whether carried out by the Iranian Quds Force or Hezbollah, or a combination of both, various incidents this year have shown Israel that Iran continues to regard covert action as a powerful weapon.
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The key for Israel is that, while these Iranian capabilities are seen as credible, they are not seen to pose intolerable threats to Israel. Faced with rocket strikes or limited attacks abroad – to which the likely response would be air strikes or short-duration ground operations (not a repeat of 2006) in Lebanon and Gaza – Israel would be unlikely to pursue major secondary retaliation against Iran. Certainly, Israel would not want to encourage intervention by Syria´s Assad alongside Iran (an outcome that might follow major retaliatory Israeli action).
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If Netanyahu does decide to take action, Israeli objectives would be clearly limited. The intent would be to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability while minimising escalation towards war. Israel has no interest in a major conflict that would risk serious damage to the Israeli state.
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Though holding opposite objectives, Iran´s attitude concerning a major war is similar to Israel´s.
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While Iran regards nuclear capability as prospectively guaranteeing the survival of its Islamic revolution, clerical leaders also understand that initiating a major war would make American intervention likely. Such intervention would pose an existential threat to the theocratic project that underpins the Islamic Republic.
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Thus, in the event of an Israeli attack, Iran´s response would be finely calibrated towards achieving three objectives:
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• First, punishing Israel for its attack.
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• Second, deterring further Israeli strikes and so creating space for a reconstituted Iranian nuclear programme.
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• Finally, weakening US/international support for Israel so as to increase Israeli isolation and vulnerability.
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Hezbollah, Hamas and other non-state allies would play a major role in effecting Iranian retaliation. Iran may also attempt to launch a number of its new Sajjil-2 medium-range missiles against Israel. Again, however, using these missiles would risk major retaliation if many Israeli citizens were killed.
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As a preference, Iran would probably perceive that utilising Hamas and Hezbollah would allow retaliation without forcing Netanyahu into a massive counter-response. Crucially, I believe Iran regards that balancing its response would enable it to buy time for a reconstituted, hardened nuclear programme. In contrast to the relatively open current structure, sites would be deeper underground and far less vulnerable to a future attack. The nuclear ambition would not be lost, simply delayed.
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As a final objective for retaliation, Iran would wish to weaken Israel´s relationship with the US and the international community. This desire might encourage Iran to take action against US navy assets in the Gulf and/or attempt to mine the Strait of Hormuz, so as to cause a price spike in global oil markets and increased international discomfort.
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However, beyond their rhetoric, the Iranian leadership understand that they cannot win a military contest against the US, nor hold the strait for longer than a few days. For Iran then, as with Israel, regional war is far from desirable.
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Finally, consider the US. It is now clear that Obama and Netanyahu disagree on Iran. In my opinion, Netanyahu does not believe Obama will ever be willing to take pre-emptive military action against Iran´s nuclear programme. Conversely, Obama believes Netanyahu´s diplomatic expectations are too hasty and excessively restrictive.
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The policy distance between these two leaders appears increasingly irreconcilable. If Netanyahu decides to go it alone and attack Iran, the US president will face the unpleasant scenario of having to protect American interests while avoiding an escalation dynamic that might spin out of control towards war. This difficulty is accentuated by Obama´s re-election race and his fear of the domestic economic fallout that may come from the decisions that he might have to make. Again, the simple point is that the US government has no interest in a war with Iran.
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If Netanyahu decides to take military action, he will do so in a strategic environment in which Israel, Iran and the US have no preference for a major war. Each state views the prospect of a war as counter to their particular long-term ambitions.
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Because of this, while serious, Iranian retaliation would be unlikely to produce an escalatory dynamic leading to war. The leadership of each of these states will restrain their respective actions in the pursuit of differing long-term objectives but common short-term ones. (guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2012 08/18/12)
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