By William Tucker
This has become an endless topic on which speculation is rife. Indeed, it’s been discussed here before. But will Israel really launch a military strike against Iran in the near future? Essentially, the answer is no. There are many reasons why Israel would refrain from hitting Iran’s nuclear facilities such as military limitations and political considerations, but perhaps the main reason why is the lack of an existential threat. A nuclear armed Iran would eventually constitute such a threat; however it would take years before Iran had a capable and credible nuclear arsenal. There is little utility in having a handful of nuclear devices without a redundant, let alone a reliable, delivery system. Judging by open source material it does appear that Iran has acquired the necessary expertise to build a nuclear weapon, but is holding back on uranium enrichment. Yet, this doesn’t immediately translate into a workable strategic asset for Iran in the short term.
Speaking more generally, a nation-state will go to war – preemptively or responsively – with another nation-state if it feels its very existence is threatened. Israel, by its own admission, does not face this type of threat from Iran at the present. If they did, military action would have already taken place regardless of the limits of Israel small military. As Donald Rumsfeld so famously stated, and was roundly criticized for, “you go to war with the military you have, not the military you want.” Israel does have a well trained and well equipped military, but it doesn’t have strategic bombers, aircraft carriers, or even regional allies to aid in such an endeavor. Granted, Israel has stated that the goal of an attack would not seek to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, rather it would aim to delay it. Coupled with the existing sanctions that Tehran is facing this is actually a reasonable goal – at least on paper. The political fallout resulting from an attack without an imminent threat is not something Jerusalem wants to deal with.
We must also consider the substantial risk that Israel’s military would face. The challenges to the air force over hostile skies are apparent. In fact, any substantial damage to the Israel air force is suspected to be a red line in Israel’s nuclear doctrine. It is unlikely Israel would take such a risk when the air force is of such value to Jerusalem. Other assets, such as cruise missiles fired from submarines in the Persian Gulf and the use of Jericho III missiles, are not free from substantial risk, either. Russia, among others, may misinterpret the launching of strategic missiles, while the possibility of losing any of Israel’s six dolphin class submarines is simply not something the country can afford. Understand, none of this is meant to disparage Israel’s military. Instead, it’s important to state that Israel has built a military to handle challenges much closer to its borders. Israel and the majority of the Arab states rely heavily on the U.S. to maintain a balance in the Middle East to compensate for this. The rhetoric coming out of Jerusalem regarding the possibility of a strike is simply meant to convey a strong sense of concern to Washington. For its part, the U.S. exploits this opening by expressing “concerns” that Israel may actually follow through on its statements as a way to pressure Iran. In spite of the rhetoric, Israel just doesn’t have the strategic incentive to carry out an operation with such high risks.