Bomb Iran ? No, That Would Be A Stupid Idea

Will Israel attack Iran ? You'd better hope not.

In today’s New York Times Reza Aslan and Bernard Avishai point out some of the reasons why going to war against Iran over nuclear weapons may not be such a great idea:

An Israeli attack on Iran would almost certainly precipitate a devastating regional war with unforeseeable global consequences.

Iran is not Syria, with no immediate capacity to retaliate against a surprise attack on its nuclear sites. Iran is a country of 70 million people, and its commanders, battle-hardened by a brutal eight-year stand-off with Iraq, have the ability and will to engage in a long, protracted war against Israel and American interests. Iran maintains a large military equipped with Russian-made weapons systems, surface-to-surface missiles, combat aircraft, unmanned drones and high-speed torpedo boats capable of destroying large warships.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard has extended its reach from southern Lebanon to South America and maintains proxy forces — again, Hezbollah and Hamas — positioned in Israel’s back yard. They’ll force Israel to fight a war of attrition on multiple fronts.

Israel would likely be compelled to extend its military operations to include Lebanon. That would instantly plunge the entire region into war, likely bring a new intifada onto Jerusalem’s streets and place enormous pressure on leaders in Cairo and Amman to renounce their peace treaties with Israel. If Israeli planes use Saudi airspace, Iran has threatened to attack the kingdom, too.

The United States, for its part, could forget about the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. There are up to 30,000 Iranian operatives in Iraq ready to do Iran’s bidding. And Iran enjoys significant loyalty from Afghan officials and warlords, particularly those in the trouble-prone region of Herat.

Iran has repeatedly said that it would, in the case of an attack, shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly 17 million barrels of oil pass every day, spiking oil prices and devastating America’s financial recovery.

All of this could engender a serious diplomatic crisis between the United States and Russia — respectively Israel’s and Iran’s patrons — at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are improving.

Netanyahu says Iran is led by “a messianic apocalyptic cult” and that failure to attack is appeasement. But surely not every year is 1938, not every statesman who fears the nemesis of war is Chamberlain.

Iran’s leaders, ruthless as they clearly are, are not crazed men looking for a 10-megaton exploding belt. They know that Israel has up to 200 warheads and a second-strike capacity in missile-carrying submarines. They also know that incinerating Tel Aviv means irradiating all of Palestine — that destroying Israel means the destruction of Tehran, Qum and their other great cities. They have repeatedly and formally declared they would make peace with Israel along any lines acceptable to the Palestinians. Nothing will reinforce their hold on power like a surprise attack in which hundreds, if not thousands, are killed.

This argument is very similar to the nightmare scenario laid out by Jeffrey Goldberg in September’s issue of The Atlantic, which I wrote about last month.

As I noted back then, the war talk about Iran is both insane, and seemingly impossible to stop:

The prospect of the likes of the Islamic Republic possessing nuclear weapons is not something I look forward to. Then again, I’m still not all that comfortable with the idea of Pakistan having nuclear weapons, and don’t get me started about North Korea. Nonetheless, Pakistan has had those weapons for more than a decade now and they haven’t used them. Even same goes for North Korea. Both countries, of course, have engaged in nuclear proliferation, and that may be the greatest danger of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, not that they’d use them, but that they’d teach others how to make them.  It’s entirely possible, then, that a nuclear-armed, or nuclear-capable, Iran, may not end up being as much of a threat as we fear.

Israel, however, doesn’t seem to be inclined to wait to find out how things will turn out. Their current leadership views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel and, whether or not that is actually true, they’re likely to act accordingly. Unfortunately, their actions are likely to have consequences that we’ll all have to deal with.

There is still a part of me that wonders if Israel’s belligerance toward Iran isn’t really part of a “good cop, bad cop” strategy with the United States. After all, it is in Israel’s interest, and the interest of the United States, to create the impression that Israel is a hair-trigger away from launching an attack on Iran that, at the very least, would cripple  Iran’s nuclear program and raise the tension level in the Middle East to levels unseen since the days of the 1973 war. It would make sense on some level, but the reason I doubt it’s the case is because there’s clearly a level distrust right now between Israel and Washington that we haven’t seen before, and because I honestly don’t believe that the Obama Administration is smart enough to be able to pull something like that off. Instead, it seems clear that they are blundering their way into a situation that could have dire consequences for the entire world.

Some day, we could wake up and learn that the Israeli air force has attacked Iran. When that happens, all bets will be off.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Middle East, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Come on Doug. General war in the middle east, a depression when the oil stops flowing? Real Americans who watch Hannity don’t worry about details like this.

  2. James says:

    Prayer: Dear Lord we pray for the Peace of Israel.
    Solutions: “There are no Solutions, only compromise.” Walter Williams PHD
     

  3. ponce says:

    Now that the U.S. has cut and run from this century’s Vietnam the world is in for another 20 years of peace.
     
    The people who thrive on war are justifiably upset but they will just have to wait and make due with whatever Grenada-style scraps they can con America into giving them.
     
    Israel is too poor and weak to fight Iran on its own and America’s not going to help them…why not focus on a more reasonable war porn fantasy?

  4. Tano says:

    It would make sense on some level, but the reason I doubt it’s the case is because there’s clearly a level distrust right now between Israel and Washington that we haven’t seen before,

    Really? Is that why Israel has taken up the Obama peace talk initiative? I think the “level of distrust” that is so often discussed comes down to a lot of posturing, especially on the Israeli side, who suddenly find that the US is no longer going to blindly support everything the Israelis think or do, but is rather going back to the historical relationship that the two countries have always had – trusted friends but with the US fully committed to its own interests, and to trying to help bridge the divide between the Israelis and their neighbors. Seeing the bigger picture and restraining the crazies on the Israeli right.
     

    and because I honestly don’t believe that the Obama Administration is smart enough to be able to pull something like that off.

     
    Not to be too disrespectful to cops, but if they can pull off the good cop-bad cop act on a routine basis, then it aint rocket science. Even if you want to lob insults at the President, you still have Clinton, Gates, Mitchell, Ross, Jones etc – quite an array of undoubtedly intelligent and experienced people formulating and driving policy.

     
    Instead, it seems clear that they are blundering their way into a situation that could have dire consequences for the entire world.
     

    Oh really? Could you specify for us what exactly are the blundering steps and what you would do differently?

  5. Dantheman says:

    Of course, one candidate for President in the last election thought it was suc a great idea that he set it to a Beach Boys tune.  And he’s the one for whom foreign policy was his forte.  And was never called on the utter folly of not merely advocating it, by doing so in a juvenile manner.  Oh, that liberal media!

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug, your way with words.  Israeli belligerance?  On more occasions than I can recount Ahmadinejad has threated to incinerate Israel and work to destroy the United States.  Israel has been attacked time and again by Hezbolla which is sponsored by Iran  Hot Air has an article which states Iran is paying $1000 to the Taliban for each U.S. Soldier killed in Afghanistan.  That might be considered an act of war if we had a real American President  So Doug, I guess you feel the Nazis were justified in their treatment of the Jews.  It is good for you to show your anti semetic beliefs.  I am going to make you famous.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    What advantage do you see in a nuclear armed Iran Doug?  How many of those tough Iranian soldiers have won a war?  As I recall the war with Iraq was a long time ago, most of those who fought in it are not serving any longer.  Israel on the other hand has had much experience defeating Soviet and now Russian made equipment.  How many wars has Israel lost Doug?  Good thing you get to hide out here at OTB.  You would be laughed off the internet anywhere else.

  8. Grewgills says:

    Ragshaft,
    Your spoof is showing.

  9. sam says:

    I hereby propose The Zelsdorf Rule:

    In any imaginable universe in which Zelsdorf Ragshaft III has the power to do X, and X is the batshit craziest, most counterproductive course of action conceivable and is so far off the scale of stupid as to beggar description, Zelsdorf will invariably choose X.

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    “and because I honestly don’t believe that the Obama Administration is smart enough to be able to pull something like that off.”

    Doug, you’re obviously pining for the transcendental smartness of the Bush administration. But at least you have the intelligence to recognize:

    ”  As I noted back then, the war talk about Iran is both insane, and seemingly impossible to stop:”

    Which is more than can be said for most of your fellow travellers!

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 15:55

    “Doug, your way with words.  Israeli belligerance?”

    His way with words doesn’t begin to equal yours Zels, on the other hand his spelling is better.    

  12. anjin-san says:

    >  Hot Air has an article which states Iran is paying $1000 to the Taliban for each U.S. Soldier killed in Afghanistan.

    Yes, and Hot Air is citing the same London Sunday Times article being cited by Fox News. foxnews.com’s article links to the times website, which is fee based. The Times & Fox are both owned by Rupert Murdoch. Once again, Murdoch as succeeded in telling millions on the right what they think.
    Zells, why don’t you just tattoo “sucker” to your forehead and get it over with?

  13. Peter says:

    Well, if the attack does happen, there’ll be hundreds of deaths in the United States, as people get into gunfights at gas stations over the last tankfuls of $20-per-gallon gasoline.

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin you have the intelligence of a red brick.  I did not post the third post accusing Doug of being a Muslim.  I am satisfied his anti semetic words are enough.  I believe he is anti American as is Sam, Herb and a few others. here.  Brummagem Joe, if you were to check, I spelled belligerance exactly the same way Doug did.  You sir, are a f ing idiot.  Your opinions are wrong and you have never had an original ideal.  You belong in the echo chamber.  Since we get very little of our needed crude from the middle east, I doubt problems there would be any worse than if there was a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel who has the weaponry to turn Iran into a sheet of glass.  You idiots think you can reason with these people.  Obama does too.  You cannot reason with people who are willing to send their children on suicide missions as the Iranians did against the Iraqis.  They think that by starting the final war the 12th Imam will appear.  But then facts about what the enemy or anything else is about is not one of the long suits here.

  15. wr says:

    So Zels — Exactly how many people would you like to see murdered in order for you to feel safe in your jammies? All of Iran, check. All Muslims? Anyone with dark skin? Please, give us your execution list.

  16. Grewgills says:

    Since we get very little of our needed crude from the middle east, I doubt problems there would be any worse than if there was a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel who has the weaponry to turn Iran into a sheet of glass

    because oil is not fungible.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    You idiots think you can reason with these people.

    Exactly what I’ve been telling people about you.

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    “because oil is not fungible.”

    Actually oil is fungible which is why Zel’s original comment (despite his vast knowledge of economics and international trade…ho ho) is completely wrong. Oil is traded internationally so if all of a sudden say 20% of supply is removed from the market global prices would go through the roof despite the fact we in the US get far more of our oil from Canada than the middle east. And those that get their oil from the ME are not only going to see oil prices jump but also see interruptions in supply thus damaging their economies and reducing overall volume of world trade and demand for US goods.     

  19. sam says:

    What are Zels’s options when his federally backed unemployment checks end?
     
    1) Blow his brains out? (I consider this unlikely if only because it would require an extremely good shot to hit so small a target).
    No, I’m going for
    2) Become an illegal immigrant to Mexico (where his lack of English language skills will be much less noticeable).

  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    sam says:

    Monday, September 6, 2010 at 08:08

    “What are Zels’s options when his federally backed unemployment checks end?”

    Get a job?

  21. wr says:

    I think he should run for the Senate as a Republican. Sure, he doesn’t know anything about anything, and his opinions are insane, but that jut makes him a perfect fit.

  22. Alan Kellogg says:

    Right, let us debase ourselves because war would cost too much. The Iranians are too mighty and we’re too weak.How dare we defy our betters.

  23. c.red says:

    Doug – Sometimes I find some of your posts baffling. You come out with interesting topics and come to logical, well-supported conclusions. Any number of times you have pointed out how generally misguided the positions of certain prominent republicans are. Frequently you come to the conclusion that the general policies of the current administration are not too bad or the least bad course to be taken. When you do criticize you generally seem to come within a spitting distance of the actual policy, usually from the opposite direction. (Which, I assume, is why so many of the regular right commentators consider you a liberal socialist.) 

    Then you’ll toss in some unsupported and unnecessary for insult to the administration or the Democratic party in general:

    “because I honestly don’t believe that the Obama Administration is smart enough to be able to pull something like that off.”

    Is this some sort of belief that anyone that is a Democrat can’t be smart or honest? Is this personal? Is it pandering? How many times do you have to agree with someone to concede they may not be entirely stupid? Or, possibly, have some good intentions?

    I’m not saying you should agree with them, or like any particular democrat, or even that you should change; bash Obama when warranted. But I do see it as a major disconnect in your writing when you agree there is no other way and then call the people following that way as not smart. 

  24. c.red,

    Because when it comes to Iran policy, the Obama Administration hasn’t proven itself to be any more competent than the Bush Administration was.

  25. c.red says:

    Well I would say that not labelling them an “Evil Empire” and refusing to speak to them an improvement, but I’m willing to concede to opinion on that.

    But isn’t the whole point of your post that there is no good path here? Everything short of bombing them is equally stupid, with bombing being worse?  

  26. Isn’t the whole point of your post that there is no good path here? Everything short of bombing them is equally stupid, with bombing being worse?

    Until there is a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, all the discussions about these side issues are really just about taking the “least bad path.’

    How do we accomplish that ?

    Hell, there are people who’ve won Nobel Peace Prizes who don’t know how to answer that question, I’m just a humble blogger.

     

  27. Ben Wolf says:

    Careful, Zel’s opinions are the product of his 143 IQ, and opposing him could result in your destwuction.