Wars and Rumors Of Wars

It's time for another round of speculation about Iran and its nuclear program.

There seems to be a lot of speculation these days about military action against Iran and, depending on who you listen to, it’s either Israel, Britain, or the United States who are planning to take action, or perhaps all three together. First, we have a report from Haaretz that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu is trying to persuade his cabinet to back a pre-emptive strike on Iran:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran, a senior Israeli official has said. According to the official, there is a “small advantage” in the cabinet for the opponents of such an attack.

Netanyahu and Barak recently persuaded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who previously objected to attacking Iran, to support such a move.

Although more than a million Israelis have had to seek shelter during a week of rockets raining down on the south, political leaders have diverted their attention to arguing over a possible war with Iran. Leading ministers were publicly dropping hints on Tuesday that Israeli could attack Iran, although a member of the forum of eight senior ministers said no such decision had been taken.

The Guardian, meanwhile, is reporting that British forces are preparing to assist the United States in strikes on Iran:

Britain’s armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran amid mounting concern about Tehran’s nuclear enrichment programme, the Guardian has learned.

The Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.

In anticipation of a potential attack, British military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles over the coming months as part of what would be an air and sea campaign.

They also believe the US would ask permission to launch attacks from Diego Garcia, the British Indian ocean territory, which the Americans have used previously for conflicts in the Middle East.

The Guardian has spoken to a number of Whitehall and defence officials over recent weeks who said Iran was once again becoming the focus of diplomatic concern after the revolution in Libya.

They made clear that Barack Obama, has no wish to embark on a new and provocative military venture before next November’s presidential election.

But they warned the calculations could change because of mounting anxiety over intelligence gathered by western agencies, and the more belligerent posture that Iran appears to have been taking.

All of this is happening as we hear reports that the IAEA is about to release another report on Iran’s nuclear weapon’s program that is likely to conclude that the Islamic Republic is continuing in it’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the systems for delivering them. Of course, we’ve heard that story before, as well as the complete opposite. . The United States’ National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 stated that Iran had halted it’s nuclear weapons program in 2003. In February 2009, though, both the United Nations and the United States issued reports saying that the program was further along than previously believed. Less than a month later, though, the Director of National Intelligence seemed to debunk those February reports.  In August of that year, we were told that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.  Last year, we were informed of a CIA report saying ”Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.” Now, we’ve got this report coming out which is apparently going to ramp of the Iran nuclear fears again, leading people like John Bolton to declare, once again, that we have to strike Iran immediately.

Iran is on course to build nuclear weapons, according to evidence compiled by United Nations inspectors.

Research to be presented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) next week will provide details pointing to the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program. …

The atomic watchdog is expected to say that Iran is working on nuclear missile technology, researching the detonation of a nuclear device and dramatically increasing uranium enrichment at a facility buried deep in a mountainside. Its report is likely to take the Middle East a step closer to a nuclear arms race. …

The key part of the IAEA report is expected to say that Iran is dramatically increasing uranium enrichment at a facility in Qom, deep in a mountainside, that could within months be fortified against conventional weaponry.

So, expect the drumbeat of war to begin pounding again from the usual quarters. As far as the Israelis are concerned, there are obvious reasons to be concerned about a nuclear Iran, or a non-nuclear Iran for that matter. The rhetoric coming from Ahmedinejad and Khameni, along with the regime’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, makes them a serious threat to the safety and security of Israeli citizens, and Israeli interests in other parts of the world. At the same time, though, it’s fairly clear that an attack on Iran wouldn’t be the cakewalk that some on the right seem to think it would be:

Iran’s forces may not be up to much but, with the help of Hamas and Hezbollah, they could wreak havoc. British and US troops in Afghanistan would be exposed to even greater danger than they are now – their bases in the Gulf, notably in Qatar and Bahrain, would be easy targets. The Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Gulf, the canal through which more than 50% of the world’s oil is shipped, would be closed. What would arise from the ashes?

Some may say that is a price worth paying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The suggestion is that there is a “window” now that would enable Israel on its own to strike Iran’s nuclear sites. Next year, the “window” would be left open to the US (and the UK) before Iran’s nuclear weapons reached the point of no return.

Such reasoning, if this is what it can be called, is that of the dangerous fool. How crushed and devastated would Iran have to be before it could no longer restart a nuclear programme, even one just involving fissile material as a weapon for terrorists?


Why attack, or even threaten to attack, a country whose leaders are increasingly worried, more worried, about the state of the economy and internal dissent than any perceived threat from Israel? Iran is a far more sophisticated and divided society than the picture generally painted in the west.

These arguments are all well-placed, and they argue strongly against the kind of pre-emptive war that some in Israel and on the American right seem to favor at this point. We already learned in Iraq what the costs of such a war can be, and there’s every reason to believe that things in Iran would be just as difficult, if not more so. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we’ll actually move close to war anytime soon. Barry Rubin and Jeff Dunetz note the many reasons why the reports we’re hearing of war by the Israelis are likely much ado about nothing, and I recommend reading their arguments in that regard. As far as the United States, it’s pretty clear that, absent some kind of aggressive move by Iran that demands a response, President Obama is not going to launch a pre-emptive war against Iran before the 2012 elections. For one thing, it would likely tick off the left wing of his party even more than things like the intervention in Libya did. For another, it’s highly unlikely that action against Iran will be as bloodless as the war in Libya was for the the United States. The last thing a President running for re-election wants are pictures of soldiers being buried from a war he started while he’s running for re-election. Finally, with the public overwhelmingly supporting the disengagement from Iraq, and very non-supportive of the war in Afghanistan, it’s unlikely that the public has the stomach for another conflict, especially one that seems as unnecessary as this one.

So, expect to hear another round of war fever being whipped up. It’ll probably be really popular among most of the Republican candidates for President except Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. In the end, though, I doubt it will amount to anything real.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Middle East, National Security, Science & Technology, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Liberty60 says:

    If only there were a strong Arab nation adjacent to Iran that could act as a counterweight!

    Ideally one with a secular Sunni government that would block the pan-Shiite ambitions of the fundamentalists in Tehran!

    If only…!

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Unless, and until, there is some kind of concrete evidence that Iran poses an imminent threat to the US this discussion is stupid. Netenyahu has not acted in the best interest of Isreal or the US. To blindly support him, enable him…as the wingnuts most certainly will insist….is just f’ing stupid. End of story.

  3. ponce says:

    If George W. Bush wouldn’t attack Iran, I very much doubt Barack Obama will.

  4. legion says:

    @ponce: W didn’t have time. I bet you a dollar if McCain had won we’d be bombing Tehran right now.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    And if a Cain Administration uses John Bolton as foreign policy advisor (as was suggested yesterday), what would be a fair over-under line on when the bombs start falling? Feb. 1, 2013?

  6. mantis says:

    Good news for John McCain.

  7. Joel says:

    It’s obviously bad news if Iran gets nukes. And we obviously don’t want another war, so I’m just not sure what we’re supposed to do about it.

  8. ponce says:

    It’s obviously bad news if Iran gets nukes.


    At least six Asian countries already have nukes.

    One more isn’t that big of a deal.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    @ponce: If I were Iran and knew Israel had 200 nukes I would want nukes too.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    I suppose the upside is that there’s at least one issue on with Israelis and the Arabs are in agreement: Iran should not have nukes.

    If Iran goes nuclear so does Saudi Arabia is all likelihood. Saudi Arabia, our ally, but also home office of Islamic extremism and terror.

  11. ponce says:

    If I were Iran and knew Israel had 200 nukes…


    They were allegedly assembled back when Israel, Taiwan and South Africa were the original Axis of Evil.

    I’d hate to be one of the poor slubs that had to handle Israel’s untested fifty year old nukes…

  12. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The dictionary people should create the word “danaieveconcade,” meaning dangerously naive on a scale that ultimately causes conflagrations that negatively affect the entire world for decades.

    Next to the definition of this new and most apt word they should put pictures of Neville Chamberlain, John F. Kennedy, Robert Torricelli, Bill Richardson, Madeleine Albright and Western leftists who either teach liberal arts classes on university campuses or who work as journalists for mass media outlets.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    You might have almost had something if you’d included George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, the Three Stooges who thought they could occupy and remake Iraq on the cheap. Doesn’t get any more naive than they were.

  14. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You, Cheney, Bolton, and Lieberman should take your hero selves over to Iran and straighten them right out.

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    IMO when you hear rumors of this sort it’s overwhelmingly likely that they’re for domestic political purposes and, rather than asking whether the rumors are for real, we should be asking what domestic political purpose do they serve now? When a real attack occurs we won’t have a round of saber-rattling and leaks. There will just be an attack.

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    IMO when you hear rumors of this sort it’s overwhelmingly likely that they’re for domestic political purposes

    I’m not sure that would be true in the US with the possible exception of the Republican primary race. With 75% approving of the Iraq withdrawal and 2/3s in favor of getting out of Afghanistan I find it hard to believe US voters would approve another war.

  17. @Tsar Nicholas:

    Neville Chamberlain

    Just to play devil’s advocate, I think Chamberlain gets a bum rap. That is, if the Churchill wing had their way and the UK had declared on German rather than concede the Munich Agreements, Germany would have won World War II.

    To suggest that the UK and France could have won the war at that point is to argue that the army that was incapable of defending France in 1940 or Poland in 1939 would somehow have been capable of defending the Czech Republic in 1938. Indeed, if you look at the general flow of the war, the Allies retreating on all fronts in order to build time for the US and the Soviet Union to rev up enough industrial capacity to overrun the Germans, stalling the beginning of the actual fighting for as long as possible was necessary to success.

    Had the war started two years earlier, the US would still have been firmly isolationist and the USSR would still have been secretly colluding with Germany. France and the UK would likely have both been crushed by the time either of those facts changed.

  18. anjin-san says:

    With Iraq just about over and an exit strategy for Afghanistan forming up, we need to do something to keep the order pipeline full for the military industrial complex.

  19. ponce says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate, I think Chamberlain gets a bum rap.

    And Chamberlain channeled the funds into Hurricane and Spitfire production so his country had the planes and pilots it needed to wing the Battle of Britain.

  20. Dave Schuler says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Not too many Americans approved of our actions in Libya and yet, somehow, they happened anyway.

  21. steve says:

    @Stormy- Good points on WWII, however, by my readings it is not clear if the Germans were far enough along in 1938 to sustain a real campaign. It should also be remembered that Chamberlain got standing ovations when he returned. No one wanted another war.


  22. @steve:

    Yes, but the UK and France would have had their own logistical disadvantages in that Germany was attacking a neighboring country, whereas the UK and France would have had had problems getting to the fighting to begin with. They can’t in through Italy and the USSR would probably not permit them to come through Poland (again remember the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov pact), so they would have had to go all the way around to Greece or Yugoslavia.

  23. Robert C. says:


    Why is it “obviosly bad”? Yes, yes…it is bad that any country has” nukes”. But if Israel didn’t have nukes, then would Iran even consider pursiung them?

  24. Robert C. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’ll bet Arab nations would rather Israel didn’t have any nuclear weapons more than they wish Iran didn’t have nuclear weapons.

  25. Rob in CT says:

    1. Fear of Iranian nuclear weapons is overblown, and primarily rests on the idea that the Iranian government is irrational. This is not to say that Iranian nukes would be a cause for celebration – no. Having nukes would allow the Iranians an even free-er hand with their proxy groups in the region, for one thing.

    2. What, in the end, are we to do about it? Bombing them might set them back, but at most it delays the inevitable. It also strengthens the repressive anti-US regime generally (and the most hardline especially).

    3. Foreverwar is no way to go through life, son.

    4. Britain needed time to ramp up its military, true. There was probably an early smack-down opportunity wrt the Third Reich, but it wasn’t in 1938. It was probably when they remilitarized the Rhineland (1936). Had Britain and France responded then, things might have gone very differently (if I recall correctly, the Wermacht had orders to retreat if opposed in any way).

  26. @Rob in CT:

    It was probably when they remilitarized the Rhineland (1936).

    The problem is that without the benefit hindsight, it’s hard to portray that particular move as threatening. We can’t invade a country every time someone moves troops around within their own borders in a way we don’t like, so it’s also not clear how this particular what-if provides guidance to future policy. Even in the specific, it would have looked like a massive overreaction given that France had provided Gemany the perfect excuse with it’s repeated violations of the Versaille Treaty caused by periodic military incursions into the Rhineland.

  27. @Stormy Dragon:

    We can’t invade a country every time someone moves troops around within their own borders in a way we don’t like, so it’s also not clear how this particular what-if provides guidance to future policy.

    As an example, Egypt has been moving military forces into the Sinai in violation of its treaty with Israel. If Israel right now invaded Egypt, would any of us argue they were doing the right thing?

  28. Rob in CT says:

    Invasion is obviously the ultimate response. The credible threat of war is one step down. There are various steps below that available before you get to “shrug your shoulders.”

    Israel has a legitimate beef there. My hope would be that they oppose Egyptian actions at some level below invasion and succeed in getting Egypt to get back to honoring the treaty. If, after trying less drastic measures, Israel is unable to get the Egyptians to comply, well hell, I’d be reluctantly supportive if they felt the need to use military force.

  29. mannning says:

    I firmly believe that Israel is preparing to strike Iran, and have believed so for several years. From Israel’s viewpoint, it is a matter of the survival of their nation and people. The only question is timing, and that is a hard one to answer. I also believe that the attack will encompass not just the nuke facilities, but all war-making capabilities of Iran, with the idea of seriously degrading the Iranian capability to retaliate for years to come. Israel has a number of useful weapons with which to accomplish this, including: 1) long-range missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads; 2) their version of the tomahawk cruise missile; the IAF with its F-15, F-16 aircraft fitted with conformal fuel tanks, and in-air refueling capabilities; 3) a submarine fleet armed with long-range cruise missiles, and 4) perhaps most serious of all, the EMP bomb and delivery systems.

    The EMP weapon would disable most of the electrical/electronic systems in Iran for a significant time period sufficient to allow the IAF to obliterate any nuclear facility and weapon system they can find, even using slow-flying C-130 aircraft with super-MOABs. I do not know whether Israel has been allowed to use our underground facilities to test their nuclear weapons or not, but it is a real possibility, however covert such a set of tests would have to be. I do believe that the EMP weapon is Israel’s ace in the hole. As to the opprobrium that Israel would receive worldwide for using a nuclear device, they would shrug it off as necessary to survive, and would point out, of course, that a similar caculus led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US.

    Since any strike is an act of war, especially one of such devastation as I suggest, it is an odds-on bet that Iran would declare war on Israel. The chances of Iran also including the US in that declaration are not small, either, which is what we should fear most. Their counters would be on a worldwide basis, and would probably consist of many bombings of US facilities. I have speculated before that Iran would retaliate against the US as well as Israel, thus dragging us into the conflict. The other possibility is an Israeli failure to achieve their objectives and their subsequent pleas for help to survive in the face of six or seven nations attacking them, perhaps even with Turkey now with their well-trained military. The list may include Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, with even a possibility of some Iraqi support.

    Any military man, when standing back and studying this situation, would conclude that we will not allow Israel to go under, and if there is a reasonably odds-on chance that their attack on Iran would spark a far wider Middle East war with their Islamic neighbors, and if the odds that we were included in the war by Iran were better than 50-50, then the US should join up with Israel up front and insure the success of totally neutralizing Iran’s military, and forewarning the other nations in the list that we will respond to their efforts as well with all the force we have. Most likely, the UK would see it that way and also join in the attack, and perhaps France as well. (Then too, there goes the national debt soaring to the sky in this cause!)

    Note that friend Obama would be forced to act in such a scenario, or else forget about reelection next year, and, even if the attack did not occur until 2013 or a bit later, the Democrats would be tagged as well, thus seriously jeopardizing their 2016 and later chances. Loss of Israel would be tagged forever to Obama and to the immoderate Democrats. On the other hand, given a Republican in the WH by 2013, it is fairly certain that Israel would be defended, and even more likely up front instead of waiting for the counters.

  30. Rob in CT says:


    The above is a perfect illustration of the insanity of the modern Right, particularly wrt Israel.

    Openly salivating over the prospect of a regional war in the middle east started by Israel, forcing the USA to come in on Israel’s side.

    My, what a patriot.

  31. @Rob in CT:

    manning’s icon always reminded me of Phil Hartman for some reason. His comments are much more entertaining if you imagine them being spoken aloud by Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

  32. mannning says:

    Oh how you wound me! LOL! Where did I say that I was “salivating for war”? Nowhere! War is a most unpleasant thing, as I know first hand, but perhaps you two haven’t a clue. What I was talking about was the inexorable conflict between Israel and Iran, the high probability that we would be drawn into any shooting by them, and what the most probable or effective reaction would be from us militarily. No salivation on the ground there!

    It takes those immoderate and pacifist Democrats and their followers (you two?) to interject literally anything to cover over the realities here, and the distasteful possibilities that we should be ready to cope with in the next year or two. And, since I touched on the Godlike Obama, and all of his cohorts too, with the blame, then it just must be a wrong viewpoint, EH? But, it is not. You don’t win points by shooting the messenger, although I would not put it past you.
    How does one spell ostrich?

  33. george says:

    I’d argue that a major war against Iran would be so destructive to our debt that the winner at the end of it all would be China, which would emerge (without firing a shot) as the world’s dominant economic power – and a decade later, probably the dominant military power, since that almost always comes with economic power.

    Basically, we can’t afford it – we’re like the spendthrifts who wasted all their money on a third TV and latest luxury car (Iraq War) rather than paying off the mortgage, and who now find themselves in danger of losing their home.