What Happens After (If) Israel Attacks Iran?
And how that discussion is impoverished
If Israel launches military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, what happens next? The New York Times takeaway today is to quote a former Israeli official: “1991 plus 2006 plus Buenos Aires times 3 or 5.” That is, missiles aimed at Israel from Iran and from Lebanon, and attacks like that on the Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994. Attacks on U.S. interests would be more modified and likely wouldn’t be anything so dire that it would prompt massive U.S. retaliation. Still, the United States has quietly beefed up its presence near the Strait of Hormuz so that it is ready to act if Iran seeks to close the crucial energy byway—an American red line.
At the same time, in the heat of a crisis, anything could happen, which is why some U.S. military strategists are worried that even an Israeli attack privately opposed by the U.S. could nonetheless draw the U.S. into a subsequent conflict. (Although, no, Iranian rockets won’t hit the East Coast.)
Ehud Eiran has a great article that takes stock of much of this but then notes that it’s actually a rather narrow conversation we’re having, one largely in the realm of military/paramilitary/terrorist actions. What about the impact on U.S.-Israel relations? Israel’s relations with other countries? How will the Israeli public respond? What about energy markets? If Iran were on the verge of obtaining a workable nuclear weapon, you could argue that these concerns are simply trumped, but not even Israelis suggest that’s true—they suggest, rather, that the “zone of immunity” is nigh, an assertion belied by reports that U.S. bunker-busters are capable of getting even to Iran’s fortified underground facilities.
“There is a gap in Israel’s debate about Iran,” Eiran argues. He goes on, and I’d add that the same is largely true of American discourse as well:
Although Israeli experts focus heavily on the immediate implications of the “day after,” they neglect, with a few exceptions, the broader repercussions of an attack. …
A lack of open discussion leaves the Israel Defense Forces as the primary source of information and analysis on a strike. The IDF, given its narrow focus on the military aspects of an attack, may fail to fully consider its potential political and diplomatic impact. A more public debate might strengthen those in the bureaucracy who are urging the Israeli government to weigh those other factors as carefully as the military planning. The elevation of those voices could then prevent Israeli leaders from operating on the basis of limited information and faulty assumptions. If history is any guide, Israeli policymakers could benefit from such an expansion of the conversation. Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 began with a war plan that the public had not vetted. The operation ended after overwhelming pressure from civil society, a process that took nearly two decades.
U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes [NYT]
U.S. Bulks Up Iran Defenses [WSJ]
Israeli Attack on Iran Might Pull U.S. Into New War [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]
Calm Down. Iranian Rockets Can’t (and Won’t) Hit the East Coast. [Wired]
What Happens After Israel Attacks Iran [Foreign Affairs]