In this week’s Weekly Standard, Peter Berkowitz attempts to answer an often-unasked question about an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program: what would such a strike look like? Berkowitz spoke to high-ranking Israeli policy analysts, and he reports that it’s still undecided whether an attack would be carried out by Israeli Air Force bombers or land-based Jericho missiles. But in either case, he says, the targets would almost certainly be Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the Esfahan nuclear research center and uranium conversion facility, and the Arak heavy water plant and future plutonium production reactors—what are termed the “three critical nodes in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.” And in either case there is no guarantee of success.
Berkowitz also sketches possible regional consequences of a preemptive strike. Iran could order Hezbollah to attack Israel. It could encourage independent terrorist groups to go after synagogues or other Jewish sites in Europe. It might disrupt Persian Gulf shipping lines. And it could cause further chaos among Shiites in Iraq. He rejects the notion that the recent Iranian elections and their brutal aftermath might affect Israel’s calculus: Could the recent spectacle of brave Iranian dissidents taking on the Khamenei regime actually embolden an Israeli effort to forestall an atomic theocracy?
It’s been an interesting recent news cycle for these what-ifs. Vice President Joe Biden told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the United States “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do,” a comment many interpreted to be a green-light to Israeli preemption. And although today’s Jerusalem Post leads with a story explaining that President Barack Obama in no way supports or condones an attack, that’s a minor footnote compared to what Eli Lake at the Washington Times has uncovered: that Netanyahu hasn’t even asked the president’s permission.
Israel would ideally like Washington’s consent to attack because it would like access to Iraqi airspace, which affords the fastest flight-path to Iran and which the U.S. still controls. But its bombers can also reach their targets via less direct routes, like over Saudi Arabia, which the London Times reported last week has told Israeli officials it wouldn’t object to flyovers. Remember that George W. Bush nixed Ehud Barak’s plan to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites in 2008. If Netanyahu never asks permission, Obama can never say no.