Will this be the year that Israel goes to war with Iran?

By Daniel Serwer
January 3, 2013

Israel did not bomb Iran last year. Why should it happen this year?

Because it did not happen last year. The Iranians are proceeding apace with their nuclear program. The Americans are determined to stop them. Sanctions are biting, but the diplomatic process produced nothing visible in 2012. Knowledgeable observers believe there is no “zone of possible agreement.” Both the United States and Iran may believe that they have viable alternatives to a negotiated agreement.

While Israel has signaled that its “red line” (no nuclear weapons capability) won’t be reached before mid-2013, it seems likely it will be reached before the end of the year. President Barack Obama has refused to specify his red line, but he has made it amply clear that he prefers intensified sanctions and eventual military action to a nuclear Iran that needs to be contained and provides incentives for other countries to go nuclear. If and when he takes the decision for war, there is little doubt about a bipartisan majority in Congress supporting the effort.

Still, attitudes on the subject have shifted in the past year. Some have concluded that the consequences of war with Iran are so bad and uncertain that every attempt should be made to avoid it. Most have also concluded that Israel could do relatively little damage to the Iranian nuclear program. It might even be counter-productive, as the Iranians would redouble their efforts. The military responsibility lies with President Obama.

There has been a recent flurry of hope that the Iranians are preparing to come clean on their past nuclear weapons activities, which could be a prelude to progress on the diplomatic track. The issue is allegedly one of timing and sequencing: the Iranians want sanctions relief up front. The Americans want to see enrichment to 20 percent stopped and the enriched material shipped out of the country, as well as a full accounting for past activities, before considering any but minor sanctions relief. Some would also like to see dismantling of the hardened enrichment plant at Fordow.

But the fundamental issue is whether Iran is prepared to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions, or whether it is determined to forge ahead. Iranian behavior in the last year suggests no let-up in the country’s regional (and wider) pretensions. It has supported Bashar al-Assad to the hilt in Syria, armed Hamas for its confrontation with Israel, continued to support Hezbollah in Lebanon, assisted North Korea’s ballistic missile satellite launch and made trouble in Iraq. Why would it not also seek nuclear weapons, which would make it immune (or so many in the Iranian regime seem to think) from American regime change efforts?

There are not a lot of good answers to that question, except this: a reasonable man in Tehran might well conclude that Iranian national security is better served by stopping the nuclear program before it actually produces weapons. Once Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the United States will target it. Israel will launch on warning. This hair trigger situation will be more perilous than the nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, when each side assumed the rationality of the other and communications between them were good. Neither Iran nor Israel assumes the other will behave rationally, making deterrence unreliable, and communications between the two governments are virtually non-existent. The distance between Tehran and Jerusalem makes quick decisions necessary.

Two big political uncertainties loom over the nuclear issue next year: Iran is scheduled to hold presidential elections in June and the Supreme Leader is thought to be ill. The identity of neither Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s successor as president nor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s as Supreme Leader is clear. While it may be too much to hope that the successors will be any better than the incumbents, any transition introduces diplomatic delays and uncertainties, even though the nuclear program should be expected to proceed. But will the transitions be orderly, or will the Greens who roiled Iran’s political sphere last time around revive? Iran’s regime has deep roots in revolutionary fervor, which has made it more resilient than Egypt’s. But that does not mean it will last forever.

There is still a slim hope for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. The prospects are not good, but the consequences of failure are dreadful. The Obama Administration has managed to avoid overt commentary on Iran in the last couple of months. Candidate Romney was cautious during the campaign. The door is clearly open to the Iranians, if they want to come in from the cold of sanctions and isolation. If they fail to do so, and continue to buck the international community, war in 2013 is likely. Not because it is a good solution, but because President Obama might regard it as the only solution, albeit a temporary and highly uncertain one.

PHOTO: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a media conference at Iran’s embassy after he attended the Developing-8 summit in Islamabad November 22, 2012. Israel has a “childish” desire to attack Iran and Tehran is capable of defending itself, Ahmedinejad said on Thursday. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

19 comments

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Enough of this. Israel is the biggest threat to the western world. They are the ones with hundreds of nukes. They are the ones who have invaded their neighbors. They are the ones who are blackmailing the rest of the world by stating that they will destroy the cities of Europe themselves if they are destroyed (the so called ‘Samson Option’). Israel is the ones caught spying on America. Their companies steal American copyrights. They maintain an appartheid state. If anyone needs to be sanctioned it is the rogue state of Israel.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive

Iran will develop a nuclear capability and will do so without attack by the US or Israel. An attack on Iran by either the US or Israel would quickly lead to a larger Middle East crisis and perhaps broaden to include Russia, Turkey, and other regional players.

Posted by bald1 | Report as abusive

I hate to say it, but every Jewish commentator and writer (including Daniel Serwer) promotes a war with Iran. They were also the biggest promoters of war with Iraq, Afganistan, Libya, and even now Syria. Why dont they launch the war themselves.

As for Iran, got to war. If you think it will solve the problem, then do it. Hahahahahaha!!!!!!

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

There were a number of “a reasonable men” who concluded “that national security is better served by stopping the nuclear program before it actually produces weapons”, hey, just ask Saddam and Muammar.
Or better remember that Kim Jong Il died in his own bed without “humanitarian bombings” of his country, unlike these two supposedly smart leaders.

And what about Isael itself? With stolen american nuclear materials and domestic production, it does have capability to build nuclear weapons, whose existence their gov’t neither confirm nor deny (but they do kidnap and imprison whistleblowers like Mordechai Vanunu while refusing to participate in NPT).

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

it is not time for Israel to make a move. The Bible says that Israel will sign a peace accord with the Islamist worlds to have peace even giving up their land to have peace. No Israel will not attack Iran. Iran on the other hand will with other Islamist attack Israel and God will kill those who have attacked Israel. All this is at least 3 yrs after the peace accord is signed between Israel and Islamist…

Posted by jodin | Report as abusive

The Jews want peace, and have wanted peace for 2000 years. We lived unarmed in ghettoes created by your forefathers in Europe for all that time and were slaughtered, raped, and oppressed. It was better in Muslim lands- but not by much. There were still pogroms and we were at best second class citizens. You call us warlike, which is projection. Christians and Muslims armies have fought for centuries, while we huddled in our ghettos and prayed. Here’s an idea- leave us alone for ONCE, and see how much violence there is. The only difference between a pogrom and a suicide attack is now we have F-16s.

Posted by DovBaer | Report as abusive

The anti-Semites are obviously in full force on this thread. As an Iranian-American I understand the threats posed to humanity by this regime. I spent over 8-months in Iran in 2010 and still have over 90% of my family in Iran. I only urge the Israelis and the Americans to not focus solely on the nuclear sites but the regime itself. The threats posed to humanity by this regime will only get exponentially worse until we support the Iranian people in regime change and secular democracy. This is an imperialist apocalyptic regime occupying Iran. If history has taught us one thing, it is that to take the ideology of evil madmen seriously.

Posted by Sassan31 | Report as abusive

To me, and I don’t imagine I am very alone, this is a despicable article from an evidently incredibly self-righteous man, filled with unjustified assumptions, or from a crazy person.

I don’t expect you, Serwer, to change any time soon, but please take into account that there are lots of people who are going to be furious at the war-mongers, if we have another unjustified, liar-promoted, war. Israel is the problem, not Iran, and this is being increasingly recognized throughout the world, even in the USA.

As a toe-the-party-line psychiatrist friend confided to me a couple of months ago: We have a problem with Israel. This is middle American talking.

peacefare.net: give me a break!

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

@Sassan31:

You don’t sound like any Iranian I’ve talked to, not Iranians living in the US or native Iranians. Some of them don’t like Ahmadinejad, but none of them had the “imperialist apocalyptic regime occupying Iran” story.

And, how does the “anti-Semites” issue come into your post. You sound like an imposter to me.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

If the US has some credibility left in the eyes of the world, it will be lost if they let themselves into the conflict.

It is incredible how Israel can manipulate the US, and it is humiliating for the vast majority of US citizens to be used this way.

US military has stated in the past that they can live with nuclear Iran, as they could live with the USSR.

Nuclear Iran is not a pleasant idea for anybody. But neither is nuclear Israel, Pakistan, India etc.

Iran has the tacit support of all people who abhore the god-given rights of Israel and US to manipulate the world, and to decide who is a bad guy and who is the good guy.

Posted by aussie66 | Report as abusive

@Sassan31: your comment about “anti-Semites” is ridiculous and uninformed. Thinking that present day Israel has become a nation of arrogant idealists does NOT mean that we are anti-Semite. We just want Israel to take a reasonable approach to its neighbors, not one of arrogance and chest pounding. It is not Semitism that one should be against but, rather, arrogant acts that detract from a lasting peace in the Middle East. The Israeli government has become just as arrogant and dangerous as the government of Iran. The only difference, at this point, between the two countries is their religions.

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive

I see a lot of invested responses. But I have not seen one mention of the fact that this Iranian regime has openly said they want to wipe Israel out. How can that be ignored when they seek nuclear weapons? No other nation that I know of that has them has made any such statement. It’s not a matter of world manipulation, nor yet another mindless conflict, it’s a matter of averting a genocide. Wouldn’t you seek to keep your people from extinction? I do not know if the Iranian regime has popular support, or not. But since they cannot, or will not put sensible people in power, people that can be negotiated with, then that regime must be removed or the entire world will be victimized in the same way as WWII.

Posted by SpiranX | Report as abusive

The Hezboallah & Gaza terror crew rains small and medium caliber artillery on civilian targets in Israel, according to the uninformed, is ok. If Israel fights back then they are US supported bullies and terrorists, and an apartheid rogue state. I guess everyone awaits when these Arab/Persian backed terror groups launch an Iranian made nuclear weapon and harm millions in Israel. It’s very disturbing to see all these people here rooting for this to happen. All this energy would be served better if they questioned the governments that focus on creating such tragedies rather than helping their people live better lives.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

The author of the article is too innocent. He is unaware these points on the consequences of an attack on Iran a) The American, European, Chinese, Indian, (including the author) man on the street will pay $15 for a gallon of gasoline. No end in sight for lowering in prices. Chaos all over the world. Strategic reserves wont help. President of the United States will be overthrown. Alternatively the President might seize power and declare himself as a military dictator (no this is not a fantasy, it will happen) b) A million Osama bin Ladens will spawn from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Saudi and other countries and the Americans will spend the rest of their careers defending themselves/ fighting against these guys which will be futile. c) The people of Egypt will close the Suez canal. (the “western allies” will not force open the Suez. America will be helpless because China will have expansion program in the Pacific. California has to be defended). Europe will choke due to the Suez closure. Taking a cue from a closed Suez canal, Russia (near monopoly supplier) will hike the price of natural gas exports to Europe by 10 times. Europe will be dead. Russia will invade Europe. d) Iran’s retaliation will be terrible. Besides firing missiles on petroleum assets in the ME, it could down hundreds of enemy passenger civilian airliners in the ME. Even today daily there are over 30 American passenger airliners passing over its airspace. And America has already set the ball rolling in 1988. e) Regarding viability of Israel, you judge.

Any talk of war with Iran is A BIG BIG UNASHAMED BLUFF, HUMBUG. It is only promoted by armchair journalists, fraudsters, conmasters, some politicians. Not by the western military. There will be no war with Iran even in the future. Even if Iran develops the bombs. Iran might already have the bombs – from next door Pakistan. Which is why there THERE IS NO ATTACK EVEN TODAY. The world is too much entwined in trade and technology, smaller countries like Iran are not afraid of “world powers” anymore.

Posted by Dhirajkunar | Report as abusive

@SpiranX

On the off-chance you are still looking at this page:

Re: “Wipe Israel off the map”

Check wikipedia: Ahmadinejad, Israel

You will be able to discern that the “Wipe Israel off the map” is a big lie. Given that you see that, then remember how much has been built on that lie, and you will see that the anti-Iran BS is a house of cards.

The genocide you are talking about could well be the Iranian people.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

@SpiranX

Also, I meant to add: the reason there is not mention of the “wipe Israel off the map” idea, is because most writers now know that that was a lie.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

It recalls me a fun: a lean and thin man was quarreling with a strong guy, and after a while he was asking the surrounding people to stop him-otherwise he would beat the strong guy heavily. If Israel has that might why does it continue to declare air attack year after year? Because, Israel is smart enough to understand the consequence. USA has already burnt its 10 fingers to fight Iraq & Afghanistan, keeping none to be burnt more. So, the year 2013 will pass without any air-attack on Iran by Israel. The chaired western journalists will not stop analyzing how Iran is going to repent, bla..bla..bla.

Posted by Devid | Report as abusive

It’s the most delayed and annoying war. Nobody is happy, and everyone is stuck with trying to make Americas economy look good, and measure that from other parts of the world. It sucks. “If they do it will cost this much, or that much”. I didn’t know money and authority and European countries was a way to escape your own country and war? It’s not the money – it’s America, Europe and the Authority that is letting people have babies and grow up and make laws and escape their own war or making of their own country. Iran is supposed to have a strong military by now; not authority kiss ass, right hand bullshitters who act like women are fine with cheap prices, and those who don’t don’t need war anyway.

The world is overpopulated and it needs to be pleasant to live. Iran spreading themselves around in the name of money and authority makes it slow and boring. Imagine being some Iranian born in a Nordic country and just knowing money. There is enough hospitals and all that stuff they used to stay alive, they bother people, and they need to die in war and make a better country of Iran. I don’t wanna live off of other countries and their beliefs and families and people and thoughts!!!!! I don’t wanna let people take control over me for whatever reason they find in the delayed war with Iran and their manipulative families in America.

Posted by Tetetete | Report as abusive

The Iranian man lives off of his soul and it’s lived for too long. He has no work credentials outside of law and moral strictness, and using wealth and religion. His instincts goes towards what hurts the most, and then he eases on you. He sleeps with poor people, or hard working people to show off to his Iranian wife who celebrates the past Persia and the hospital industries. Why is this not a reason for war? Who wants them alive? Seriously. I hate them with my every breath for taking a large portion of women’s freedom to create a barrier or threat against women so hard working people can laugh, because their women are supposed “meaner”. It’s not right.

Posted by Tetetete | Report as abusive

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