Israel Ups Iran Ante, But Is It Bluff?

Heightened Tension May Be Effort To Leverage U.S. Election

Escalating Tension: Benjamin Netanyahu may think he has leverage over the White House in the months leading up to the U.S. election.
getty images
Escalating Tension: Benjamin Netanyahu may think he has leverage over the White House in the months leading up to the U.S. election.

By Trita Parsi

Published August 16, 2012, issue of August 24, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Instead of responding militarily, Iran would take the matter to the United Nations and demand sanctions against Israel for taking illegal military action. A veto by the United States would prevent any meaningful punishment of Israel, but international sympathy would shift toward Iran. Tehran would then threaten to leave the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons and expel all inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. This would completely blind the world to any insight on the Iranian nuclear program and provide Tehran with a legal path to a nuclear bomb.

To prevent such a nightmare scenario, incentives would be offered to Tehran to remain within the NPT, including the lifting of sanctions. The international consensus around sanctioning Iran would unravel, and Tehran would find an exit from its current isolation.

Moreover, the regime would find a pretext to clamp down further on the indigenous pro-democracy movement and fortify its own grip on power. The higher oil prices following the attack would enrich Tehran’s coffers, and the focus of the Arab street would shift away from Iran’s losing proposition on Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s butchering of his own people and back to the more usual focus on Israel as the common enemy of the Muslim people. Iran’s narrative on Syria — that the uprising there is an Israeli ploy aimed at weakening the “arc of resistance” — would likely find new buyers in the Arab world.

And perhaps most important, Iran exiting the NPT would also be a reliable indication that the debate in Tehran has shifted toward building a weapon rather than just pursuing the option of building the weapon. The attack, in short, would increase the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

If the Israeli attack is successful, however, meaning that it sets back the nuclear program significantly, and if the civilian casualties are high, then the likelihood of an Iranian military response will be more significant. How Tehran will respond, however, remains a question mark.

But we do know, with a certain confidence, a few elements of Iran’s strategy. First, Tehran will likely utilize its comparative advantage in stamina and perseverance. Israel, as a modern open society, is believed to be incapable of handling a military conflict on its own soil for long. The attack on Lebanon in 2006 is a case in point. Hezbollah’s rocket attacks put the Israeli economy at a standstill with one-third of the Israeli population being internally displaced. After 34 days, Israel called it quits. By failing to defeat Hezbollah, the Lebanese had scored a major victory against the much superior Israeli army. Compare this with Iran’s ability to sustain eight years of warfare against Iraq in the 1980s, six of which took place on Iranian soil, with Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against both Iranian civilians and military.

Second, Iran’s main takeaway from the war with Iraq is never to fight another war within its borders. As a result, at the earliest stage of the next war, Tehran is likely to expand the war theater to include the entire region — and beyond. The more that the war is fought throughout the region, the less it will take place in Iran itself, and the longer Iran will persevere.

The consequences of whichever option Iran pursues are difficult to predict. Consequently, the Israeli cost-benefit analysis of an actual attack is far murkier than the calculus of continued threats.

Whereas threatening military action has provided Netanyahu with a no-lose strategy, actually implementing the threat can put Israel in a no-win situation.

Perhaps Netanyahu is crying wolf, after all.

Trita Parsi is the founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.