Israeli leaders and officials may be giving careful consideration to the possibility of launching a strike against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the more they consider it, the more they are forced to think again.
Why? After all, an Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons poses a clear existential threat to Israel and, given its ideological and even theological fervour, it’s not unreasonable to believe the regime might decide to follow up on its oft-declared suggestion of wiping Israel off the map. Indeed, it’s almost certain Iran will, given an opportunity, seek to destroy Israel, expel Western influence from the region and become a regional hegemon (or at least at the eastern end of the Middle East around the oil-rich Persian Gulf). Indeed, this process is well underway, with Iranian influence extending into Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and parts of Afghanistan. In addition, Iran can also count on allies including Syria and perhaps even an increasingly pro-Islamist Turkish government.
Faith in its advancing forces, a belief that the West is weak and in retreat and the strong expectation that God is on its side—it’s a potent mix.
But even if it did secure nuclear weapons, how would it proceed? Its fanatical, bellicose language undoubtedly raises the possibility of Iran’s government firing nuclear-tipped missiles at Israel or handing over nuclear weapons and know-how to terrorist groups.
Yet Iran’s regime has another option, and one that seems more likely: to wage a long and varied campaign to intimidate or subvert neighbours as it looks to build an empire and exploit Arab weakness and Western uncertainty. Of course, Israel would still be destroyed in the process, but the Iranian regime could see this as a welcome by-product rather than a dedicated plan.
At present, Israeli analysts believe this second approach is more likely. If they’re right, the result will likely be a decades-long situation comparable with the Cold War, with Iran using its nuclear weapons as a defensive ‘umbrella’ to deter others from doing anything about its aggressive strategy.
So is Iran seeking to possess but not fire nuclear weapons? No one can be sure. But the fact is that with Iran still a few years away from acquiring nuclear weapons, giving Israel and other nations vital time to prepare a response, there’s simply no need to rush into an attack.
Of course, if Israel could hit and effectively destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, obtain strong international support for doing so, ensure that Iran can’t build nuclear weapons for decades and be faced with little prospect of retaliation, then launching such an attack would still be an attractive option.
This, of course, isn’t the case.