An Israeli preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is fraught with immediate and long-term ramifications.
A successful strike, which is likely to involve hundreds of Israeli aircraft flying more than a thousand miles and back, much of it through Arab air space, might, if all went well, set the Iranian program back two years. Much could go wrong.
In the best-case scenario, the destruction of their nuclear program would demoralize the Iranians and convince them that any effort to rebuild it would be met with a similarly punishing blow.
But who understands the Iranian leaders well enough to confidently say that, armed with irrefutable proof of their vulnerability without nuclear weapons, they won’t respond by doubling down on their determination to produce nuclear weapons?
And who understands internal Iranian politics well enough to say whether the effects of such a strike would spur Iranians to demand the ayatollahs’ ouster, or rather cause Iranians to rally around the hardliners?
Even in the event of a successful strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israelis must prepare for a daunting military response from Tehran and its proxies, as well as denunciation and possible economic sanctions from nations around the world.
In the short term, Israelis can expect that Iran will fire ballistic missiles—Israel is well within range of Iran’s Shahab-3 MRBMs—at the greater Tel Aviv area, the largest population center in Israel and its commercial and cultural heart.
In addition, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon—with approximately 120,000 rockets and missiles, and capabilities of striking targets throughout Israel—is likely to launch a massive barrage on Haifa, Tel Aviv, and other urban centers, while targeting physical infrastructure and military bases throughout Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza may join in.
Israel’s sophisticated air defenses and substantial offensive capabilities are unlikely to prevent hundreds if not thousands of deaths in Haifa and Tel Aviv, substantial damage to vital highways, the closing down of Ben Gurion International Airport, and perhaps the closing of the Haifa and Ashdod ports.
Furthermore, the international community will heap opprobrium on Israel. Regardless of how solid are its claims to be acting in self-defense, nations around the world will accuse Israel of flagrant violation of the international laws of war. While leaders in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Jordan, and Egypt will rejoice in private at Israel’s daring deed, they will do little to quell the worldwide denunciation of Israel.
If an Israeli strike takes place before Inauguration Day, January 2017, the United States certainly will do little as well.