Is Israel planning to attack Iran?

The Israeli press seem to think that an attack on Iran’s nuclear program is imminent. The front page of Ha’aretz is filled with pictures of jets and missiles. Israel just tested a missile capable of hitting Iran.

Israel has no common border with Iran and so Israeli jets would have to fly over Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Turkey. However much the House of Saud may wish to see an attack on Iran take place, allowing Israel to fly through Saudi airspace would delegitimize the regime in the eyes of its people. Turkey has a much larger and more capable air force and would likely shoot the Israeli planes down. So any attack on Tehran is almost certain to take the route over Syria and Iraq.

As the occupying force, the US would have faced a catastrophe had they permitted Israel to attack during the occupation. Netanyahu may believe that the US withdrawal from Iraq and in particular the return of Iraqi airspace to government control gives them more scope for independent action.

If there is an attack, Ahmedinejad will almost certainly emerge as the winner. His ambition to build a bomb and become a declared nuclear power is clear, whether the Supreme Leader and the clerics would allow him to do so is less clear. The clerics maintain their influence in the Iranian regime through ambiguity. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon there can be no ambiguity as to who is in control of it.

Israel can only bomb the uranium production facilities that it knows about. It is highly unlikely that the uranium produced to date will be stored in the same place. Israel can destroy the Bushehr civilian reactor but not prevent Iran constructing a fast breeder pile for producing plutonium. The difficulty of constructing a nuclear reactor for military purposes can be judged from the fact that Fermi’s grad students built one in a rackets court.

Ahmedinejad would use the attack as an excuse to exercise Iran’s right to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and then perform a nuclear test as soon as possible afterward. All internal opposition to the program would be quashed, including from the clerics.

More seriously, Ahmedinejad would use the attack to paint the pro-democracy demonstrators as tools of the Zionists and murder more of his opponents than he has done so to date.

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