Monday, July 2, 2012

Likely Reprisal Scenarios

In an article in National Review foreign policy expert Daniel Pipes discusses the work of a pair of analysts named Michael Eisenstadt and Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy. Eisenstadt and Knights have produced an assessment of the likely responses by Iran to an Israeli attack on their nuclear program. Here's a list of what they consider to be possible Iranian reprisals with a note on their likelihood. More detail on these is provided in the article:
  1. Terrorist attacks on Israeli, Jewish, and U.S. targets. Likely, but causing limited destruction.
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens, especially in Iraq. Likely, but limited in impact, as in the 1980s in Lebanon.
  3. Attacks on Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very likely, especially via proxies, but causing limited destruction.
  4. Missile strikes on Israel. Likely: a few missiles from Iran getting through Israeli defenses, leading to casualties likely in the low hundreds; missiles from Hezbollah limited in number due to domestic Lebanese considerations. Unlikely: Hamas getting involved, having distanced itself from Tehran; the Syrian government interfering, since it is battling for its life against an ever-stronger opposition army and possibly the Turkish armed forces. Overall, missile attacks are unlikely to do devastating damage.
  5. Attacks on neighboring states. Likely: especially using terrorist proxies, for the sake of deniability. Unlikely: missile strikes, for Tehran does not want to make more enemies.
  6. Clashes with the U.S. Navy. Likely, but, given the balance of power, doing limited damage.
  7. Covertly mining the Strait of Hormuz. Likely, causing a run-up in energy prices.
  8. Attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz. Unlikely: difficult to achieve and potentially too damaging to Iranian interests, because the country needs the strait for commerce.
There's more on this analysis at the link. Pipes concludes with this:
In all, these dangers are unpleasant but not cataclysmic, manageable not devastating. Eisenstadt and Knights expect a short phase of high-intensity Iranian response, to be followed by a “protracted low-intensity conflict that could last for months or even years” — much as already exists between Iran and Israel. An Israeli preventive strike, they conclude, while a “high-risk endeavor carrying a potential for escalation in the Levant or the Gulf . . . would not be the apocalyptic event some foresee.”

This analysis makes a convincing case that the danger of nuclear weapons falling into Iranian hands far exceeds the danger of a military strike to prevent this from happening.
No doubt Israel has conducted similar analyses. Whether they've drawn similar conclusions is hard to say, but we'll probably know by January.