What Happens After Israel Attacks Iran

Public Debate Can Prevent a Strategic Disaster

This article is part of a Foreign Affairs package: The Iran Debate -- To Strike or Not to Strike? (lrargerich / flickr)

Since its birth in 1948, Israel has launched numerous preemptive military strikes against its foes. In 1981 and 2007, it destroyed the nuclear reactors of Iraq and Syria, operations that did not lead to war. But now, Israelis are discussing the possibility of another preemptive attack -- against Iran -- that might result in a wider conflict.

The public debate in Israel about whether Jerusalem should order a strike on Iran’s nuclear program is surprisingly frank. Politicians and policymakers often discuss the merits of an attack in public; over the past year, for example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have sparred regularly and openly with former Mossad director Meir Dagan, the most prominent opponent of an Israeli operation. But much of the conversation is focused on whether Israel should strike, not on what might happen if it does -- in other words, the result on the “day after.”

Indeed, the analysis in Israel about the possible effects of a bombing campaign against Iran is limited to a small, professional elite, mostly in government and behind closed doors. This intimate circle that does consider scenarios of the “day after” concentrates almost exclusively on what an Iranian response, direct or through proxies, might look like. This is not surprising, given that Israel must worry first and foremost about the immediate military implications of an Iranian counterattack. But in

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