James Forsyth

Officials: Better than 50 percent chance that Israel will strike Iran next year

Officials: Better than 50 percent chance that Israel will strike Iran next year
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The Iran issue has dropped down the news agenda in recent months. But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. Even with the difficulties that Iran’s nuclear programme has faced, any decision on whether to try to use force to stop Iran becoming a nuclear-ready power will have to be taken in the next year or so as Jeffrey Goldberg’s brilliantly reported cover piece in the Atlantic reminds us.

Goldberg writes, “I have interviewed roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers about a military strike, as well as many American and Arab officials. In most of these interviews, I have asked a simple question: what is the percentage chance that Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear program in the near future? Not everyone would answer this question, but a consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July. (Of course, it is in the Israeli interest to let it be known that the country is considering military action, if for no other reason than to concentrate the attention of the Obama administration. But I tested the consensus by speaking to multiple sources both in and out of government, and of different political parties. Citing the extraordinary sensitivity of the subject, most spoke only reluctantly, and on condition of anonymity. They were not part of some public-relations campaign.) The reasoning offered by Israeli decision makers was uncomplicated: Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability (often understood to be the capacity to assemble more than one missile-ready nuclear device within about three months of deciding to do so).”

Obviously, there is a hugely complex set of calculations involved here. Making the Iran leadership believe that it might be bombed if it persists with its nuclear programme is, obviously, in the West’s interests. But as Goldberg makes clear, the current Israeli leadership really are—and for very understandable reasons—convinced that the one thing worse than bombing Iran is a nuclear Iran.

In terms of the UK, it is very hard to predict how the coalition would react to an Israeli strike on Iran. The Lib Dems would certainly be hostile to it and I suspect Cameron would be as well. But I can think of six Conservative members of the Cabinet whose political beliefs would lead them to have considerable sympathy with a strike if Iran continues its nuclear programme despite increasingly tough sanctions.

PS One particularly interesting aspect of the article is the influence of Netanyahu’s 100 year-old father on him.