I recently posted a link to an article in a LinkedIn group that I am apart of. The story was about high-level ex-CIA and Mossad agents predicting a forthcoming Israeli attack on Iran.
A group member commented on the story, asking what I thought Iran’s response would be to such an attack. My answer was so substantial and long-winded that I decided to post it here.
These well-informed opinions aside, an Israeli attack on Iran is far from a given. The repercussions in the region could be catastrophic and I’m not sure Israel is willing to take on that level of risk, especially with the United States reducing its presence in the region. Israel has a hard enough time accepting that the Bashar Assad regime might fall.
In addition, a retaliation from Iran is not a given. The precedent for this is Israel’s bombing of a suspected nuclear facility in Syria back in 2007. Israel never mentioned it in the press and Syria never retaliated. The whole thing kind of just went away.
However, the odds of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities “just going away” are slim. There has just been too much high-profile hostile rhetoric between the two nations for it to happen and blow over without a response. It would be awkward.
But your question was about the response. Iran couldn’t let it pass without some sort of response, if symbolic, in order to maintain some credibility. It’s hard to imagine Iran doing the same to Israel, as Israeli air defenses are very strong. Sea and land attacks are out too.
One choice could be a large-scale rocket attack from Iran on Israel, but this would be unpredictable (hard to pinpoint exactly where the rockets will hit from that range) and would invite a massive retaliation from Israel, possibly drawing in the United States.
That leaves proxies, namely Hizballah and Hamas. The question then is whether either group would be willing to strike Israel for the sake of the Islamic Republic.
For Hamas, the answer is almost certainly no. Hamas isn’t going to risk its political position in Palestine to aid Iran, which is both Shiite and Persian. Two strikes.
Hizballah, on the other hand, might be willing. Nasrallah has repeatedly declared his allegiance to the Supreme Leader, but the consequences of dragging Lebanon into another war would severely damage the group for decades to come.
However, Hizballah has been receiving over a $100 million per year in assistance from Iran for some time now. For Iran, Hizballah represents an insurance policy against an attack from Israel. If Israel does strike Iranian nuclear facilities, you’d better believe Iran will be knocking on Hizballah’s door to collect.
Iran’s options in retaliation are limited, but it’s far from clear that Israel will attack in the first place. Cyber attacks like 2010’s Stuxnet virus have proven to be very effective without the risks of open war.
So I guess the answer is that Iran will do the most it possibly can, short of inviting a massive re-retaliation from Israel and short of drawing in the United States. In other words, Iran will do the most they perceive that can get away with without inviting an existential threat to the regime.
This raises the questions of what level of retaliation from Iran would Israel be willing to accept, and how close Iran is in its estimates of what that level is. Any misjudgment on either side could result in a rapid escalation.
Personally, I think Israel will forgo an attack on Iran and just stick to creating viruses and assassination top Iranian scientists. No one- not the US, not Israel, not Hizballah, not Hamas, and not Iran- wants this.
The exception might be the Saudis, who would love to see Iran’s clock turned back a few years.
That’s my two cents. What do you think?