An Israeli strike on Iran could change this latent capability into an active weaponization program. Iran’s response would likely include the expulsion of IAEA inspectors and a break-neck race to the bomb – not to mention the possibility of a region-wide conflagration and sky-high gas prices.
An Israeli strike would also have a “rally-around-the-flag” effect on the Iranian populace, allowing the regime to crack down further on political opponents and silence critics, cementing the regime’s authority.
Recent analysis shows that a previous Israeli strike – in 1981, on Iraq’s civilian Osirak nuclear reactor complex – led Saddam Hussein to demand a nuclear deterrent and was actually the trigger for Iraq launching a full-scale effort to weaponize. A decade later, by the time of the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability.
As researcher Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer explains in a recent International Security article, such ostensibly “preventive attacks can increase the long-term proliferation risk posed by the targeted state.”
Her research suggests that the conventional wisdom that Israel’s 1981 attack on Osirak denied Iraq a nuclear weapons capability no longer holds up: The strike actually created unprecedented pressure inside the Iraqi national security apparatus to pursue the bomb more vigorously than ever.
It is clear that senior echelons of the Israeli national security establishment understand this dynamic perfectly and are firmly against any strike on Iran.
For instance, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy recently told Haaretz: “[W]hat I recommend is trying to calm the Iranian-Israeli conflict and not escalate it.”
He continues: “It is possible that, in the end, we will have no choice and will be forced to attack.....But before venturing on such an extreme and dangerous action, I suggest making a supreme effort to avoid it. We must not hem the Iranians in and we must not push them into a corner. We have to try to give them an honorable way out. It’s always worth remembering that the greatest victory in war is the victory that is achieved without firing a shot.”