How Iran might respond to an Israeli strike
Fareed Zakaria, CNN April 26th, 2012 http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn....sraeli-strike/
Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.
Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reportedly said yesterday that he did not believe Iran would decide to build an atomic bomb. Officials in Tehran argue that Israel will not launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities due to its fear of retaliation. While the Iranian regime tends to exaggerate its military capabilities, it has a number of options that, in a worst-case scenario, would broaden an Iranian-Israeli conflict into a global campaign against Israel, the United States and their allies.
Iran's response to any Israeli attack will depend heavily on whether Israel limits its strikes to a handful of nuclear sites or targets the Islamic Republic's centers of power.
In the case of a limited Israeli campaign, Iran could forego any direct military response. Its reaction could be similar to Iraq or Syria in 1981 and 2007, when Israel attacked their nuclear programs respectively. In this scenario, Tehran would play the role of victim and focus on mustering global condemnation of Israel.
However, if the domestic environment did push the Iranian regime to respond, it could opt for a limited military operation against Israel. This would involve mobilizing its regional allies and deploying its own long-range missiles that are understood to be capable of reaching Israel.
Iran could opt to extend its retaliation to any regional state that might have facilitated the attack. For example, it might decide to retaliate against Gulf Cooperation Council states should they provide airspace cover. It could further escalate its response by attacking U.S. forces and interests in the region.
If Tehran believes the attacks are aimed at regime change, its reaction will be vastly different. In such a scenario, an offensive strategy is likely to be seen within the establishment as the best option to repel the threat to their grip on power. Retaliation could then be expected to be multifaceted and to extend beyond Israel and the Gulf.
Tehran’s primary objective would be to launch an early, wide-scale Iranian-instigated retaliation that would generate panic, specifically in the United States and among the Arab states of the Gulf, thus forcing them to cease their operations against Iran. The United States would then be expected to rein in Israel.
Even in a scenario of maximum retaliation, a number of unknown factors could seriously limit Tehran's reprisals. While Iran possesses the largest missile stock in the Middle East, the precision of its long-range missiles is still an open question. Due to their vicinity to Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas's short and medium-range missiles can overwhelm Israeli defenses. However, Iran cannot bank on support from Hamas. Relations between the two are strained due to the latter's decision to distance itself from the Syrian regime. Hamas leaders have openly suggested that they will stay out of an Iranian-Israeli conflict unless it impacts the Palestinians.
In the event of a limited Israeli campaign, Iran can be expected either to refrain from a military response or retaliate only against Israel. However, a wider operation that takes place with U.S. and/or Gulf Arab cooperation could see Tehran widen its counter-offensive to include attacks on their interests in the region. A worst-case scenario would involve Iran launching acts of sabotage and terrorism in the Middle East, the United States and Europe.