Notwithstanding the never-ending stream of all those based-on-reliable-intelligence-sources analyses, it is doubtful whether these same analysts would be willing to bet whatever is left of their 401K retirement accounts on their predictions that Israel will - or will not - attack Iranian nuclear sites this year.
And while research institutions have conducted interesting exercises to try to figure out the military, diplomatic and economic repercussions of a confrontation between Israel and Iran, the dictum that no military plan survives the contact with the enemy applies also here - in addition to the unintended consequences, blowbacks and the proverbial 'black swans' that are bound to show up even in the unlikely scenario under which Israel achieves all or most of its military goals.
Receive email alerts
If I can put my ten cents worth of strategic thinking, it seems to me that the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the American fiasco in Iraq helped tip the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the Levant in the direction of Iran and its allies. And that made it more likely that Israel and other Sunni Arab players that regard the Islamic Republic as a threat to their core national interests would use all their available resources to deprive Iran from having access to a military instrument that would allow it to formalise the new regional balance of power.
In his magisterial study of the 1812-1814 military campaigns in Europe, 'Russia Against Napoleon', historian Dominic Lieven suggests that while Tsar Alexander recognised that France would never be able to control Europe, he also concluded that the price of adhering to Napoleon's Continental System would have undermined Russia's position as a great power and that the Russians had no choice but to use the full power of their military to prevent that from happening.
My guess is that Israel, as well the Saudis and their Arab-Sunni allies, know that it would be possible to contain a nuclear Iran - in the same way that Russia could have embraced a cost-effective strategy to contain Napoleon's France. But as long as Israeli leaders believe that they have a realistic option of blocking Iran's nuclear programme - and by extension, of setting major constraints on its ability to assert its position as a regional power - they will probably use their military capacity. The Saudis and their Gulf partners would probably cheer them behind close doors while publicly condemning them.
But as quite a few Israeli and American military experts have warned, a military strike on Iranian facilities would not achieve the declared Israeli goal of ending Iran's alleged nuclear military programme and the expected costs in terms of Israeli casualties could be very high.
This article originally appeared in the Business Times and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.