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3/13/07

Israel and Iran report: war of words or words of war

Press Release by Chatham House, UK

- Israel’s perception of Iran as a clear and pressing existential threat is driving the move toward military action and paralysing internal debate over alternative responses

- A military strike against Iran would prove counter-productive for Israel and create widespread instability in the Middle East

- Israel’s favoured strategy is increased international involvement in the crisis and affirmative multilateral action against Iran

- If diplomacy fails, Israel could consider open nuclear deterrence instead of the military option


Of all of the options available to Israel to address the threat from Iran, the military option is the least desirable according to a new paper published by
Chatham House today.


‘Concerns about the [nuclear] programme, combined with the inflammatory rhetoric from Iran’s President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders, mean that the likelihood of military action by Israel against Iran’s nuclear installations is increasing daily…’ said Yossi Mekelberg, author of the paper. 


The Briefing Paper, 
'Israel and Iran: From War of Words to Words of War’, argues that Israel would like the Iran nuclear issue to be resolved diplomatically but the perceived existential nature of the threat is leading it closer to military action.  The lack of internal public debate and critical discussion of military action makes a strike more likely and is a deeply worrying trend within Israeli democracy.  Israelis are focused on the potential danger from Iran, but are indifferent to the potential fallout from military action.


Yossi Mekelberg argues that while Israel is united in perceiving the Iranian threat as very serious, it is also united in its hope of resolving the crisis through non-military means. The Israeli government’s key strategy is to internationalise the dispute and there have already been some substantial achievements in encouraging the international community to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium.


Were the diplomatic route to fail, the paper proposes that Israel could move to a policy of deterrence by declaring its own nuclear capability. While this might not work at the same level as during the Cold War, on a state-to-state level it could still be satisfactory.


In discussing the fallout of an Israeli military attack against Iran, the paper systematically considers the potential Iranian responses, highlighting the premise that Israeli military action would have seriously grave consequences for both Israel and an already fragile Middle East.


A unilateral attack by Israel against Iran would cause severe international criticism of Israel and increased hostility towards it. Iran would almost certainly react with missile attacks on Israeli cities. Israel could be further threatened if Iran were to increase support for other hostile forces such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah. The paper also warns that were an Israeli attack to have support or even assistance from the US then the Iranian response would include attempts to destabilise Iraq.


An Israeli military strike against Iran is likely to cause far-reaching damage to Israel and the overall stability of the Middle East. Of all the options open to Israel, this is the least desirable. There is a danger that the lack of internal political debate is obscuring the true costs of military action.


The paper will be launched at an event at Chatham House on Monday 12 March.  On the same day the author will discuss the paper at an event at the Palace of Westminster, hosted by the All Party Groups on Iran and Global Security and Non-Proliferation.  Both events are open to journalists.  Full details below.


'Israel and Iran: From War of Words to Words of War’was launched on Monday 12 March and written by Yossi Mekelberg.

Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at Chatham House and Head of the International Relations Department in the Webster Graduate Centre.

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