War With Iran Will Happen When…

30 Aug

Israel and Iran War between Israel and/or the United States will happen when it happens. That’s the startling conclusion from The Atlantic, predicting that “…The probability of conflict with Iran is now at 40 percent.” A panel of 22 academic experts, only four of which are quoted in its article, who were asked the question, “What is the percentage chance that Israel and/or the United States will launch an overt air strike against Iran in the next 12 months?”, prompts The Atlantic to beat the drums of war. Even The Atlantic admits, that its Iran War Dial is “…a collective gut check from a group of highly informed people–it’s no better or worse than that.

Intrade, “…a prediction market which allow individuals to take positions (trade ‘contracts’) on whether future events will or will not occur” puts the risk of such an Israeli or American strike before September 30 at 4%. And, that bet looks better as the time frame expands, even if fewer players want to take the action.

In other words, both The Atlantic and Intrade reveal a small party of dedicated partisans beating a drum for a very small group of like-minded followers.

Drilling down into the rhetoric, the explanations get even thinner. For Shibley Telhami, it’s all about image.

In my opinion, the chance of an Israeli attack has slightly increased since the last estimate. It is still uncertain whether or not the Israeli posture is a mere bluff or a function of a real desire to attack Iran under the right circumstances. But in a world where perception of power is sometimes almost as important as power itself, the rhetorical escalation between Iran and Israel, and the seeming rise in Iran’s influence in hosting the Non-Aligned Movement summit and gaining the important participation of Egypt’s new president, have created a new challenge for Israel. Israel’s deterrence posture is very a much a function of how strong Arabs and Muslims believe it is in comparison to its enemies.

Dalia Dassa Kaye also relies on perceptions, of a more calculating kind.

Israel may be conditioning its own society and the world for military action. Israeli leaders must understand how their threats at a certain point lose their credibility, both among their own population and abroad, if they never act on them. The effectiveness of such threats in ramping up international pressure against Iran in order to stave off an Israeli attack also begins to diminish at a certain point, and we may be reaching that point.

Some prominent Israeli analysts have recently suggested an exit strategy from Israel’s escalation of military threats–get the United States to more forcefully and explicitly commit to military action if Israel holds off attacking Iran now. But boxing the United States into commitments to take military action against Iran would be a dangerous way to avoid an Israeli attack. The risks and drawbacks of military action that have led many Israelis to oppose this option are just as pertinent to a U.S. strike.

Ironically, Stephen M. Walt, supposedly one of the Iran War Dial-22 and a proponent of what in IR is called balance of threat theory, is skeptical of these predictions.

[I]t’s virtually impossible to know how much credence to place in the repeated predictions that Israel is about to attack. It does prove that there is no shortage of journalists or pundits who are willing to serve as sympathetic stenographers for government officials, but it doesn’t tell you very much about what is going to happen or what these officials really believe. Why? Because the various officials whose alarming testimony forms the basis for these articles have lots of different reasons for stirring the pot in this fashion.

Walt does cite one very compelling reason war with Iran will take place: blunder.

And, Robert D, Kaplan, in one of his otherwise intoxicating travelogs laced with ideology -from an upcoming book lovingly excerpted by Stratfor, which seemingly has a hardon for all words Kaplan-esque, offers another reason: wishful thinking.

To speak in terms of destiny is dangerous, since it implies an acceptance of fate and determinism, but clearly given Iran’s geography, history and human capital, it seems likely that the Greater Middle East, and by extension, Eurasia, will be critically affected by Iran’s own political evolution, for better or for worse.


I don’t believe we will see the true appeal of Iran, in all its cultural glory, until the regime liberalizes or is toppled. A democratic or quasi democratic Iran, precisely because of the geographical power of the Iranian state, has the possibility to energize hundreds of millions of fellow Muslims in the Arab world and Central Asia.

Why torture statistics, or twist rhetoric, when the truth about it is simple: we want Iran the way we want Iran.

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