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Israel is also unlikely to take unnecessary risks with retaliation against its civilians and may try to destroy any conventional missile capacity that Iran retains with additional air strikes or covert operations.
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Such an extensive military operation — involving dozens of attacks and an attempt to destroy a hostile neighbor's air force in a sudden attack — bears less of a resemblance to the Osirak strike than it does to the first operations of the Six Day War in The strategic consequences of such a massive strike against Iran are serious. There is a real danger that such an attack creates an escalatory spiral of conventional strikes which rapidly gets out of hand.
Assuming that the air strikes did not destroy all of Iran's capacity for launching missiles, Tehran could launch limited conventional strikes against Israeli cities, which would put pressure on the Netanyahu government to respond in kind or to escalate to punish Tehran. If this occurs, one of the key assumptions of Israel's plan — the attack will be clean and surgical and not kill a large numbers of civilians — comes into doubt.
At least publicly, Israel has estimated that it may have to "absorb" casualties in the warwhile Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that "there won't bedead, not 10, dead, nor 1, dead.
Also, these estimates do not take into account the fact that the human cost of war can radically change the calculations of governments. If Israel bears significant civilian casualties in an Iranian counterstrike, what limits will the Netanyahu government observe in response?
How will the extent of Iranian casualties change the calculus in Tehran? If hundreds or thousands of Iranians are left dead, does Iran's increasingly desperate government try to draw Israel into a messy war of tit-for-tat missile strikes over weeks, rather than days, in the hopes of imposing such political and human costs that Israel gives up?
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One of the most alarming aspects of the current debate over a strike on Iran is the extent to which Israeli leaders appear to have discounted this possibility. According to journalist David Ignatiussome Israel leaders have imagined that this operation will probably be a "short war" scenario, where five days of strikes are followed by a UN-sponsored cease-fire.
But Israeli leaders made a similar calculation when they attacked Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon in — and that war dragged on for 33 days, with a much higher Israeli and Lebanese death toll than originally envisioned pdf. Wars rarely follow the scripts or timelines that leaders set out for them. It's hard to believe that Iran — given weeks of notice of impending strike by Israel — would play along with the script that Israeli leaders have laid out.
Similarly, there is no reason to assume that Iran will respond in the same stunned way that Iraq and Syria did after Israeli's strikes on their facilities.
Iran's well-publicized and extensive nuclear program — currently, the subject of intense international scrutiny and a matter of national pride — is of a different nature than the secretive and singular programs held by Iraq and Syria. At the time of the Israeli attack, neither Iraq nor Syria had made their nuclear programs the public centerpiece of their foreign policy.
But Iran has done so, and it has proven willing to bear crippling sanctions and international condemnation to sustain its nuclear ambitions. While Iraq and Syria were willing to take the punch and not fire back, it is hard to imagine Iran doing the same — given how much it has invested politically in nuclear power. Iran's government, already paranoid and facing widespread domestic discontent, may also calculate that it could not afford to let such an affront stand without some kind of military response.
The domestic pressure to respond from a furious population could even back Tehran into a corner where some kind of violent response is necessary, rather than optional. It is also probably not lost on the Iranian leadership that striking back against Israel has political benefits in producing a "rally around the flag" effect and that such a show of defiance may even extend its shelf life.
Assuming that Iran was incapable of a conventional response, Iran has a series of other options, through its proxies, to respond to Israel.
Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israeli civilian targets are possible, though not guaranteed, as Hezbollah may be wary of inviting an Israeli military response just for the sake of defending its foreign patron.
Hamas may also be willing to join the fray and launch rocket attacks or suicide bombers against Israel. In addition, Israeli intelligence has estimated that Iran has as many as 40 sleeper cells around the world, which could launch attacks against Israeli targets, such as embassies.
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There is no guarantee that these attacks will be limited to the region, as Iran has promised to extend its retaliation to any country that might allow bases to be used for an Israeli strike.
Iran could also decide to activate its dense networks of intelligence operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan and attack US personnel or facilities in both countries. The Iranian government has also threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in order to drive world oil prices even higher, a decision that might precipitate a confrontation with US naval vessels determined to keep the shipping lanes open. Israeli officials have concluded that these nightmare scenarios are highly unlikely, and that Iranian promises of retaliation are bluffs designed to weaken support for a military Israeli action.
They may be right, and much of this may never come to pass. But again, miscalculation is important here: Moreover, what happens the day after an attack matters a lot. It is not hard to imagine that Hezbollah attacks on Israel would precipitate a limited Israeli military operation against its forces in Lebanon or that Iranian strikes against American embassies or targets abroad may push the US into responding militarily to Iranian provocation.
Former chief of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, may be wrong that such a strike will lead to a full-fledged regional war, but there are a lot of terrible options short of that that could come to pass if Iran retains even one of its retaliatory options. The posters are copies of billboards showing an Iranian negotiator talking to his US counterpart, who has a shotgun in his lap. In a nationwide event marking the anniversary of the day angry students stormed the embassy 34 years ago and took 52 diplomats hostage for days, large crowds sympathetic to the Revolutionary Guards and its informal voluntary basij militia took to the streets on Monday, chanting "death to America" and burning US flags.
Demonstrations have been held annually on the "national day against global arrogance".
But this year, with Rouhani's new administration attempting to improve relations with Washington, it became a show of defiance by hardliners adamantly opposed to a thaw in relations. Many senior officials failed to turn up for Monday's rallies and there was no sign of Rouhani or his cabinet members. Instead, Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator who ran as the most anti-western candidate and was defeated in the last presidential election, took to the podium in Tehran. Hundreds of students from various schools and universities in the Iranian capital were also given a day off to attend the rallies.
Some were carrying cardboard models of a uranium enrichment centrifuge. A Tehran-based journalist allowed to cover the demonstrations for the American network NBC tweeted a picture of his official press card issued by the Iranian officials, which had "Down with USA" printed on it. Many of the students who played a key role in the embassy takeover have become reformists and have been largely marginalised, including Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, Habibollah Bitaraf and Mohsen Mirdamadi, who was jailed in Before Monday's rallies, Asgharzadeh, one of the five key students behind the hostage-taking, told local website Ghanoon they intended to occupy the embassy for no more than 48 hours but lost control.
Iran has since promised to retaliate by producing its own version of the events. In his speech, Jalili said the seizure of "the nest of spies", a reference to the former US embassy, showed to the world that American embassies were a base for spying.