Will Israel attack Iran’s nuclear installation?

Footage of an alleged unmanned Israeli aerial drone was broadcast by Iran’s state media agency Tasnim this week

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Footage of an alleged unmanned Israeli aerial drone was broadcast by Iran’s state media agency Tasnim this week. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force claims that it intercepted and shot down the Israeli stealth drone that was flying in Iranian airspace before it had reached the nuclear facility and uranium enrichment site in the city of Natanz. This is not the first incident where Iranian leaders believe that Israel has attempted to thwart its nuclear program. Tehran previously accused Israel of being behind the assassinations of several of its nuclear scientists and physicists. Israeli officials have rejected those accusations.

Regarding this recent development, Israeli officials have refused to comment on the drone, pointing out that the military does “not address foreign media reports.”

Natanz is considered to be the central location, Iran’s main uranium enrichment site, with approximately 16,000 centrifuges. The underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, which is hidden in a mountain and which was disclosed in late 2009, has an estimated 3000 centrifuges.

In case of any serious threat, the senior cadre of the IRGC believe that it can create a “nightmare” for Israel

Majid Rafizadeh

Israel has previously threatened to carry out attacks against Iran’s nuclear installations. Nevertheless, the major dilemma is whether Israel would realistically attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

As usual, Iranian officials have responded strongly, with the IRGC issuing a statement: “A spy drone of the Zionist regime (Israel) was brought down by a missile... This stealth drone was trying to approach the Natanz nuclear zone. This act demonstrates a new adventurism by the Zionist regime... The Revolutionary Guard and the other armed forces reserve the right to respond to this act.”

In case of any serious threat, the senior cadre of the IRGC believe that it can create a “nightmare” for Israel. Considering the recent allegation, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, stated that the response from the Islamic Republic would be a “deadly nightmare” for Israel.

The timing of this incidence is intriguing as it coincides with the progress that the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 (Russia, the United States, Britain, China, France, and Germany) are making towards the final steps of reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Israeli leaders believe that the agreement will leave the Islamic Republic with the path to reach nuclear capabilities and build a nuclear bomb. Both Iran and Israel are considered enemies, and Israel views Iran as an existential threat.

Unintended consequences: regional conflagration

Israel does have the military capability to strike the Islamic Republic’s nuclear installations. Nevertheless, for several reasons, it is very unlikely that Israel will unilaterally carry out strikes against Iran’s nuclear installations.

First of all, Israeli leaders are cognizant of the fact that any strikes aimed at Iran’s nuclear installations will not completely thwart Iran’s nuclear program. The strikes might turn the clock a few years back and postpone the process for Iran to become a nuclear state or build an atomic bomb, but an Israeli attack will give further incentive to Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions with more determination. Even several senior Israeli security and military officials have admitted that any Israeli attack on Iran will boost Iran’s determination to build a bomb, and will endanger Israel’s own survival.

Second, an external Israeli attack on Iran will rally the Iranian people behind their government for their right of nuclear enrichment. It will also grant the hardliners firmer motive to reach the nuclear threshold with full-fledged speed.

Thirdly, the Islamic Republic will likely decline to cooperate with the international community as well as pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As a result, the unintended repercussions and negative consequences of an Israeli attack- such as Iran becoming more determined to accelerate its nuclear program- do outweigh the delay that the strikes might impose on Iran’s nuclear program.

Difficult to predict

While it might be easy to start a war or carry out strikes, it is almost impossible to know where the war will head afterwards. In case Iran responds militarily, few strikes can turn the region into a conflagration affecting many lives of ordinary civilians, the Gulf (with the price of oil skyrocketing and price of gasoline increasing in Western countries), and impacting the security of other regional countries. The war can not only endanger regional security, but also Israel’s own security, and drag in global powers, including the United States and Russia.

According to polls, many Israeli citizens are against their country attacking Iran unilaterally.

Finally, although Israeli leaders believe that the Obama administration has not been firm enough in terms of thwarting Iran’s ambition to reach a nuclear threshold, Israel is in fact dependent on the United States when it comes to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

In the case of a military response from Iran, and considering Israel’s regional security and geopolitical affairs, Israel is in need of the United States. On the other hand, the Obama administration's foreign policies towards Iran’s nuclear program have been clear: the administration has avoided considering a military option against the Islamic Republic. In addition, the U.S. still contends that all diplomatic venues have not been exhausted. Considering the aforementioned factors, it is unlikely that Israel will carry out any attacks against Iran’s nuclear installations.


Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected].

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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