If recent media attention is any indication, we know what the biggest story of the year will be in Israel. Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have all run stories speculating on whether or not Israel will attack Iran in the latter half of 2012. If you’re late to the party, can’t tell Iran from Iraq, or are simply tired of reading about the Kardashian sisters, here’s an idiot’s guide to bombing Iran.

The players

Iran:

In 1979, after the overthrowing of the Shah’s regime, the modern Islamic Republic of Iran was born. The nascent regime spent its formative years doing what most young children do: fighting with others. For much of the 1980s, while the rest of the world was applying enough hair spray to shave off a sizable section of the ozone layer, Iran spent their decade playing a geopolitical game of “I Know You Are But What am I?” with its neighbor Iraq. When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, attracting the attention of the Western world, Iran got to fly under the radar until the first decade of the 21st century.

In 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected on the platform of not being a complete and total nutjob, later revealed to be an empty political promise. Since winning the presidency, Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel, calling for it to be “wiped off the map.” His defenders have claimed that he only wanted to replace the current Israeli regime, which puts his beliefs in line with the majority of the Israeli population as well.

Shelly Yachimovich with a beard? (illustration: Arie Katz/The Times of Israel)

Shelly Yachimovich with a beard? (illustration: Arie Katz/The Times of Israel)

While Ahmadinejad has garnered attention for his statements, the man with the greatest power and influence in Iran is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and holder of what is possibly the strangest job title in world politics (having defeated the Brazilian Ultimate Secretary of State and the Swedish Kick-Ass Minister of Defense).

In the early 2000s, Israeli intelligence discovered that Iran had begun to enrich uranium, presumably with the intention of developing nuclear weapons, which brings us to today.

Israel:

Israel declared independence in 1948 and was immediately attacked by Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Beth Torah sisterhood, Utopia, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and the Others from “Lost.” Sixty three years later, it is said that Israel is still fighting for her independence with enemies on nearly every side. Efforts to make peace are complicated by neighboring terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, which is kind of like saying that efforts to stay dry are complicated by being thrown into a pool. Hezbollah and Hamas are funded by Iran, and it is believed that the 2006 war with Lebanon was shrewdly planned by Iran as a distraction from its nuclear ambitions.

United States:

In the interest of saving time, we’ll assume a certain level of readers’ knowledge.

The recap


Since the early 2000s, Israel has been trying to direct the world’s attention away from Facebook and towards the looming threat of Iran. With China and Russia slow to agree to economic sanctions, the most notable responses to Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been covert operations, believed to have been carried out by Israel. In 2010, the computer worm Stuxnet knocked out roughly 20% of Iranian centrifuges, delaying their enrichment activities. The Iranian gay community was eliminated as a possible suspect when Ahmadinejad remembered that his country had none. The Iranians refused to give the Israelis credit for penetrating their security system, instead acknowledging that their network would have been secure had they simply upgraded from Windows 95.

Fatal exception indeed.

Fatal exception indeed.

There have also been several incidences of Iranian nuclear scientists suddenly and unexpectedly dying, presumably at the hands of Israeli or Western agents. A few months ago, a chemistry expert and director of the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz died after two motorcycle riders attached a bomb to his car. The lesson, as always: it’s always safer to walk.

Despite Israel’s efforts to awaken the world to the danger of a nuclear Iran, so far, the international community has been slow to react with not enough action and too much lip service, making it unclear whether or not the world truly understands the threat. In the words of one senior French official, ”We must do everything possible to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran.” Considering he’s located approximately 6,000 kilometers away, it seems like it would be fairly easy for him to avoid. Fortunately (or unfortunately), few things unite the world like Israel. Perhaps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going about this the wrong way. If Bibi announced that Israel was committed to Iranian nuclear aspirations, the UN would pass a resolution against it in five minutes.

Nonetheless, in a textbook example of “better late than never,” the United States has led the way in first imposing and then toughening economic sanctions on Iran in the hopes of gaining their cooperation, including sanctions on Iran Air, whose slogan is “We love to fly and it shows…. and if you disagree, we’ll murder you.”

Other countries to impose sanctions include Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan, India, and Switzerland. Seriously, Iran? You even managed to piss off the Swiss? Nicely done.

Nobody messes with the Swiss.

Nobody messes with the Swiss. (Switzerland image via Shutterstock)

So far, the sanctions have reduced the country’s access to resources for their energy sectors, doing great damage to Iran’s economy at a cost of tens of billions of dollars; and the plummet of the local currency has caused widespread panic, which begs the question: “Shouldn’t the populace have panicked the moment they realized they live in Iran?”

The options

The opinion expressed by the Israeli leadership is perhaps more nuanced than that of the world, which isn’t surprising considering the fact that the rest of the world isn’t faced with the threat of a nuclear attack. Netanyahu isn’t prepared to leave the fate of the world’s one Jewish state (and over 50% of the world’s Jewish population) in the hands of another country, bringing to mind one of the reasons for the creation of Israel in the first place.

US President Barack Obama has opposed an attack on Iran as long as economic sanctions remain an option to slow down its progress. Furthermore, the United States is about as eager to initiate another war as Lady Gaga is eager to be normal, especially in an election year.  Whether or not the United States approves of an Israeli strike, Iran would surely try to drag America into a conflict by attacking its ships and closing the Strait of Hormuz, driving up oil prices around the world (and making Better Place founder Shai Agassi do a back flip and triple axel in his living room.)

Some key questions:

  • Could an Israeli attack do significant damage with facilities buried so far underground?

Unknown. Because only the US Air Force has enough bunker-busting bombs to cripple them, Israel would likely only be able to set back Iran’s plans by a few years.  Say it quickly: “Bunker busting bombs! Bunker busting bombs! Bunker busting bombs!” Wasn’t that fun? I almost just forgot that we’re talking about a nuclear war. Because the nuclear facilities are dispersed geographically and Israel’s air force has limited capabilities, their planes would have to refuel in the air. I trust that this is in fact an extraordinarily difficult maneuver, especially considering I can’t even write an email and talk on the phone at the same time.

In this Time Magazine article, an Israeli senior security official was quoted as saying, “I informed the cabinet we have no ability to hit the Iranian nuclear program in a meaningful way.” This official quoted a senior commander: “If I get the order I will do it, but we don’t have the ability to hit in a meaningful way.” What’s meaningful? Holding hands while watching “The Notebook”?

  • Would Iran retaliate by launching missiles on the Israeli home front?

Maybe. Maybe not. Some people think they’re bluffing. Some people think that they’re insane and are capable of anything.  And some people think that Jar Jar Binks was the worst idea George Lucas ever had. I tend to agree.

  • And finally, is Israel bluffing in order to pressure the world into increasing sanctions?

I’m a humor writer, not a political scientist. This is the biggest unknown. Israel does have experience dealing with enemies’ nuclear ambitions, having successfully attacked reactors in both Iraq and Syria. In 1981, the week Israel bombed Osirak, Iraq, the #1 song on the Billboard charts was “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. In 2007, the week Israel bombed Syria, the #1 song was “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie. If Taylor Swift releases a song this spring about women’s eyes, it might be time to vacation abroad.

Until then, we can only sit back and hope that the elected leaders of Israel and the West have the wisdom, judgment, and stomach to make perhaps the toughest decision of their lives. Anybody want a drink?