Editor’s Note: Geneive Abdo is the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation. Reza H. Akbari is a research associate for the program.
By Geneive Abdo and Reza H. Akbari – Special to CNN
Will Iran retaliate if attacked? Israeli intelligence officials and neo-conservative pundits in the United States argue that Iran is bluffing – that it wouldn’t dare.
But on Tuesday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. powerfully rebutted this view. Clapper argued not only that Iran would retaliate, but that some Iranian officials are now even willing to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.
In his unclassified statement submitted to the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper said: “Iran’s willingness to sponsor future attacks in the United States or against our interests abroad probably will be shaped by Tehran’s evaluation of the costs it bears for the plot…as well as Iranian leader’s perception of U.S. threats against the regime.”
The issue of survival is not taken lightly by the Iranian military and political establishments. According to an article published by the Guardian, an Iranian idiom is quite popular among military officials, “If we drown, we'll drown everyone with us.” The Iranian regime is prepared to fight until the end.
Many foreign leaders, such as France’s Nicholas Sarkozy are also very worried about the implications of a potential military conflict with Iran. As reported by the German publication Spiegel, during his New Year’s address to diplomats in Paris, Sarkozy stated, “A military intervention [in Iran] would not solve the problem [of Iran's nuclear program], but would trigger war and chaos in the Middle East and maybe the world.
Such conclusions are far more realistic than that of a retired Israeli official who told the New York Times: “I am not saying Iran will not react. But it will be nothing like London during World War II.”
In the eyes of the Iranian regime, this is a fight for survival far more threatening than the domestic challenge presented by the protest movement of millions of Iranian demonstrators in 2009.
The recent pronouncements from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other Iranian officials should be taken seriously. In November, Khamenei said: "Iran is not a nation to sit still and just observe threats from fragile materialist powers which are being eaten by worms from inside.
“Anyone who harbors any thought of invading the Islamic Republic of Iran - or even if the thought crosses their mind - should be prepared to receive strong blows and the steel fists of the military, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and the Basij, backed by the entire Iranian nation," he said.
Is he bluffing? There is no way to know for sure, but are Israel and the United States willing to accept the potential risks?
There are a number of political, economic, and military retaliatory moves Iran is perfectly capable of and willing to carry out in the short and long-term.
– According to Clapper’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, “Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and it is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces.” Iran can use its missile abilities to strike Israel.
– Some might make the argument that Iran’s military capabilities are not on par with Israel or the United States. It does not matter. Even if Israel succeeds in short-term air strikes, Iran is willing and able to cause and promote instability in the region. This is in direct contradiction with the United States’ broad interest in the Middle East, which is stability.
– Iran may not be able to keep the Strait of Hormuz closed indefinitely, but even threats and potential attempts will cause volatility in the Persian Gulf.
Some point to recent history and argue that Iran has never launched a large-scale retaliatory attack. But times have changed, and Iran’s position has shifted. Iran is now preparing for an attack on its soil, and part of this strategy includes an effective second strike.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Geneive Abdo and Reza H. Akbari.