February 4th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Lindsay: Is a U.S. military strike on Iran nearing?

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter.

By James M. LindsayCFR.org

The rhetoric on Iran certainly heated up this week. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted ominously on Sunday “if we have to do it, we will do it” when asked what the United States would do if the Iranians crossed America’s red line with their nuclear program.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that Iranian leaders  “have changed their calulus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”

And Israeli Defense Minister told participants in the annual Herzliya Conference yesterday that the time for stopping Iran’s nuclear program was fast running out, adding “whoever says ‘later’ may found that later is too late.”

So is the clock about to run out on sanctions?  Probably not.

Keep in mind the old saying that if you want peace, prepare for war. Both the United States and Israel have ample reason to talk tough right now - it increases the pressure on Iran’s critics to make the sanctions stick, thereby increasing the pressure on Tehran to negotiate.

Meanwhile, Iran has paired its tough talk over the Strait of Hormuz with a willingness to allow IAEA inspectors to return later in the month for a second round of talks. This could signal that a negotiated deal might be possible, though, the wiser bet would be that Tehran is playing for time by dangling the prospect of a deal before the world’s eyes. Odds are that this dance of threats and diplomacy will continue for a few months longer at least. Washington and Jerusalem know that the costs of waiting too long could be high, but so too could be the costs of acting too soon.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James M. Lindsay.

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Topics: Iran • United States

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    No doubt Israel and the U.S. are very much tempted to launch a military strike on Iran, which has the ambition of going nuclear and dominating the region. Moreover the Islamic Republic supports Bashar al Assad's brutal crackdowns on protesters and the Shia-led government in Iraq, which is the venue of sectarian violence. By weakening Iran, many believe the Middle East might be less unstable.

    February 4, 2012 at 6:34 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Somehow I doubt that Israel is "very much tempted" to attack a country having TEN TIMES larger population and NINETY TIMES larger territory than Israel who's leaders are just looking for a reason to attack Israel especially considering the thousands of miles separating Israel from Iran and the Arab states already at war with Istael sitiing in these thousands of miles.

      February 4, 2012 at 8:06 am | Reply
      • justin

        three words: six-day war

        February 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • AJAX

      Attacking Iran may weaken it, but there is a lot of power in the views of the populous. If the United States and Israel carry out a preemptive strike against a Persian country, there will global ramifications. If history has taught us anything, there is always blowback. I am not convinced that military action will stabilize the middle east. Hardliners like the current Israeli and Iranian governments are the destabilizing force. Moderates have been marginalized. A military strike will further marginalize the moderates and set back the region for years.

      That being said, Iran with a nuclear weapon to intimidate its neighbors is no good either. To quote the current Vice President, "it's one big s*** sandwich."

      February 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  2. JAL

    The Israeli govt is holding the Arab Spring accountable for a lack of progress through threats of attacks on Iran. And frankly, it is a cheap move.

    February 4, 2012 at 7:33 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Can you elaborate? Did the "Arab spring" (whoever it means) ask Iran to recognize Israel and negotiate a peace agreement?

      February 4, 2012 at 8:10 am | Reply
      • JAL

        Sure Thinker, we will find that Israel will have more patience on Iran when/if the Arab Spring protests in Syria succeed in toppling Assad, or at least show contnuous progress. However, this puts bad pressure on the Arab Spring. I do understand that it is difficult for the Israelis to sit on the side-lines with a potential nuke pointed at them. The goal of the Arab Spring will serve to Israelis primary material goal, if we show patience and restraint. Not an easy task, I concede.

        February 4, 2012 at 8:52 am |
      • Thinker23

        JAL... Somehow I did not understand your logic. Are you saying that after toppling Assad in Syria Iranian leaders will give up their nuclear ambitions? But Iranian goals, apparently, are not to "erase the regime in Bagdhad from the map, are they?

        February 5, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  3. George Patton

    What scares me most of all is that the U.S. and Israel will strike Iran. The very thought of the U.S.,Great Britain and France invading, defeating and subsequenly occupying Iran makes me sick to my stomach. The current agressive foreign policies of the U.S. are but one thing, wrong, wrong and wrong but then again, the current right-wing politicians in Washington are totally devoid of any sense of morality!!!

    February 4, 2012 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • AJAX

      Who said anything about occupation? Israel, the US, Britain, and France do not have the resources nor the political will to occupy Iran, a country larger than Iraq. Any military action will likely be aerial strikes and perhaps a few special forces operations to take out the leadership. I think they'll leave the people of Iran to fend for themselves.

      February 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
      • George Patton

        Tell me something, AJAX. Just who are we to take out Iran's leaders and just who gave us the right to decide Iran's future? As corrupt as our own politicians are here, we have no right to judge others and that's all there is to it!!!

        February 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
      • AJAX

        I didn't say it was a good idea. I said what I thought we would do. I don't think overthrowing the Iranian government and leaving the country in chaos is a good idea. I'm just saying that if you think that the west is going to bother stabilize Iran after throwing it into chaos with an attack, you're giving them to much credit.

        February 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Thinker23

      George... Wrong assumptions always lead to wrong conclusions. Therefore it is no surprise that you've found your own conclclusions about your own assumptions to be wrong. You see, NO ONE is going to occupy Iran, a large country having 90 times larger population that Israel. Further, force will not be used against Iran unless as a last resort in case there will be no other way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In this case, use of force against Iran will become a matter of NECESSITY and not a matter of choice.

      February 5, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Correction: Iran has 90 times larger TERRITORY than Israel and 10 times larger population.

      February 5, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
  4. Mark Levy

    I do not see Israel attacking Iran; Israel could not even defeat Hezbollah....it's a word game, and Iran is playing it rather well.
    Mark, Jew for peace

    February 4, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • Georgia Man

      They don't need to defeat it. They just need to destroy a few buildings. That being said I dont support this. There has been no proof that Iran is working on a bomb. No report has concluded this. The IAEA has only said that Iran could potentially be hiding such a program. There's no way of ever answering no to the question of are they doing it. The potential is there just like with any other country. No one knew Pakistan was doing it until they had it. That doesnt mean we should go attack every country trying to develop their nuclear technology. Nuke technology is not illegal and Iran has signed the nonproliferation treaty. You know which country hasnt signed it? Israel.

      February 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  5. JAL

    I will promise one thing. The Arab Spring iwill be a success.

    February 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  6. RUSSIA=CHINA=IRAN=SYRIA-EVIL

    Russia and china interests , embassies and economic departments will be under attack in the middleast and any where in the world
    as they defend the killers in Syria and iran those evil must be dealt with on grass root level and must be hit hard before we hit bashar al asad of Syria, the resistant are working hard now to find the targets inside Russia and Russian targets inside middleast .,..wait and see ... bashar al asad killed 9345 almost 10,000 people already as his father before him who killed 30,000 in one week, those killers must be hanged, Saddam was hanged because he order to kill 40 spies, so al asad must be hanged 40 time over and over again

    February 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • m.i.m. salavudeen

      u amerian and isreal better mind your own business, U both have blood in your hands how many of u have killed people in Iraq, Afganistan and vieatnam ......ok

      February 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
      • Randy

        A. Please use correct grammar and spelling.
        B. Russia is no worse than the U.S., simply worse in different ways.

        February 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  7. Sharon

    What scares me is the US is downsizing the military and shutting bases all over the country.If they down size anymore who the hell is going to protect this great country!!

    February 4, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Come on Sharon, just from whom does this country need protection and who poses any kind of threat to it today? The only threat being posed to this country is from the inside 100% by all these right-wing politicians(Republicans and "blue-dog Democrats) who care only for themselves and won't hesitate to start a war to further their political careers!!! Get real, please!

      February 4, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
      • Sharon

        Take off your blinders!!!!

        February 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • What??

      The US spends more than the rest of the world combined on their military. If we need to spend 50% of that then we really should be taken out by someone else. Only a bully needs that big of a gun.

      February 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  8. Eitan

    The theocracy government of Iran has publicly stated that they will destroy Israel. Israel can not afford to take the chance with a nuclear Iran. As Napoleon once said: "The best defense is an offense."

    February 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Reply
    • Gary

      nobody cares what napoleon said, this is 2012, and they didnt have nukes back then

      February 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  9. Rz

    It is not possible to believe that either China or Russia would be in favor of WWIII. And given their relationships with Iran, it only makes sense that they are actively fostering any nuclear concerns ensuring that Iran in no way aggravates a situation which could lead to war. So, it is impossible to believe that Iran could be so illogical as to jeopardize it's support from both China and Russia as a result of pursuing unnecessary nuclear technologies. The Western world is unstable and in decline. China, Russia and other emeging economies are striving well enough on their own without the need fir war.

    At this stage of world civilization, any nation that starts a war with another nation should be wiped off the face of the Earth (as an alternate, isolation and being shut down by the rest of the world would be just as good, and probably a bit more humane).

    So, who is it that wanted to start a war?

    February 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
    • Randy

      In the end war is a political decision that doesn't reflect the best opinions of anyone.

      February 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  10. CHINA AND RUSSIA HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS AND THEY MUST BE ELEMINATED ANY WHERE

    أكد وزير الخارجية التونسي رفيق عبد السلام اليوم السبت أن حكومة بلاده اتخذت قرارا بطرد السفير السوري في تونس، فيما أعلن الرئيس التونسي أن بلاده سحبت اعترافها بشرعية حكم الأسد، وذلك في وقت دعا فيه رئيس البرلمان العربي سالم الدقباسي الدول العربية لطرد السفراء السوريين المعتمدين لديها.

    وقال عبد السلام في مقابلة مع الجزيرة، إن قرار الحكومة التونسية جاء احتجاجا على المجازر التي جرت وتجري اليوم في حمص وفي غيرها من المدن السورية، وأوضح أن وزارته ستقوم بتنفيذ القرار في القريب العاجل وستستدعي سفيرها في دمشق.

    وتوقع الوزير أن تحذو معظم الدول العربية حذو بلاده في هذه الخطوة، وخص بالذكر مصر والمغرب ودول الخليج، وقال "نحن ننسق مع شركائنا في الدول العربية".

    February 5, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
  11. IRAN IS STEALING IRAQI MONEY AND NORI AL MALEKI IS HELPING IRAN

    COUNTER FITED DOLLARS AND IRAQI DINAR DONE BY IRAN

    علم هدهد سليمان ومن مصدر امني مهم , أن هناك طائرة نقل إيرانية تحط أسبوعيا في مطار النجف الاشرف وهي محملة بالمليارات من الدنانير العراقية المزورة من إيران وبعد ذلك يتم نقل هذه المليارات من الأوراق النقدية العراقية المزورة تحت حماية أمنية مشددة وبإشراف عدد معين من كبار المسئولين في أحزاب الائتلاف الوطني إلى البنك التجاري العراقي فرع النجف الاشرف لغرض إيداعها به , ومن ثم سحب البديل عنها بالعملة الصعبة والتي تقدر بالمليارات من الدولارات ثم تحمل سراً بنفس الطائرة لتقلع بها إلى طهران . this is a fact every week an Iranian plan fly to iraq and directly to najaf province not baghdad in this najaf province the evil province in iraq , this plan brings billions of Iraqi dinars faked Iran dinar from iran and exchange it with USA dollars in janaf under the watch of al hakeem and al maleki group, bringing billions of dollars back to iran and then give to Syria , Russia and Hezbollah. WHY USA DONT DO NOTHING , WHAT IS THE USE OF SANCTIONING IRAN AND KEEPING THE EVIL IRAQI PRIM MINSTER DOING THIS EVIL DEEDS WAKE UP OBAMA

    February 5, 2012 at 2:42 am | Reply
    • Curious in Yow

      Interesting. Would have been nice to have a hint of this or the leanings of these parties known months before the US withdrawal from Iraq...
      On another note...no one wants a nuclear war anywhere because we live on the same planet! It would be nice if the middle east would resolve its issues once and for all and lose that angry temperament.

      February 5, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
      • Randy

        Oh I don't know, people who invest in the businesses that create bomb shelters might. Also, I have always wanted to roast a marshmallow off of a mushroom cloud.

        February 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  12. Benedict

    There are too many variables when it comes to attacking Iran;the size of it‘s military and the regional effect!!

    February 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  13. Robert Miles

    The issues in relation to Iran, Syria and the naval build up of US, Russian, French and the RN in the Med and Gulf are military naval issues and issues of power politics and the shape of human society that will be ultimately be decided by perceptions of military power and quite possible its extensive use. Clinton and Obama are essentially political scientists and human rights lawyers- they have little understanding of anybody's sophisticated military or the brilliance and evil that drives such forces. In all the great navies, intelligence forces and airforces there still exist operators, officers, generals and admirals who can think the unthinkable and move and shake. The Susan Rice like feminist puritans may have driven warrior officers and the women officers who loved them from the USAF after the ice bucket of Tailhook-but the same PC will not exist in many elements of the Israeli forces, Russian Navy and Iranian militias. Iran and Taliban may be fundamentalist but that dosent mean they don't take joy in fighting or will not consider any elemet of military approach- however much in violation of International Law.
    Obamas statement that it will be alright if Iran just declares it use of nuclear power will be peaceful is guileless and clueless. The essential fact is the Iranian regime is undesirable, sinister and potentially very powerful. Iran is the one Islamic power capable of its own development of sophisticated military and industrial complex and the most sophisticated and dangerous weapons. Iran and the Persian people are the fount of the arab and Islamic genuis.
    The essential need is to degrade Irans power-its major military capabilities and nuclear industry on a comprehensive basis. The alternative strategy that regime change can be forced and will be useful in the medium term is unlikely to work because their is unlikely to be a victory for democracy and the contested 2009 elections were almost certainly won by fundamentalist forces whatever the popularity of Liberalism and western lifestyles among millions in the cities.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:15 am | Reply
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    February 6, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
  15. GAG AND MAGOG

    VOICE IN THE WIND AND FU WAHABI THOSE ARE SHIIA VILLAGE IDIOTS LIVE IN USA .
    most of those shiia thigs who lives here are terrorists help iran and hizboallah and send money to them those evil shiia kelab al majoos al safween worse than kelab al wahabeen .....middleast should run by non rlegion group. keep your faith in your home and in QUM AND THE EVIL CITY OF NAJAF AND KARBALA THE HOORE CITIES WHERE MOTAA ( LEGAL ADULTERY -ZENA IS PRACTICED ). LA3ANAKUM ALLAH YA KELAB YOU DESTROY ISLAM IRAN MUST END HIZBOALLAH MUST DIE AND END AHMEDI NEJADI THE CHIEF OF THE SHIIA MUST BE ELEMENATED. HE IS RETARD LIKE ALL THE SHIIE3A WHO MARRY THEIR COUSINS AND SISTERS, INBREED NATION OF EVIL ( GOG AND MAGOG)

    February 6, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
  16. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Just think. When the GOP regain power, they will start a war with Iran (totally unfunded of course). Then they will get the poor people to fight/die in the war while giving the rich people "no bid contracts" (killing two birds with one stone). Then they will use Iran's oil to pay for the war. And when the war is over, Iran will sell us cheap oil. Just like in Iraq!!!!.....Oh wait..............Never mind.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • USMC Forever

      Very well put, GOPisGreedOverPeople. Thank you.

      February 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  17. Georgia Man

    There has been no proof that Iran is working on a bomb. No report has concluded this. The IAEA has only said that Iran could potentially be hiding such a program. There's no way of ever answering no to the question of are they doing it. The potential is there just like with any other country. No one knew Pakistan was doing it until they had it. That doesnt mean we should go attack every country trying to develop their nuclear technology. Nuke technology is not illegal and Iran has signed the nonproliferation treaty. You know which country hasnt signed it? Israel.

    February 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  18. Robbie

    Israels issue with this isnt about fear of being attacked with a nuke, its two things:

    1) An enemy with nuclear weapons will have more leverage and will have a deterrence against an attack whether conventional or nuclear. Israel likes the idea that it has a superior military than anyone in the region and can pretty much attack anyone it wants when it sees fit. If the country it wants to attack has a nuke then it wouldn't risk it. Its not about survival, its about politics and greed. Israel can force its will regarding virtually any issue. If there was ever a dispute over water, Israel will get its way. A disput over any other economic or diplomatic issue Israel will get its way. Why because they can. A country with a nuke cant be bullied as easily.

    2) Depleted uranium and similar material. This is very strong stuff and is used by the US in its tank shells, guided bombs and missiles. It can penetrate armour. Iran would have a conventional force that can have a much more powerful punch than it currently has. These weapons arent illegal, the US, Israel, and others use them. They dont want opponents to have them. Then they have the arrogance of accusing their opponents of being cowardly. You have a much more powerful military and expect your foe to fight you openly. That guarantees you a win. You dont want to fight someone on the same playing field. Thats what a coward is.

    February 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
  19. Brandon Bonilla

    I for one would be glad to see us invade iran but i also hope our goverment doesnt launch it too soon (only god knows how "smart" those guys are) the only thing im scared of is iran invading us back and causing a second 9/11 or maybe worde

    February 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  20. Blue Dog Dem

    When someone says they hate you and they want to kill you, believe them.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:58 am | Reply
  21. Rational Human

    Countries that still live in the stone age should never get nuclear weapons. A Theocracy with nuclear weapons will endanger the entire planet.

    Rational humans would never willingly launch a nuclear weapon. Radicals of a religion with proven potential to foster suicide bombers would be the likeliest candidates to do so. "Glory to Allah", press the launch button!

    Idiots who will kill you for drawing a picture of their prophet, or execute someone for merely converting to another religion should NEVER be allowed to have the power to kill millions in one action.

    February 25, 2012 at 4:44 am | Reply
    • Rick

      Your point of view makes no sense whatsoever. If rational nations like Israel can have the nuclear weapons that can kill millions of people, then what makes them rational for even having it? If they use it, then they are not so rational after all – agree? There is no rationale for any nation to have it. It makes no sense to claim a country is rational therefore they can be allowed to have nuclear weapons, only to use the weapon when they deem it fit, but in doing so (using the weapon) makes them irrational. Therefore, your point is not only moot but is irrational at best.

      February 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  22. Agus

    twburr on February 8, 2011 The Best should had a clpoue of sprit drinks before he started that normally works to wear off the nerves, to bad im a best man on 3rd april, and i dont know what to say LOL

    March 11, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply

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