Editor's Note: Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. The following is reprinted from his blog Informed Comment. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Juan Cole.
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment
What's the worst case scenario of an Israeli air strike on Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities? Below is what I came up with. I think each of these scenarios is plausible in its own right, and that all could well ensue.
1. Iran is now threatening to strike at any third country in the region that aided Israel in an airstrike on Iran. The aftermath is therefore likely to be further conflict in the region.
2. Oil prices will spike. I imagine you could easily see $150 a barrel or maybe even more. This development could throw the U.S. and Europe back into deep recession.
3. Hezbollah would likely launch rockets, causing at least severe inconvenience to some 1/4 of the Israeli public, which might well have to move house again, and possibly much worse if Hizbullah is able, as they claim, to target toxic gas storage in Haifa or even the reactor at Dimona with modified Chinese silkworms.
It is not clear that the Israeli public would appreciate all that trouble; they didn’t, in former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s case (his 2006 Lebanon war was extremely unpopular and his party is no longer in power). A Hezbollah official said on Sunday that Hezbollah would be willing to go to war with Israel if Syria were attacked, so it seems likely the same thing would hold true with regard to Iran.
4. Israel would destroy Lebanon infrastructure in revenge for Hezbollah rocket attacks.
5. The Syria uprising would be over with. It would be impossible for the Syrian National Council to continue to oppose the government and risk being tagged as genuinely Israeli agents. The Baath would be consolidated in Syria.
6. An Iran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut axis would be strengthened, allowing for resupply of Hezbollah capabilities. Beirut would be pushed into arms of the new axis. Gulf oil states and Iraq and Iran would quickly rebuild Lebanon.
7. Iraq would be radicalized. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq would have to support Hezbollah and Lebanon or risk losing face inside al-Da’wa and losing backing in parliament of Sadr, al-Hakim and other Shiite religious forces. Al-Maliki has already given, as a reason for supporting al-Assad, the danger that Israel will take advantage of turmoil in the Fertile Crescent. Iraq would likely use its oil wealth to help rebuild Lebanon and al-Maliki’s Islamic Mission Party (al-Da’wa al-Islamiya), which helped create Hezbollah, would strengthen relations with it. You could see cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army supply men and arms to Hizbullah in Lebanon, as well.
8. The European left and liberals would be horrified and unlike in the past could well take action. Remember that the scenario is that Israel, having gone rogue and poisoned Isfahan and maybe other populations with toxic chemicals and radioactivity, went on to destroy Lebanon’s airport, harbor, electricity plants, oil refineries, roads, bridges, etc.
Ireland, Norway, and possibly some other European governments, plus large numbers of European civil society organizations and unions might well slap economic boycotts and sanctions on Israel (50% of Israel’s trade is with Europe).
Significant negative measures by the European Union are not impossible, including in area of scientific and technological exchange. In my view, the Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Europe would become a wave and once that happens, it could have a long term impact on the Israeli economy.
9. The region’s diplomatic dynamics could be changed. The possibility exists of a rupture between Israel and Turkey. It is also possible that Egypt will terminate the Camp David peace accords. The Egyptian military won’t care about the strike on Iran, but the Egyptian public would be horrified by that and by the likely third Lebanon war. The Muslim Brotherhood, now dominant in the Egyptian parliament, would have to react strongly or risk losing credibility in the eyes of the Egyptian public.
10. Over succeeding years, significant Israeli out-migration could occur by Israelis with sufficient education and training to find jobs elsewhere, who became convinced that the Middle East will just never settle down and be a pleasant environment for them.
This development would strengthen the internal position of the Palestinian-Israelis and possibly of the Haredim (who are probably more committed to staying and toughing it out), and weaken the Ashkenazi secular elite. Ironically, Barak has admitted that some of the impetus for preventing a nuclear Iran is to forestall this out-migration scenario, but he doesn’t seem to realize that a strike on Iran could actually have a similar demographic outcome if the region doesn’t take it lying down.
It seems obvious to me that if all these developments actually occurred,they would be much worse for Israel than if Iran actually did start a weapons program and Iran and Israel replicated on a regional scale the Mutually Assured Destruction of the U.S.-Soviet standoff of an earlier era.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Juan Cole.