Engagement today: why there will be no ‘day after tomorrow’.

Benjamin Moles

The ‘day after tomorrow’ is a term that has been recently used to describe the day subsequent to any future Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities- predicted by Ronan Bergman to happen this year- and specifically the anticipated Iranian response. [1] Simply put, there will be no day after tomorrow, Israel will not attack Iran.

Why not?  Quite simply Israel would not be able to achieve its primary objective which is to prevent Iran acquiring ‘the bomb’. Quite the contrary, strategic air strikes would hinder, but not stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, would potentially isolate Israel from its friends, would in fact exacerbate further regional tensions, unite domestic public opinion behind the extant Iranian regime- any hope for an Iranian ‘Arab-Spring’ would be lost, strengthen Iranian resolve and underpin the need for Iran to actually acquire a nuclear deterrent- this being before any Iranian retaliatory response is even taken into consideration. This scenario, in turn would create a security dilemma and spur a regional arms race in which the end result would be an undetermined restructuring of the regional balance of power and potentially the partial encirclement of Israel by a plethora of hostile and nuclear-armed states.

Israel, despite its ‘sabre rattling,’ will have calculated a cost-benefit analysis and realise this and that the potential costs are too high for Israel to absorb alone; to only achieve a mere delay in the inevitable (that is if Iran’s goal is the bomb- which Iran states it is not- an Israeli attack would certainly transform the potential into the inevitable). The US doesn’t have the stomach to engage in ‘another’ war in the Middle East, neither do US core allies whom couldn’t afford to fight one even if they had the will or the inclination, as the US looks to expediently ‘pivot’ out of the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region and its allies focus is drawn to increasingly troubling domestic economic issues. Israel, looking to these places for a ‘green light’ or even a ‘flickering green light’ to attack Iran will struggle to see one- and realise this too.

So, if there is to be no day after tomorrow then what about today? As argued, a military strike would be counter productive; it would underline the need for the very thing it seeks to prevent. Furthermore, coercive diplomacy, the current measure being deployed from the international communities’ diplomatic arsenal is limited in what it can achieve; as India has recently demonstrated, states will simply circumvent sanctions when their national interests are threatened or compromised.

It is imperative to understand that Iran has a complex separation of powers that go beyond the face and apparent ‘manic ramblings’ of President Ahmadinejad. Iran, far from being irrational has maintained, since the inception of the Islamic Republic, a realist and deterrent strategy in its international relations dealings to ensure survival of the regime. That regime, having rationally calculated its own international strategic wriggle room to be decreasing has recently sought to re-engage with the P5+1 group (permanent UN security council members plus Germany) to negotiate its nuclear future. As rational actors, the international community too, should recognise the limited options they are
faced with, a seemingly binary choice between war and acquiescence, and should simply seek to engage Iran, today.

Benjamin Moles has recently completed his Masters in International Security Studies at the University of Sydney. (bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au). Follow on Twitter @bwmoles


[1] Ronan Bergman ‘Israel will strike Iran,’ ABC Lateline 16/02/12


4 thoughts on “Engagement today: why there will be no ‘day after tomorrow’.

    • Thank you. The author of the post asked for their name not to be included, but I take your point and shall contact the author and ask that they reconsider. I didn’t get your name?

  1. Hi Ben,
    Another well written article. I think you outline the challenges of any Israeli-led military intervention well, and offer a reasonable path forward. There are however two points that I think are worth considering in your argument.

    1. In 2007 Israel attacked and destroyed a covert Syrian nuclear reactor with almost no repercussions from the international community. This shows that Israel has the will to act unilaterally under such circumstances. I do, however, agree with your premise that the costs of attacking Iran’s nuclear program will be prohibitive, at least more so than was observed with the Syrian strike.

    2. You argue well that Israel will struggle to gain the support of the US for a strike in Iran, but do not consider potential support from other Arab states. Israel doesn’t have an exemplary relationship with many of its regional neighbours, but many are united in their concern over an Iranian nuclear program. Apparently a number of other Arab states have sought a decisive end to Iran’s nuclear program:
    If Israel is able to win the support of these Arab states for a strike against Iran, it will potentially lessen the regional implications of engagement that you outlined.

    • Thanks Chris,

      The underlying problem, however, remains: irrespective of whether the strike is US led, an Israeli unilateral strike or an Israeli/Arab ‘coalition of the willing’ (which I personally just can’t see happening myself but would be very interested to hear from you further on that) a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities will simply not be enough (in itself I would question just how successful a strike would/could be now and because really it doesn’t address what is at the heart of the problem, the regime) – such an act would galvanise the regime and strengthen it. The regime will say: ‘look at N.Korea, it has nuc’s, detonates them in the face of strong international condemnation, and regularly engages in direct acts of hostility with S.Korea (sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of disputed islands), this isn’t about nucs, it’s about Persia, our energy resources and our system of government!’

      The US, Israel and Arab ‘coalition of the willing’, all I concede could (but I don’t think would) strike Iran (I think many realise the futility of such a singular act and – none have the stomach for suffering the potential consequences- as I outlined in the piece) and certainly none have the ‘balls’ to follow up such a strike with what would ultimately be required (considering Iraq and Afghanistan) to attempt instigating, and seeing through, a successful regime change!

‘When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite’.

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