Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy August–September 2013
01 August 2013
In a television interview in November 2011, former head of Mossad Meir Dagan warned that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could lead to a regional war involving actors such as Hizbullah, Hamas and Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had a different view. In October 2012, he told French magazine Paris Match that such an attack would stabilise the Middle East:
Five minutes after, contrary to what the skeptics say, I think a feeling of relief would spread across the region … Iran is not popular in the Arab world, far from it, and some governments in the region, as well as their citizens, have understood that a nuclear-armed Iran would be dangerous for them, not just for Israel.
US officials, however, predict that Arab states would have a strong reaction to an independent Israeli attack. Such an assault is likely to sever Israel’s already limited diplomatic relations with Arab states, they argue, and may destroy its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Washington believes that an attack would give rise to popular protests in the Arab world, forcing its leaders to act.
Although the reaction of the Arab world does not appear to be a major consideration for Israelis considering an attack, the issue is important for accurately assessing the potential costs and benefits of such action. The two main aspects of the probable response require exploration. The first is the unified – or attempt at a unified – reaction through organisations such as the Arab League and the UN. The second is the responses of individual states, which have differing interests, views and affiliations, both strategic and sectarian.
The response is unlikely to be more severe than other reactions to clashes between Israel and Arab states and organisations in recent decades. An Israeli attack on Iran would probably cause popular protests in the Arab world and be unanimously condemned by Arab leaders – even those who would equally benefit from such a strike. However, Israel’s status as the ‘enemy of their enemy’ does not mean there will be any display of friendship. Widespread concern about Iran’s nuclear programme in many Arab states will not translate into public support for an Israeli or American attack.