The tone of political discourse differs little among leaders and political parties when it comes to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities that threaten Israel’s security.
According to analysts and experts, this means that there is some likelihood that Israel will launch a preemptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities if it feels the threat has escalated to the point where the cost of a strike is strategically less than the risk of remaining silent. A realistic discussion of this possibility, however credible, seems important to us in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
A military confrontation of any kind between Iran and Israel, whether limited or large-scale, would have negative consequences for our region’s security and stability. That is one thing no one wants. Nevertheless, it is unavoidable to consider different scenarios.
Mutual misjudgments and miscalculations can lead to such a scenario. What is certain is that both the GCC and Israel share a common view of the Iranian nuclear threat. But this shared sense does not mean that these countries support any plan by Israel to launch a military strike against Iran.
This is a very sensitive issue for the security of the GCC countries, and we believe that Israeli circles are well aware of this sensitivity and take it into account in shaping their growing relations with important regional countries and partners such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and others.
What should be considered during discussions of Israel's threats of disrupting Iran's nuclear program?
Of course, in discussing Israel’s continued threat to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, several factors must be considered, chief among them Iran’s level of knowledge, i.e., possession of the technology to produce nuclear weapons. In my view, it is not the production or deployment capability but the knowledge capability that is the prime component of Iran’s nuclear program.
This is what the Iranians are verbally manipulating when they constantly harp on the “prohibition” of possessing nuclear weapons based on the supreme leader’s religious fatwa. The production of nuclear weapons can be postponed. But knowledge does not fall under the supposed “ban.”
This means that, with a high degree of probability, confirmed by Western and Israeli intelligence reports and assessments, Iran already has the knowledge to produce a “bomb,” i.e., the necessary technology and enriched uranium resources, as well as the necessary equipment, pending a political decision by its top leadership. The second factor is the international strategic environment.
Israel’s or even the US's decision to launch a military strike against Iranian or non-Iranian nuclear facilities is no trivial matter. It is a very dangerous decision with long-lasting consequences, especially if the target country has reached an advanced nuclear stage and is second-strike capable, as is the case with Iran, particularly at the level of dangerous militia weapons that undermine security and stability throughout the Middle East region.
There is also the possibility of multi-range missiles that could reach not only countries in the region but also deep into Europe.
The current international environment is not at all conducive to such a decision, both because of the intensification of the Ukraine conflict with all its consequences for the world, and in view of the worsening American conflict with China and Russia, the deterioration of the world economy, and the difficulty for Israel to muster sufficient international support for this step. Moreover, such a decision carries enormous risks without a US green light.
The third factor is related to the second: The strategic level of such a decision puts it in a different frame than any other, so it must be carefully weighed not only at the military but also at the political and security levels. Operational calculations to carry out a military plan could support the decision.
Israel may not lack the operational capability to launch a preemptive strike. But in this particular case, the question does not turn on operational capabilities, but on the outcome of the political and strategic examination of the situation.
What will determine the outcome of the whole process will not be the results of a possible bombing, but the Iranian and international backlash, how it can be managed, and the precise calculation of all these issues to ensure that Israel achieves its strategic goal without great cost. In each case, the decision to go to war is a political one.
In all cases, military capabilities also play a major role in the decision-making process. But in some cases, the decision before, after, and while thinking about the limits of military power and effectiveness can be purely political.
My belief is that there is a misunderstanding not only on the Iranian side but also on the part of many experts and analysts who feel that the Israeli threats are nothing more than psychological or verbal warfare. This is not the case at all. The perception of an Iranian threat by Israeli political and security circles is very real.
We in the Gulf states know this very well, not because of actual relations with Israel, but because we have known this feeling for many years because we understand full well the sense of threat from neighboring nuclear facilities that do not have precise standards of nuclear control and reckon with the leakage of radiation.
In addition, there is the intimidation of the conventional and unconventional military arsenal on which literally all the resources of the Iranian state focus. Yes, Israel is concerned about the Iranian threat. Feeling worried and fearful, however, does not compel a military response.
Israel, for example, is chronically concerned about the growing military capabilities of Lebanese Hezbollah. Of that, there is no doubt. But it has not opted for all-out war to knock out those capabilities, relying so far on managing the threat politically and strategically, according to the many complex factors that influence war and peace decisions for Israel or other states.
Iran's quandary at this stage is that it is under constant pressure – like a man who deliberately presses on a bleeding wound to hurt his opponent. It is fully aware of the complexity of a decision to launch a military strike against its nuclear facilities.
Of course, that does not mean it is not preparing for it; it very much is. The risk assessment in Iran’s case is what makes Israel think twice before resorting to a military strike. Iran’s nuclear facilities are not comparable to Iraq’s Tammuz reactor, both in terms of geographic extent and in terms of operational and technical development.
Clearly, these are very complex calculations. They begin and end at a point that Iran is well aware of and is betting on to deter any military plans against it. But this risky bet, which seems to many, myself included, unpredictable, constantly brings our region to the brink of the abyss.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.