2008 July 19 Saturday
Suppose Israel Attacks Iran: Then What Happens?

Israeli historian Benny Morris thinks Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities late in 2008 or early 2009.

ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months — and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.

The time line makes sense. My guess is that Israel will attack after Barack Obama wins the Presidency. While George W. Bush is a lame duck seems like a great time for Israel. Bush probably won't retaliate against Israel. Obama won't want to punish the Israelis right when he takes office given the huge role that Jewish supporters of Israel play in the Democratic Party.

What I want to know: What will this attack do to the supplies and prices for oil? My guess is the Israelis won't attack oil facilities because the Israeli Air Force (IAF) will need to use all the airplanes at its disposable for hitting the nuclear sites. But will the Iranians temporarily suspend exports to basically punish the whole world for not restraining Israel?

To put it another way: Why should we worry about the impact of an Israeli strike on Iran?

Iran recently tested some ballistic missiles. Iran is seen as a dangerous place to invest. Why is that? Are Israeli bombs going to damage oil producing and natural gas producing facilities? Why?

The US vowed to defend Israel and its other allies in the Gulf, as Iran carried out its second ballistic missile test in two days yesterday.

As the situation worsened in the Gulf, the French oil company Total said it would pull out of a large-scale investment in an Iranian gas field - a serious blow to Tehran, which is keen to exploit its gas reserves, and a victory for the Bush administration, which has been seeking to isolate the Iranian government.

A spokeswoman for the company said it was too risky to invest in Iran at present.

Supposedly Iran's missiles can do damage. Okay, but will Iran try to hit anywhere besides Israel in response to an Israeli attack? If Iran hits US targets then the US would likely retaliate and do far more damage than Israel's original attack. So would Iran attack knowing that?

An Israeli attack would almost certainly be met with an Iranian counter attack, Israeli security experts said. Iran boasts an arsenal of 50 to 80 conventional missiles that could reach Tel Aviv. Others could target American military installations in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

"I don't think they're bluffing," Efraim Halevy, former head of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, said of Iranian threats to return fire.

So Israel attacks Iran to knock out some nuclear sites and Iran lobs some missiles at Israel. Why should this cause a big economic disruption for the world? Maybe Israel then sends another wave of aircraft or maybe missiles into Iran. But will any of those bombs be aimed at oil facilities?

I do not see Iran attacking Saudi or Kuwaiti or Iraqi oil facilities in response to an Israeli attack. If Iran was foolish enough to do so the USAF would send in B-52s, B-1s, B-2s, F-15s, and other aircraft and do serious damage to Iranian military facilities and nuclear facilities. Why would the Iranians bring that down on themselves?

Does anyone see a plausible way that an Israeli attack on Iran causes global economic disruption? I'm not seeing it myself.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 July 19 08:40 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

Stephen said at July 19, 2008 9:14 PM:

The markets will always factor in a war premium even if oil isn't a target because there is a real risk. For instance, if you owned a supertanker and were asked to send your ship into the gulf, you would want a lot more money (as would your insurers) on the off chance that you were attacked (or more likely, accidentally attacked by some jumpy 21 year old kid).

However, the more fundamental markets based reason why the price of oil would skyrocket is that the commodity speculators would bid up the futures price on the basis that its a fair bet that oil supplies will ultimately be disrupted. Even if the speculators are wrong, if enough of them decide to place the same bet then the price will skyrocket.

Stephen said at July 19, 2008 9:19 PM:

If country A is at war with country B, and country C continues to supply B with weapons during the conflict, then C is a legitimate target.

Randall Parker said at July 19, 2008 9:31 PM:


Legitimacy of targets is besides the point. The cost of an Iranian attack on US assets would be extremely high for Iran.

Oil risk premiums: If traders drive up the price of oil futures too high then at the end of the contract period for each contract the price will plummet to the level at which refineries are willing to pay to get oil. If prices go too high then ultimate end customers will cut back and there'll be excess supply.

Wolf-Dog said at July 19, 2008 10:29 PM:

Iran is in big trouble due to demographics, unemployment, and declining oil exports. If Iran wants to avoid disintegration and total collapse, then it must take the Saudi oil. The Shiite minority of Saudi Arabia happens to be the majority in the Eastern part of the country where most of the oil is located, and therefore it is not difficult for Iran to plan for a revolution there in order to take the Saudi oil. Already Iraq has a Shiite majority and once the U.S. leaves Iraq, then Iraq will almost certainly be in the Iranian sphere of influence. Within a decade Iran is likely to gain control of Saudi Arabia and the oil, not just by invasion, but by fomenting internal revolutions. Iran wants the nukes in order to hold on to its future territorial gains, because Iran probably reasons that Saddam was unable to keep Kuwait after he occupied it, was because he did not have nukes.

This is the fear of America and Europe: not a direct threat by Iran, but the capability of Iran to keep Saudi Arabia under its control by means of nukes, once it takes over the Saudi oil within a decade. If Iran successfully plays the time-tested standard antisemitism card (Hitler had promised that the threatened countries have nothing to fear because his main target was really the Jews), the the Europeans might be tempted to believe that selling Israel would appease the emerging Islamic Empire, and the already tired America might also become too weak to save Israel.

Stephen said at July 19, 2008 11:00 PM:

Iran is not going to collapse - it has a greater depth of social cohesion than any other country in the region.

The fact that people get their knickers in a knot about Iran is proof of the power of propaganda.

Stephen said at July 19, 2008 11:08 PM:

But Randall, the Iranians won't attack US assets. Instead they'll smuggle into Iraq a few shipping containers full of sniper rifles, body-armor piercing ammo and a bunch of anti-tank mines. Then, cloaked in deniability, they'll sit back and watch the US death rate climb. They might even do something similar in Afghanistan.

Wolf-Dog said at July 19, 2008 11:16 PM:

I also agree that Iran will not collapse as a nation, but their Islamic dictatorship would collapse when their oil exports become inadequate to continue their system, because a lot of Iranians are disgruntled with the theocracy that did not improve lives since the downfall of the Shah. This is one of the main reasons Iran has imperial ambitions to make territorial claims against the oil in the region. Again, I must emphasize that Iran will not planning to use the nukes directly to gain territory, but rather indirectly, to hold on to the conquered oil fields. Moreover, their religious extremism is probably also real, their ambitions are not just imperial.

Stephen said at July 19, 2008 11:57 PM:

re oil risk premiums - the price might peak, but it won't then plummet because markets are risk averse and will need a real sign that things are getting better. While things are hot in the middle east, risks increase and prices go up and stay up until a new stalemate breaks out.

However, this time around I don't thing that will be the end of the story. If the US gets involved in a war on yet another front, the US will need to go into even more debt to pay for that war. To finance the war it will need to increase demand for US dollars (ie it needs to sell gov bonds) by paying high interest rates. At the same time the higher interest rates will demolish domestic demand for US dollars (eg domestic mortgages and investment financing). The creaking US financial system will start to fail as domestic defaults massively increase.

Then the unraveling begins: demand for US dollars drops because there's too much supply and US dollar drops in value. Oil contracts begin to be written in Euros, demand for US dollar drops again and the US dollar drops again. The US dollar loses reserve currency status to the safer Euro causing demand for US dollar to drop yet again. US bonds trade with v.high interest rates because the US desperately needs to keep financing its wars. The rest of world's national treasuries start shuffling their currency mix in a desperate attempt to insulate themselves from the US financial meltdown as the US dives into deep recession and then maybe depression.

When the global financial system resets itself, there'll be new leaders, new followers.

Wolf-Dog said at July 20, 2008 5:35 AM:

But in any case, in the long run it will be impossible to stop Iran from building a large number of nukes because their facilities are dispersed in many locations. Additionally, the general strategy of Iran to deliver these nukes will be to give these nukes to terrorist proxies who will then smuggle near various target locations in the world. The only way Iran would fire a nuclear missile would be to create an EMP wave over the United States, and this can be fired from an unmarked ship in the ocean.

Saint Michael Traveler said at July 20, 2008 9:17 AM:

Benny Morris’s article on nuking Iran gave me a serious sense of sadness for people of Israel. Benny Morris is either certifiably insane or lacks empathy (criminal attitude). I felt sad because he provoke the same feelings for actions of Hitler killing Jews as Mr. Morris would suggest for mass killing of Iranians, some of them being Persian Jews.

For self-survival, if not have done yet, Iranian should develop self-defense against crazy people like Benny Morris who could govern nuclear armed Israel. We were saved from a massive nuclear war with the Soviet Union because of assurance of mutual destruction. If the world cannot protect Iran, then Iran must protect herself.

Would he expect the world would fee empathy for Jewish Holocaust after Israel nuclear mass killing of Iranians? No, I would not.

Randall Parker said at July 20, 2008 9:40 AM:


Risk premiums can only be sustained by continued stockpiling. Someone has to continually buy and not consume the good or else prices will fall.

Again, risk premiums reduce demand. Given the same level of supply risk premiums will cause a rise in inventories. We've been told for the last couple of years that there is a risk premium in oil prices. How can that be? Where is the big inventory build-up which that risk premium would cause? I'm not seeing it.

Saint Michael Traveler,

Top leaders in Iran say they want to wipe out Israel. What is insane about Israel's desire to prevent that?

Iranian self survival: Why does Iran threaten to wipe out Israel if Iran's leaders really think that their own survival is important?

Even if Israel attacks Iranian nuclear facilities it will only cause civilian deaths due to the workers being in and around nuclear facilities. Millions will not die. Maybe hundreds or even thousands. But if Iran wants to prevent that they could agree to abandon their nuclear weapons program.

Mutual Assured Destruction: The Israeli fear is that their enemies do not mind suffering large casualties in exchange for wiping out the Jews. I do not know whether this fear is justifiable. But the way the Iranian leaders talk it is understandable why many Israelis feel this fear.

Saint Michael Traveler said at July 20, 2008 10:19 AM:

Randal Parker said: "Top leaders in Iran say they want to wipe out Israel."
You are statement is not correct.
." First, no one had the right to want to destroy another nation. Two, did Iranian President say that?
Gary Leupp, Professor of History at Tufts University, article:


“DID AHMADINEJAD REALLY CALL TO "WIPE ISRAEL OFF THE MAP??” Concludes Ahmadinejad did not say that 'Israel must be wiped off the map' with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time."
Pleae read the original text and within the context of President Ahmadinejad speech.

Iran can’t destroy Israel. Did we destroy Soviet Union? Soviet Union was self-destroyed because of their economic programs and lack of free-market incentives. President Ahmadinejad had compared Israel with Soviet Union before. He had said that Israel as a system will not survive because of the Palestinian problems.

Israel developed Nuclear bomb when Iran and Israel were the best of the friends, please read about it. It has nothing to do with Iran.

Iran can’t destroy Israel, nor Iranian people desire that. Iran people and Jewish people have been historical support going back several 1000 years.
Please read my article "The United States, Arabs, Israel and Iran: Crimes" http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2007/11/olmert-throws-in-towel-on-iran.html.

Randall Parker said at July 20, 2008 11:28 AM:

Saint Michael Traveler,

First off, I was not only referring to Ahmadinejad. He's hardly the first Iranian political figure to call for the destruction of Israel.

The Wikipedia account of what Ahmadinejad said about Israel's continued existence makes for interesting reading. On this controversy here is what Ethan Bronner, deputy foreign editor of the New York Times had to say about what Ahmadinejad actually said:

But translators in Tehran who work for the president's office and the foreign ministry disagree with them. All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his Web site (www.president.ir/eng/), refer to wiping Israel away. Sohrab Mahdavi, one of Iran's most prominent translators, and Siamak Namazi, managing director of a Tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say "wipe off" or "wipe away" is more accurate than "vanish" because the Persian verb is active and transitive.

The second translation issue concerns the word "map." Khomeini's words were abstract: "Sahneh roozgar." Sahneh means scene or stage, and roozgar means time. The phrase was widely interpreted as "map," and for years, no one objected. In October, when Mr. Ahmadinejad quoted Khomeini, he actually misquoted him, saying not "Sahneh roozgar" but "Safheh roozgar," meaning pages of time or history. No one noticed the change, and news agencies used the word "map" again.

Ahmad Zeidabadi, a professor of political science in Tehran whose specialty is Iran-Israel relations, explained: "It seems that in the early days of the revolution the word 'map' was used because it appeared to be the best meaningful translation for what he said. The words 'sahneh roozgar' are metaphorical and do not refer to anything specific. Maybe it was interpreted as 'book of countries,' and the closest thing to that was a map. Since then, we have often heard 'Israel bayad az naghshe jographya mahv gardad' — Israel must be wiped off the geographical map. Hard-liners have used it in their speeches."

Stephen said at July 20, 2008 4:31 PM:

Seems to me to be reasonable doubt. Especially as the objection in the middle east is in terms of the legitimacy of the Israeli state (seen to be a usurper) not of the Jewish people (seen to be adherents of just another religion).

Saint Michael Traveler said at July 20, 2008 6:06 PM:

Why is Iran defending Arabs? Did they not pay a high price (500,000 dead and several millions injured, over 100 billions of structural damage) recently defending Iran against Arabic invasion?


The conflict is between Israel and Arabs.

We have had 60 years of experimenting about the Israeli- Palestinian struggle. The region would need help before we will be dragged into a World War III.

No one can reject the fact that creation of Israel on the land of Arabic nations has created tremendous political and economical problems for the United States. We may have to look outside of the box to diffuse the problems. One solution would be for Israel joining us as a member of the Unites States’ Common Wealth.

Would Israel consider joining us as a member of the Unites States’ Common Wealth?
What are costs and benefits for US?

We are already supporting Israel economically, politically and by sharing intelligence and military hardware. In addition, some Israeli Americans with both Israeli and American citizenships serve in the Israeli Armed Forces. Israel never would have to be fearful of any other nation; our great American Armed Forces will protect the common wealth as they would the homeland.

Would it be politically more advantages for the United States to manage the Jewish state as a member of our Common Wealth?

Would it be economically more advantages for Israeli people to be a member of our nation?

The Israeli Common Wealth will be free to exercise the religious freedom that our great nation would offer without being isolated among the hostile Arabs.

Should the Common Wealth include the Arabs who were forced to leave the land when Zionist invaded the land?

Should the area of the Common Wealth include all of the Palestinian Land?

Would really two nation model for Palestinian and Israeli work in the future?

Should we be looking at the region as a Federal States with one government elected by all of the people?

What do you think?

Derek said at July 22, 2008 1:01 AM:

There are 2 major issues here:
1. 3 or 4 nukes smuggled near Israel could wipe out the entire nation. It's that fucking small. This makes it extremely likely Israel will strike first.
2. No one in charge in Iran. Every little group has their own area of control. It's impossible to predict if they are going to be rational actors or not. The revolutionary guard (The religious nuts of the armed forces) is pretty damn likely to go on their own little attack spree against US assets in the area if Israel attacks.

So if Iran gets nukes will they use it? Depends what faction grabs em.

Wolf-Dog said at July 22, 2008 2:27 AM:

The problem is that the technology of manufacturing nuclear materials will becoming more and more compact, and as a result, the decentralized Islamic extremists will be able to make their own nukes all over the world. This will represent a very serious problem for the Western world, because these nukes will be very portable, and the preferred method of delivery will be to smuggle. Also, the Iranian leaders themselves might be very safely hidden in unknown locations, so that they probably do expect to survive even a massive nuclear retaliation from the U.S. and Israel. We are talking about a global guerrilla war in the world, with very advanced weapons of mass destruction. And even though their leaders might want to survive, their indoctrinated disciples are dying to get killed..

Saint Michael Traveler said at July 22, 2008 9:20 AM:

To Wolf-Dog, Derek,
There is not one single good response to you since it made no logical sense with assumptions beyond realism of the world. May I say, your writing indicates that your knowledge of the Middle East and the people are at best tainted with bias and dislike of the people?

But, may I suggest the article by Richard Silverstein:

6 Benny Morris: Nuke Iran | Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place // Jul 21, 2008 at 12:04 pm


This article is refreshing view in my world outside of the image of insanity you have created in your mind.

Saint Michael Traveler said at July 22, 2008 10:09 AM:

Persians and People of Israel Have a Face

The following article is a good starting point for Persians and Jews to listen to each other:

"Indeed, mutual ignorance of our respective societies plays into the hands of the hard-line leaders who are calling for blood and destruction. They manipulate and distort; above all, they do everything to prevent us from recognizing that the enemy has a face."

Please read the total article
These enemies have faces
By Trita Parsi and Roi Ben-Yehuda*

Wolf-Dog said at July 22, 2008 12:39 PM:

Saint Michael Traveler, thanks for the articles, but I had already read the Haaretz article above. For the record, in my comments there was no "bias and dislike of any nation." I was only emphasizing that there exists a totalitarian dictatorship in Iran, with fanatical disciples surrounding the dictators. I did not say the entire Iranian people are like that, both chess and the computer algorithm were invented by Persians, but right now we are dealing with a very serious dictatorship that has imperial ambitions. The hardliners who want blood and destruction that you are talking about, happen to be the dictators in Iran, as they clearly stated their intentions many times.

Erik Bana said at July 25, 2008 12:31 AM:

Well it is simple, Wipe out Israel after taking out the psytrance artists, get the ass of the US out of that zone maybe send some nukes to USA so they learn a lesson of their imperialist intromissions, and let those Middel East people there do what they want with their life. And wait till China gets the superpower along with the Asia friends.

Stingray said at July 28, 2008 1:49 PM:

In terms of the question posed at the end of the post;
"Does anyone see a plausible way that an Israeli attack on Iran causes global economic disruption? I'm not seeing it myself."
I'd have to say such an attack would have an unpredictable, but potentially catastrophic, effect on political stability in the middle east, and indeed, the wider world. Iran may not have as many political allies as some other countries, but many Muslims are already aggravated, and would no doubt see such an attack as an attack on Islam. Even in the western world, there is a general feeling of unease; in case you haven't noticed, faith in the ability of our global society to keep on the up and up is lacking, and fear of general societal collapse, justified or not, is at an all-time high. Sometimes fears can be self-fulfilling. More wars are not what the planet needs.

Anonymous said at December 1, 2009 7:49 AM:

Well, this scenario has been disproven by time.

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