Israel split on military action against Iran, say top analysts

The split within Israel's circles of power is "not unprecedented, but unusual," given the country's increasingly hardline stance on Tehran's nuclear efforts, research analyst James Walsh told reporters on Tuesday. 

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Walsh co-authored a recent report by the Washington-based Truman Center looking at the ramifications of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program. 

The report, endorsed by more than 30 national-security experts, claimed a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities could have unintended consequences that would lead to all-out war in the Middle East. 

Given its history in the region, Israel has a "lower risk threshold than other [countries] may have" concerning Iran's supposed efforts to build an atomic weapon, Walsh told reporters during the conference call on the report. 

That risk threshold has been on display in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly suggesting Jerusalem was willing to take out Iranian nuclear targets with military force. 

However, according to Walsh, the schism within Israel's ruling class is over whether delaying the program is worth the severe repercussions that military action would almost surely ignite within the region. 

Those in Netanyahu's camp believe the delay is worth the risk, arguing a series of intermittent military strikes against its nuclear complexes will keep Tehran off balance and delay the program indefinitely. 

The strategy, as explained to Walsh by an Israeli security official, would be "just like mowing the lawn." 

But a series of continued strikes against Iran would only "strengthen their resolve" in a wave of nationalistic fervor, with the goal of making the country's nuclear ambitions a reality, Walsh said.  

Like Israel, Iran already sees itself as a "country on an island," largely isolated from the larger Arab world, according to Walsh. 

Any strike by Israel or others would immediately trigger "a rally around the flag" and bury Tehran's nuclear program further underground. 

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told members of the United Nations' General Assembly that "continued threats by the uncivilized Zionist to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality." 

Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but the United States, Israel and their allies suspect Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. 

However, Washington has been adamant that a diplomatic solution was the only way to resolve the Iran nuclear conflict.

But, according to Walsh, intelligence experts in Washington and Jerusalem are "on the same page" regarding what actual effect a pre-emptive strike against Tehran would have on the program. 

Despite Netanyahu's bluster on military action, most agree that a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would only delay the program for a year to four years at the most. 

To end the program completely, Israel, the United States and allies in the region would be forced to send ground troops into Iran, according to Walsh. 

Given the country's geographical size, the scope of the mission and Iran's willingness to fight off Western forces, the number of troops needed to carry out such a mission would exceed the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. 

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