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Could Iran really launch an attack on U.S. soil?
U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran is planning terrorist attacks inside the U.S. to retaliate for threats from Washington and its allies. Is that just fear-mongering?
 
After a failed assassination attempt on U.S. soil last year, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian officials appear more willing to attack the U.S., according to intelligence officials.
After a failed assassination attempt on U.S. soil last year, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian officials appear more willing to attack the U.S., according to intelligence officials.
Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua Press/Corbis

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said the U.S. would "take no options off the table" to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, and Iran is prepared to return the favor, according to the top U.S. intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. On Tuesday, Clapper told Congress that last fall's allegedly Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington (ultimately foiled) "shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime." U.S. officials say they know of no such plot, but agree that Iran may have crossed a threshold. Is an Iranian terrorist attack a real threat?

Of course Iran would attack the U.S.: The press was skeptical that Iran would do something as stupid as blowing up a Washington restaurant, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, but now we know: Iran really is "that crazy." This testimony from Clapper — a man "not given to flights of exaggeration" — should kill any illusions that a "prudent and rational" Iran will negotiate away its nukes. And if Tehran is prepared to "stage terrorist strikes in America when they don't have a [nuclear] bomb, what will they be capable of when they do have one?"
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Clapper's fear-mongering isn't convincing: This whole Iranian attack assessment is founded on the extremely dubious Saudi assassination plot, says John Glaser in Antiwar. But most experts think last fall's "plot" was a case of U.S. entrapment, not Iranian terrorism. And with good reason: "Iran is weak and inept," and surrounded by our far superior military. I get why the Iranians are worried about an unprovoked attack from America, but I can't fathom why "Americans buy into Washington’s warnings that they're a threat" to us.
"Clapper's claptrap: Beware of attacks from weak, isolated... Iran"

Saber-rattling is a self-fulfilling prophesy: Iran's leaders "could believe that small-scale attacks or subterfuge might deter the U.S." from attacking it, says Max Fisher in The Atlantic. But if so, all the tough talk from the U.S. — particularly from GOP presidential candidates — is just making such an attack more likely. "People tend to behave irrationally and aggressively when they believe they are cornered." Still, the bottom line is that Iran knows it would lose any fight with the U.S., badly, and the mullahs have a "shrewd and skillful knack for self-preservation."
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