Attacking Iran: Is Israel bluffing?

Iran's president claims that Israel wouldn't dare launch air strikes to halt Tehran's nuclear program. Plenty of foreign policy analysts beg to differ

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that Israel's talk of launching a surgical military strike to end Tehran's nuclear program is pure bluff. "While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously," Ahmadinejad said after arriving in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on President Obama to draw a "red line" that Iran can't cross if it wants to avoid a military confrontation, and at the U.N. on Tuesday, Obama warned Tehran that his administration would "do what we must" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Netanyahu worries that Iran could be close to building its first nuclear bomb in six or seven months, although the U.S. believes the danger is farther off. Would Israel really attack Iran on its own if it thinks it can't afford to wait any longer?

Israel may very well attack Iran: Israel isn't just rattling sabers, David Makovsky, an Israel expert and senior fellow at the Washington Institute, tells National Journal. Netanyahu and Co. are convinced that if Iran goes nuclear, it will use the bomb to try to make good on its threat to wipe Israel off the map. Israeli leaders aren't sure "about American resolve if diplomacy and sanctions fail," and they're "hardwired" to launch a military strike alone if that's what it takes.

"The path to war with Iran"

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Israel is bluffing: Israel doesn't really think Iran's nuclear program puts the Jewish state's very existence "in peril," says Patrick J. Buchanan at Human Events. If it did, it wouldn't waste time discussing conventional air strikes when it could "drop a single atom bomb" and destroy Iran's most fortified nuclear sites for good. Plus, the "mullahs are not madmen" who would risk their own nuclear annihilation by attacking Israel, and Netanyahu knows that. He's bluffing to scare Obama into fighting his war for him.

"Has Obama called Bibi's bluff?"

Netanyahu wants U.S. help — but he's dead serious: I'm "skeptical that Israel can go it alone," says Michael Ross at Canada's National Post, but that doesn't mean Netanyahu is bluffing. Iran is a sworn enemy of Israel and the West, and the stakes here are too high to be making idle threats. Netanyahu is just "applying much needed pressure" to make sure the international community does something before it's too late. He knows, as everyone should, that "an Iranian regime brandishing nuclear weapons is not just an Israel problem, it is a world problem."

"Israel needs our help to subdue Iran"

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