Israel more likely to strike Iran than U.S., analysts say 

While the U.S. military has developed a first-strike plan to take out Iranian nuclear facilities, the political and security consequences of taking that step make it an unlikely option, analysts said.

But the wild card in the deck remains Israel, and there is a growing sense among experts that the Jewish state make act first, and explain later, if the threat of a nuclear strike from Tehran continues to grow.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen disclosed Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the Defense Department has plans to attack Iran if required.

He did not elaborate on the plan but said he would "be "extremely concerned" about any scenario that led to a military attack on the Tehran government.

Alireza Nader, an international policy analyst with an expertise in Iranian affairs at RAND, a think tank in D.C., told The Examiner that Iran would retaliate through proxies in the region if the United States struck first.

However, he said Iran would retaliate after a first strike by "potentially fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan."

To Nader, taking the step would be "destabilizing and just as potentially harmful for U.S. interests in the Middle East for Iran to have any sort of nuclear capability."

Despite the difficulties, Nader said Iran's ties to various groups, including the Taliban, in Afghanistan could have "severe consequences" for American gains in the region if the U.S. strikes first.

"Iran is already offering measured support to the Taliban and also has influence among other groups," he said. "A strike could lead to full support and destabilization."

He added Iran would not stop with Afghanistan but disrupt efforts by the U.S. and its allies in "Iraq, Lebanon and throughout the Persian Gulf."

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in July on ABC's "This Week" that current intelligence suggested Iran was closer than ever to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"We think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons," Panetta said. "They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable."

Panetta said sanctions would be unlikely to prevent a emboldened Iran, saying it may "weaken the regime," but "Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not."

James Carafano, senior defense analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in D.C., said, "In an ideal world, the U.S. should be very sensitive to the security threats that its ally faces, but I don't think the Obama administration would give Israel the green light, and will try to restrain them."

Carafano said if the administration fails to follow through with a first-strike scenario on Iran, "Israel, more than likely, will not consult with the U.S."

"It's better to ask later for forgiveness than ask early for permission."

A senior Israeli official told The Examiner, "We've signed on to President Obama's policy and strategy vis-a-vis Iran."

The official said, however, that "sanctions alone are not enough."

The sanctions, which the Obama administration hopes will rein in Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons, have been criticized by some analysts as being too weak. The sanctions have targeted gasoline imports to Iran, and Western companies have cut off exports as well.

"We're waiting to see how the Iranians respond," the Israeli official added. "Both the president and other officials have said that all the options are on the table."

The official would not expand on whether Israel would strike first if the U.S. refused to follow through with a first-strike option.

This puts "Israel in a serious predicament," said a former senior Bush administration official with direct knowledge of the region.

"In reality, the only real plan for the U.S. in confronting a nuclear Iran will be left up to Israel, which may be forced to make the first move in order to protect itself, and the situation is not looking good."

scarter@washingtonexaminer.com

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