Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2012

Stall Speed: Assessing Delay of the Iranian Nuclear Program via Israeli Military Strike

Austin Long

September 2012

Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies


The possibility of Israeli military action against the Iranian nuclear program has existed since at least 2002. However, beginning in the fall of 2011, Israeli rhetoric and international concerns about military action against Iran have reached unprecedented levels. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak began to proclaim that Iran was nearing a “zone of immunity” to Israeli attack and therefore Israel would have to act soon. In contrast, former heads of Israel’s foreign and domestic intelligence services question the utility of such an attack. Evaluating the utility of military action requires an understanding of the likely costs and benefits. One of the key components for assessing the utility of Israeli military action against the Iranian nuclear program is how much an attack will delay the Iranian program. In early 2012 a number of estimates of the effect of such a strike appeared in the media. According to some reports there are Israeli estimates that such a strike could produce a delay of at least five years. In contrast, there are reports that U.S. estimates indicate such a strike could only delay the program for a year and even subsequent U.S. strikes would only delay it another two years.