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The Real Nuclear Option

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
November 25, 2013
ForeignPolicy.com

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This weekend's interim Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 countries and Iran over its nuclear program was met with skepticism and hostility from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet. The divergence of the Israeli leadership's perception of the nuclear agreement from that of its close U.S. ally is understandable and expected given the differing threat perceptions the two countries hold over a prospective Iranian bomb. Subsequently, these officials emphasized three points in their public reactions: the agreement is, in Netanyahu's words, a "historic mistake" that makes the world a "much more dangerous place"; Israel is not obligated to accept its terms; and Israel retains the right to attack -- as Netanyahu's spokesperson termed it -- "the Iranian military nuclear program," with all of Israel's military capabilities.

Like many other national security analysts, I have followed the developments in Iran's civilian nuclear program closely for the past two decades, parsing the comments of Iranian and U.S. officials and combing through leaked or declassified intelligence assessments and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly reports. I have witnessed or participated in war games that simulate a political/military crisis over Iran's nuclear program, and I've interviewed planners about how the U.S. military envisions a range of joint U.S.-Israeli or unilateral moves and contingencies with Iran that might be triggered, escalated, or culminated. (All of this supplemented, of course, with countless op-eds and analytical pieces from wonks, academics, and former officials.)

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