Will Israel, in fact, attack Iran? That question, a perennial one in the debate over Iran's nuclear program, has gained far greater urgency of late, as it is becoming increasingly clear that Western sanctions have failed to alter the Islamic Republic's strategic trajectory.
Yet no one knows the answer with certainty at the moment, not even the Israelis themselves. Indeed, the issue lies at the center of an acrimonious—and still ongoing—debate now playing out across Israel's political spectrum.
On one side are national leaders, chief among them Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, who believe that Iran's nuclear program must be stopped at all costs, including through the use of force if necessary. On the other is a corpus of senior statesmen—from retired intelligence chiefs like Ephraim Halevy to Netanyahu's former political coalition partner (and former Defense Minister) Shaul Mofaz—who have warned of the potential dire consequences of Israeli military action, and counseled that the country must learn to live with a nuclear Iran.
But if Israel's political elite is still undecided over military action, the country's economy is already bracing for conflict.
Thus the Israeli business newspaper Globes reports that Israeli manufacturers are increasingly adapting their businesses to assuage fears from foreign customers about how they will fulfill contracts and carry out future business in the event of a conflict with Iran. In response to client worries, the trade paper writes, firms like Nazareth's RH Technologies are making significant expenditures on foreign infrastructure and adding redundancy to their supply chain. The goal of these costly investments is to compensate for the possibility that "economic output is disrupted" because of conflict between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic.
As significant, and related, is a new assessment by BDI, Israel's largest information group, of the potential economic impact of war with Iran. According to BDI, the direct and indirect impact on the Israeli economy of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be approximately NIS 167 billion ($41.75 billion)—close to a fifth of its total GDP. That figure accounts for NIS 47 billion ($11.75 billion) in direct damage from an attack and Iran's subsequent retaliation, and an additional NIS 24 billion ($6 billion) annually for half a decade to cope with the resulting financial dislocation that would occur.
These economic indicators are surely known to Israel's leaders, who understand better than anyone that military action against Iran would be an exceedingly costly affair, in both human and financial terms. That they are still seriously exploring the possibility of using force to stop Iran's nuclear program speaks volumes about how grave a threat they perceive it to be—and just how much they might be willing to sacrifice in order to stop it.