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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, March 23, 2012

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, March 23, 2012

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Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs March 23, 2012

Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RL32048

CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Summary
The issue of Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as a top priority for the Obama Administration. The sense of impending crisis is generated by growing suspicions in the international community that Iran
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs March 23, 2012

Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RL32048

CRS Report for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Summary
The issue of Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as a top priority for the Obama Administration. The sense of impending crisis is generated by growing suspicions in the international community that Iran

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Published by: Confederation of Iranian students on Apr 21, 2012
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In advance of the March 2012, visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. officials expressed
substantial concern over the perceived likelihood and consequences of a strategic strike on Iran’s
nuclear facilities by Israel. Defense Secretary Panetta was cited in a February 2012 Washington
Post article as saying he believes that Israel might strike Iran in April, May, or June. However, in
testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 14, 2012, Secretary Panetta
declined to take a position on the likelihood of a spring 2012 Israeli attack.65

Some Israeli leaders

view a nuclear Iran as a potential existential threat, based on Ahmadinejad’s comments
questioning the Holocaust and hoping for Israel to be destroyed. Most Israeli leaders say they are
determined to prevent a nuclear Iran. Particularly following the November 2011 IAEA report and
the start of enrichment activities at the hardened site at Fordow, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and
other Israeli leaders expressed concern that Iran’s nuclear program might be entering a “zone of
immunity” beyond which Israel will have no military options.

64

Jay Solomon and Julian Barnes. “U.S. Weighs A Direct Line to Tehran.” Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2011.

65

At the same hearing, Secretary Panetta acknowledged having talked with the columnist who wrote the Washington
Post
report “about a lot of things.”

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Congressional Research Service

64

With U.S. concern about a potential Israeli strike increasing, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
Martin Dempsey said on February 19, 2012, in a CNN interview: “We think that it’s not prudent
at this point to decide to attack Iran…I’m confident that they understand our concerns, that a
strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives.”66

In

his U.S. visit during March 4-5, 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed the right of Israel to
act in its self-defense. President Obama, in speeches to the America-Israel Public Affairs
Committee on March 4, 2012, and in statements before and after the Netanyahu visit,
acknowledged Israel’s “sovereign right” of self-defense.67

However, as noted earlier, he also
maintained that sanctions and diplomacy are beginning to bear fruit and should be given more
time to succeed.

Israel is likely to further raise the issue of military action if the planned round of nuclear talks
with Iran produces little or no progress. The issue has become acute, but is not new. In mid-June
2008, Israeli officials confirmed reports that the Israel Air Force (IAF) had practiced a long-range
strike such as that which would be required for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. Debate recurred
in September 2010 following the publication of an article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg
entitled “Point of No Return” that hinted at a possibly impending strike in early 2011.68

Although Israeli strategists say that a strike might be a viable option, several U.S. experts doubt
that Israel has the capability to make such action sufficiently effective to justify the risks. The
IAF is capable but far smaller than that of the United States, and could require overflight of
several countries not likely to support Israeli action, such as Iraq.

Israeli officials see the consequences for Israel as “bearable,” according to Defense Minister Ehud
Barak, but recent public opinion polling indicates that Israelis believe that casualties from a
potential Iranian retaliation would probably exceed his estimates. Iran would possibly fire
missiles at Israel and/or direct Lebanese Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israel. Israeli officials are
also factoring into their decisionmaking the possibility that a strike would result in Iranian
retaliation against U.S. targets and thereby draw Israel’s superpower ally into an unplanned
conflict.

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