Iran's nuclear program, which could have the capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear material sooner rather than later, remains a principal focus of international attention, despite a vast international policy crisis vis-a-vis the Middle East, due to the developments engendered by the so-called Arab Spring. The harshest sanctions regime applied in modern times is in place against Iran, even as other covert efforts, including a cyber-war intended to sabotage Iran's research, have been carried out, presumably by Israel and the United States. As a result of this global pressure, Iran has come back to the negotiating table to see if it can strike a deal that will alleviate some of the pressure.
Nonetheless, hawks in both Israel and the United States still maintain that bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is the only way to slow down, if not stop its nuclear progress. Yet the potential repercussions of such an escalatory step have not been sufficiently discussed in the media of either country. Rather, the debate has so far focused on the possible blockade by international forces of the Straits of Hormuz which, it is anticipated, would lead to a massive increase in oil prices. That in turn could be expected to severely affect the already recession-hit economies of Europe and the United States, not to speak of those poorer countries of the developing world that are dependent on Middle Eastern oil.
However, if Israel bombs Iran's nuclear facilities - a step that is bound to involve the United States, either actively or indirectly - Iran is unlikely to retaliate in an all-out confrontational style: by launching missiles against Israel, trying to sink U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf or even imposing its own closure of Hormuz. Instead Iran is far more likely to mobilize on the basis of the much wider support it can muster in the Muslim world, which is already seething with anti-American and anti-Israeli feelings.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and writer, is the author of five books, including the best-selling "Taliban" and "Descent into Chaos," and the newly published "Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan" (Viking ).