Several published reports indicate that top Israeli decisionmakers are seriously considering whether to order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if so, when. Twice in Israel’s history, it has conducted air strikes aimed at halting or delaying what Israeli policymakers believed to be efforts to acquire nuclear weapons by a Middle Eastern state—destroying Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and a facility the Israelis identified as a reactor under construction in Syria in 2007.
Today, Israeli officials generally view the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran as an unacceptable threat to Israeli security—with some describing it as an existential threat.
This report analyzes key factors that may influence Israeli political decisions relating to a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. These include, but are not limited to, the views of and relationships among Israeli leaders; the views of the Israeli public; U.S., regional, and international stances and responses as perceived and anticipated by Israel; Israeli estimates of the potential effectiveness and risks of a possible strike; and responses Israeli leaders anticipate from Iran and Iranian-allied actors—including Hezbollah and Hamas—regionally and internationally.
For Congress, the potential impact—short- and long-term—of an Israeli decision regarding Iran and its implementation is a critical issue of concern. By all accounts, such an attack could have considerable regional and global security, political, and economic repercussions, not least for the United States, Israel, and their bilateral relationship. It is unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
The current Israeli government, President Barack Obama, and many Members of Congress have similar concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. They appear to have a range of views on how best to address those shared concerns. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful, civilian energy and research purposes, and U.S. intelligence assessments say that Iran has not made a decision to build nuclear weapons. However, Iran continues to enrich uranium in militarily hardened sites and questions remain about its nuclear weapons capabilities and intentions.
Short- and long-term questions for Members of Congress to consider regarding a possible Israeli decision to strike Iranian nuclear facilities militarily might include, but are not limited to, the following:
- How might an Israeli strike affect options and debate regarding short-term and long-term U.S. relations and security cooperation with, and foreign assistance to, Israel and other regional countries?
- Would an Israeli strike be considered self-defense? Why or why not? What would be the legal and policy implications either way?
- How might a strike affect the implementation of existing sanctions legislation on Iran or options and debate over new legislation on the subject?
- How might Congress consult with the Obama Administration on and provide oversight with respect to various political and military options?
This report has many aspects that are the subject of vigorous debate and remain fully or partially outside public knowledge. CRS does not claim to independently confirm any sources cited within this report that attribute specific positions or views to various Israeli, U.S., or other officials.
This is an update of a report dated March 28, 2012. However, the only updated material is the initial section entitled “Developments from Late March to September 2012.”
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