Why Does the U.S. Think Iran Would Attack It if Israel Attacked Iran?

“American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by” not only firing missiles at Israel, but, write Thom Shanker, Helene Cooper, and Ethan Bronner in a New York Times articles titled U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes, “terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas.”

Gen. James E. Cartwright, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command (which includes nuclear weapons) told the authors:

The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control. … The balance [they] will try to strike is doing damage that is sufficiently significant, but just short of what it would take for America to invade.

Still, the attacks, “General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.”

Sounds familiar, right? Yes, but usually those are Iran’s presumed responses to an American attack. Now we’re told that even if the United States sat out an Israeli attack on Iran, it would still be the object of retaliation. Obviously, because of the military aid it gives Israel, the United States is complicit — would that be Iran’s reasoning? Or would Iran hold the United States responsible for not making more of an effort to stay Iran’s hand? Here’s the only light that the authors have to shed on this (emphasis added):

… administration, military and intelligence officials say Iran would most likely choose anonymous, indirect attacks against nations it views as supporting Israeli policy, in the hope of offering Tehran at least public deniability.

If this is the case, Iran would be guilty of a lack of foresight. If the United States figures it will be attacked, what then is to stop it from joining in the initial attack on Iran? In an ideal world, of course, the United States could try harder to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when President Obama meets with him Monday (March 5) at the White House.

After all, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who participated in a Brookings Institution simulation of an Israeli attack on Iran told the authors, “as for long-term consequences, it’s way too murky to say anything but this: It will be ugly.”