On the heels of President Barack Obama’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, diplomats and pundits continue to try to answer the perplexing question: Will Israel and/or the U.S. launch a military strike on Iran?
Now, one publication is throwing some science into the mix. Or at least political science. Modeled on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock showing “how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction,” The Atlantic has assembled a group of former policymakers, journalists and academics to provide their private opinions, which are then combined into a collective prediction.
The clock is presently set at 10 minutes to midnight, or a 48 percent chance of war.
More from The Atlantic:
War or peace in the Middle East amounts to a coin toss. The probability that the United States or Israel will strike Iran in the next year is 48 percent according to a new project that predicts the chances of conflict–the Iran War Clock. And as a result, the clock is set to 10 minutes to midnight.
The magazine explains how it works:
Each panelist makes an individual estimate about the percentage chance of war and we report the average score. Based on this number, we adjust the Iran War Clock so that the hand moves closer to, or further away from, midnight.
If there is a zero percent chance of war, the clock hand is at 20 minutes to midnight. Each extra 5 percent chance of war moves the hand one minute closer to midnight. So, for instance, a 10 percent chance of war would set the clock at 18 minutes to midnight, and a 75 percent chance of war would set the clock at 5 minutes to midnight. We round up and down, so 48 percent is rounded up to 10 minutes to midnight.
The Iran War Clock is not designed to be pro-war or anti-war. Instead, the purpose is to estimate the chances of conflict in the hope of producing a more informed debate. If people hold a very inaccurate view of the odds of war it could be dangerous.
We’re humble about the accuracy of this prediction, which is really a collective “gut-check” feeling. But it may be closer to the truth than the alternative forecasts available.
Shortly after the new clock’s launching last week, Netanyahu made a suggestion that could bring the minute hand closer to midnight. In interviews to Israel’s television news programs which aired Saturday night, Netanyahu hinted an attack on Iran could take place within months:
“We’re not standing with a stopwatch in hand,” he said. “It’s not a matter of days or weeks, but also not of years. The result must be removal of the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands.”
“I hope there won’t be a war at all, and that the pressure on Iran will succeed,” the prime minister stressed, noting that his preferred choice would be for Iran to halt its nuclear program and dismantle the uranium enrichment facility located in an underground site near Qom. “That would make me happiest,” he said. “I think every citizen of Israel would be happy.”
“Making decisions isn’t the problem; it’s making the right decision,” Netanyahu added. “If you don’t make the decision and don’t succeed in preventing this [an Iranian nuke], to whom will you explain this – to the historians? To the generations before you, and the generations that won’t come after you?”
This as the former head of the Mossad Meir Dagan continues to argue against an Israeli military strike before “exploring all other approaches,” calling the Iranian regime “rational.” In an interview with “60 Minutes” to be broadcast Sunday night, he argues for encouraging regime change instead:
“The regime in Iran is a very rational one,” says the former top Israeli spymaster. And President Ahmadinejad? “The answer is yes,” he replies, but “not exactly our rational, but I think he is rational,” Dagan tells Stahl.
It’s a different kind of rational says Dagan, not rational in the Western-thinking sense. “But no doubt, they are considering all the implications of their actions … They will have to pay dearly … and I think the Iranians at this point in time are … very careful on the project,” says Dagan. “They are not running.”
So he doesn’t advocate a pre-emptive Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear industry anytime soon, an attack that he said would have to be against “a large number of targets.” There is time to wait before such dire actions need to be taken. In the meantime, he thinks that to foment regime change is a smarter tactic.
Dagan also believes that the U.S. will intervene if necessary, because “the issue of Iran armed with a nuclear capability is not an Israeli problem; it’s an international problem.”
With all the war talk, you would think Israelis would be anxious. Apparently not so. Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz writes, “We’re not in a state of panic, or anything like it. If relatives or friends from the US phoned up to ask whether it was safe to visit, we’d frankly be baffled by the question.” And The New York Times reports tensions haven’t affected Israelis’ financial planning, quoting Yair Seroussi, chairman of the board of directors of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank:
“For Israelis, it is business as usual,” Mr. Seroussi said in an interview, noting that a crisis every few years was part of the Israeli routine. “We were born to it, no?”
The Atlantic notes that even a slight change could tip the balance in favor of war: “Peace is still more likely than war, but only just. And when we next update the Iran War Clock, the odds will favor the hawks if the clock ticks even one minute closer to midnight.”