The Bush administration consistently states that "all options remain on the table" when dealing with Iran, particularly on the issue of nuclear proliferation. Both the U.S. and Israel are publicly committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.[i] Iran could respond to a preemptive strike with at least two kinds of military action in the Strait of Hormuz.
With a Methodical Attack
When Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq in 1981, Iraq did not retaliate. Iran might similarly be unable to respond immediately or might find it desirable to play the victim, at least for some period of time. A pause might give Iran time to marshall its military capabilities or political support from the international community. Its delayed retaliation would presumably be less extensive than an Iranian all-out first strike, but taking the time for a methodical response might increase Iran's military effectiveness.
With a Rushed Attack
On the other hand, Iran's internal tensions might force its leadership to lash out in anger or desperation after an attack on its home territory. If the regime is under duress, Tehran could use whatever military assets it had left to launch an immediate response to burnish its nationalist and revolutionary credentials. Even if Iran's conventional forces were annhilated during the initial strike, the regime and the IRGC might use civilian assets for asymmetric operations. For example, Iran might launch a series of small boat suicide attacks in the days following the initial strike or use a flotilla of private fishing boats each to push a single mine, relatively haphazardly, into the waters of the Strait of Hormuz. Each individual attack might be more likely to fail than a carefully practiced attack using military assets, but some of the attacks would probably find their targets.
[i] David E. Sanger, "U.S. Keeps Options Open on Iran; Washington Mixes Diplomacy with Shows of Potential Force," The International Herald Tribune (February 26, 2007).
This page last modified in August 2008