MUNICH (Reuters) - An Israeli raid on Iran's nuclear facilities would deliver a painful shock to the global economy, revive flagging Islamist militancy and possibly drag the United States into a regional war whether it backed its ally's attack or not.
As if that prospect was not alarming enough, any doubtsTehran entertained about the wisdom of building a nuclear weapon would vanish the moment the strike occurred.
There is concern that Israel may attack in coming months to disrupt the transfer of parts of Iran's nuclear development work to an underground site south of Tehran that may be invulnerable to conventional bombing.
Western experts want Israel to think long and hard before embarking on a raid many suspect would spark a broader conflict.
"Whoever attacks Iran's nuclear infrastructure is really making the decision to go to war with Iran," Richard Burt, a former chief U.S. negotiator at strategic arms reduction talks, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
"We are talking about a range of great uncertainties, all of them basically negative, so this is one reason why consistently the joint chiefs of staff of the uniformed military in the U.S. do not like the idea of attacking Iran."
Analysts detect a growing gap between Israeli and Western views on using force against Tehran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is purely for peaceful purposes but the West suspects is aimed at acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
The New York Times recently reported that Israeli leaders, based on intelligence estimates and academic studies, had taken the view that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations would not produce such catastrophic events as regional war, widespread attacks by militants and massive oil price rises.
The newspaper said that Israeli leaders and agencies believe that Iran's threats to retaliate against Israeli and Western targets if attacked were "overblown" and partly bluff.
Asked to spell out the consequences of a strike, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that he not want to explore a hypothetical question, arguing any risks "would be dwarfed in comparison to the danger of a nuclear Iran."
"One thing is clear," he told Reuters. "If Iran becomes nuclear then it's the end of world order as we know it ... This is what we have to think about, and not about what will happen in case some action is being taken.
U.S. newspaperThe Washington Post reported last week that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believed Israel was likely to bomb Iran within months to stop it building a nuclear bomb.
Panetta declined to comment. But his alleged remarks and other Obama administration statements indicate theWhite House is focused on dissuading Israel from taking action - and distancing itself from an Israeli strike if persuasion fails.
The consequences of an Israeli attack would be wide-ranging and destabilizing.
IRAN EXPELS NUCLEAR INSPECTORS, QUITS TREATY
Iran would expelInternational Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ending any possibility of a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue.
"There is not a country on Earth that is going to blame them for doing that, they are all going to blame Israel. Once Iran is out of the NPT, the sanctions are gone," Ken Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told Reuters.
Leaving the NPT would disrupt the sanctions regime since its measures are predicated upon enforcing treaty compliance.