This is the question CNN asked 5 experts on Iran and Middle Eastern politics. You should read their full responses, but I have highlighted some quotes that seem to capture the things they agree on. To answer the question, they all agree that war doesn’t have to happen but that the situation is volatile enough that it could happen quickly if any sort of escalation event set things in motion.
All of this talk of war based on supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction reminds me of our entry into war in Iraq. We’re being prepped for the next war.
"As long as (the Iranians) shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent," U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday night in his State of the Union speech. "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better."
Last week, Obama’s former national security adviser said he thought this could be the year that things finally come to a head.
"I think 2012 has seen itself as the year that Iran has got to be dealt with one way or the other," said James L. Jones, speaking at a panel discussion in Washington.
Shireen T. Hunter
"The two sides are moving perilously close to a situation where there seems to be only one option left: military confrontation. But war doesn’t have to be inevitable."
"This will be the year that Khamenei will have to make a decision about Iran’s nuclear program."
Jon B. Alterman
"While the possibility remains that one side will pursue a limited war, it is more likely that the sides will stumble into a war that no side is seeking. Given the high alert on all sides, a rogue action or even a mistaken one can quickly turn into a shooting war."
Kelly Golnoush Niknejad
“This heightened tension is very dangerous, especially given the lack of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States. There is no hot line. There is no real channel of communication like there was with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. A misunderstanding or miscalculation may lead to a war.”
“Both Iran and the United States have approached the nuclear issue as a marathon, not as a sprint. But the finish line is in sight.
After 20 years of dispute, 2012 may well show whether Washington’s or Tehran’s approach has been more successful.
Within a few years, Iran will be treated by the world as a country that, if it does not already have nuclear warheads atop its missiles, could quickly do so. As that point nears, Iran has less reason to negotiate over the nuclear issue.”