Nevada’s Washington Watch
Military Strike On Iran Should Be Last Resort
By Tyrus W. Cobb
Reno resident and former Special Assistant to President Reagan for
National Security Affairs
Does everyone believe that Tehran is hell-bent to develop and field a nuclear weapons arsenal? Many experts don’t. The Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, testified that “We don’t believe they’ve actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon”. CIA Director David Petraeus nodded concurrence.
Others note that the Iranian program is still under the supervision of IAEA inspectors and Iran has not moved toward “breaking out” and producing weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium. They add that Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has not violated. By contrast, Israel is not a signatory to the NPT and has refused to provide any access to its nuclear facilities to the IAEA. Israel probably has 200+ nuclear weapons, and three means to deliver them, and nothing is controlled by any international treaty.
This does not mean that we should not worry about Iran having nuclear weapons. As President Obama has clearly warned, “The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of a terrorist organization are profound”. So if sanctions and diplomacy fail, then a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program could spare the region and relieve the world of a very real threat.
And we should have no illusions about the nature of the regime in Tehran. Iran is the major sponsor of global terrorism, and seeks hegemony in the Middle East. A nuclear Iran could intimidate its neighbors, and probably compel them to develop nuclear weapons themselves, Tehran might disperse nuclear devices to terrorist organizations, apart from any actions against Israel. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed or maimed by incendiary devices manufactured in Iran. The regime is an avowed enemy not only of Israel, but of the U.S.
Still, we must be extremely cautious about rushing toward a military strike on Iran. Many experts believe that the economic and financial sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, as well as covert actions, have had a very significant impact and caused severe degradation to the Iranian economy. This has weakened the position of the Mullahs and led to internal strife within the government’s top leadership. Thus, some argue, given time, the sanctions will force the Iranians to negotiate or abandon any nuclear weapons program.
How successful would an Israeli strike against Iran be?
Despite these words of caution, many anticipate that an Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities will occur soon. If so, how successful would such an attack be?
Most experts believe that any conceivable air campaign would at best only delay and damage the program. They point out that Iran has withered the attack by the Stuxnet virus, the assassinations of some of its nuclear scientists, and economic sanctions, and are now installing advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges. The elements of the program—principally the centrifuges– are being placed deep underground, too deep for any bunker busting bomb to penetrate.
An air campaign would stretch the Israeli air forces capabilities to the maximum. The key targets are located at the furthest range of its fighter-bombers. And the pilots would have to violate the airspace of at least Iraq, if not Jordan, Turley or Saudi Arabia. While it is not militarily a challenge now to fly over Iraq (Iraq does not have any air defense capability to speak of), it would, of course, further drive the Iraqi populace closer to a tighter relationship with Tehran.
American military experts have also pointed out that there is no such thing as a “surgical strike”, but warn that any conflict would involve extensive civilian casualties and be very messy. Former Vice-Chairman of the JCS James Cartwright testified that any strike would also “solidify domestic support for the regime”. He also agreed that the only way to prevent Iran from securing a nuclear weapons program was “to occupy the country”.
What would the Iranian response be? Perhaps it would encourage the Hezbollah in Lebanon to launch some of the thousands of rockets it has in the inventory, and push its new partner, Hamas in Gaza, to conduct incursions against Israel. It may take actions to close the vital Hormuz straits, through which flow much of the world’s oil supplies. And sensing that the U.S. is complicit, Iran would certainly send out swarms of its Swift boats against the U.S. Navy presence in the Gulf and likely employ numerous mini-drones to hamper U.S. activities.
Such an attack would at a minimum disrupt global oil markets and lead to a rapid escalation of petroleum prices and a global economic downturn.
What is unknown is what the global repercussions will be? Will this further drive China, and possibly Russia, into greater support for Iran? Would such a strike please the Saudis, or will it cause anger in the Muslim world? These questions also must be addressed.
The military option should not be taken off the table, but it must be the last resort should sanctions fail. This is what our professional Intelligence and Military leaders are saying—advice we should heed!
—Tyrus W. Cobb, a Reno resident, served as a Special Assistant to President Reagan for national security affairs.