Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei
Israeli experts note a "change in the music" coming from Washington regarding the possibility that the U.S. will attack Iran militarily to prevent its acquiring nuclear weapons.
The latest chord in this new tune comes from Matthew Kroenig, a nuclear security expert on the Council on Foreign Relations who served in the Obama administration's Defense Department.
In an article in Foreign Affairs, Kroenig said that if conducted properly, a military strike against Iran “could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.”
Sanctions and steps such as the Stuxnet virus attack have not succeeded in stopping Iran's gallop toward a nuclear weapon, he explained. "Some states in the region are doubting U.S. resolve to stop the program and are shifting their allegiances to Tehran. Others have begun to discuss launching their own nuclear initiatives to counter a possible Iranian bomb. For those nations and the United States itself, the threat will only continue to grow as Tehran moves closer to its goal."
"To constrain its geopolitical rivals," he estimates, "Iran could choose to spur proliferation by transferring nuclear technology to its allies – other countries and terrorist groups alike. Having the bomb would give Iran greater cover for conventional aggression and coercive diplomacy, and the battles between its terrorist proxies and Israel, for example, could escalate. And Iran and Israel lack nearly all the safeguards that helped the United States and the Soviet Union avoid a nuclear exchange during the Cold War – secure second-strike capabilities, clear lines of communication, long flight times for ballistic missiles from one country to the other, and experience managing nuclear arsenals. To be sure, a nuclear-armed Iran would not intentionally launch a suicidal nuclear war. But the volatile nuclear balance between Iran and Israel could easily spiral out of control as a crisis unfolds, resulting in a nuclear exchange between the two countries that could draw the United States in, as well."
Were the U.S. to opt for a containment strategy vis-à-vis an Iran after the Islamic republic possesses nukes, this might include "helping Israel construct submarine-launched ballistic missiles and hardened ballistic missile silos to ensure that it can maintain a secure second-strike capability." In addition the United States would need to extend its nuclear umbrella to its partners in the region. This would entail "enormous economic and geopolitical costs and would have to remain in place as long as Iran remained hostile to U.S. interests, which could mean decades or longer. Given the instability of the region, this effort might still fail, resulting in a war far more costly and destructive than the one that critics of a preemptive strike on Iran now hope to avoid."
Does the U.S. possess accurate intelligence and can it effectively "disable or demolish" Iran's nuclear program? Kroenig says yes. He believes that the picture of Iran's nuclear program provided by U.S. intelligence agencies, the IAEA, and opposition groups within Iran, is more or less accurate.
A preventive operation, the expert says, would need to target the uranium-conversion plant at Isfahan, the heavy-water reactor at Arak, and various centrifuge-manufacturing sites near Natanz and Tehran, all of which are located above ground and are "highly vulnerable to air strikes." It would also have to hit the Natanz facility, which would not survive an attack from the U.S. military’s new bunker-busting bomb, the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, capable of penetrating up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete.
Washington, he adds, would also be able to limit civilian casualties in any campaign. The majority of the victims would be the military personnel, engineers, scientists, and technicians working at the facilities.
He acknowledges that Iran could resort to extreme retaliation, such as closing the Strait of Hormuz or launching missiles at southern Europe, but thinks it will do so "only if it felt that its very existence was threatened. A targeted U.S. operation need not threaten Tehran in such a fundamental way."
He notes that Iraq and Syria both refrained from starting a war after Israel struck their nuclear reactors in 1981 and 2007, respectively. But he does hint that Iran would likely increase terror attacks on Israel, without specifying exactly what he means by this.
Israel, he adds, must pledge to the United States that it will stay out of the war, and refrain from responding to Iranian attacks.
American action can also head off a possible Israeli operation against Iran, which, "given Israel’s limited capability to mitigate a potential battle and inflict lasting damage, would likely result in far more devastating consequences and carry a far lower probability of success than a U.S. attack."
Attempting to manage a nuclear-armed Iran, he concludes, "is not only a terrible option but the worst."