chapter  8
22 Pages

Military options for preventing a nuclear- armed Iran


Military options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran: useless or indispensible? The ongoing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme has reached a stra tegic cross­ roads. Iran is increasingly in diplomatic isolation and inter na tional eco nomic sanc tions are pun ishing Iran for its failure to comply with United Nations (UN) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands to cease uranium enrichment ac tiv ities and answer nagging questions about Iran’s past nuclear ac tiv ities and future intentions. Diplomatic isolation and eco nomic sanc tions, how­ever,­ will­ take­ time­ to­ influence­ the­ Iranian­ regime’s­ polit­ical­ calculus­ toward coopera tion with the inter na tional com mun ity. It is far from clear, more­ over, that any combination of diplo macy and eco nomic sanc tions – short of an all­ out embargo of Iranian oil exports, which would perhaps hurt the West as much­as­Iran­–­would­even­over­the­longer­run­be­able­to­mount­sufficient­pres­ sure on Tehran to aban don its suspected nuclear weapons aspirations. A rough scanning of media seems to show a minor ity of voices now rising in the inter na tional debate calling for milit ary options for “dealing” with Iran’s nuclear activity. These calls, more often than not, are loose and gen eral calls for milit­ary­action­without­much­specificity­as­to­what­milit­ary­options­would­entail.­ This­chapter­aims­to­fill­that­gap.­It­sketches­out­a­menu­of­US­milit­ary­options­ for attacking Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons infrastructure. The paper exam­ ines­what­could­be­expected­–­as­well­what­should­not­be­expected­–­from­US­ secur­ity­partners­in­Europe­and­the­Middle­East­by­way­of­help­for­a­US­milit­ary­ cam paign against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It also anticipates Iranian political­ military retali atory options. While many ob ser vers issue seemingly apo­ ca­lyp­tic­warnings­of­Iranian­re­tali­ation­for­any­US­attack,­a­clear-­eyed­ana­lysis­ suggests that Iran’s strongest retali atory options would be with terrorist attacks via­ Iranian­ intelligence­ assets­ and­Hezbollah,­ ballistic­missile­ fires,­ and­ naval­ harassment opera tions in the Gulf from a variety of Revolutionary Guard assets. The net impact of Iranian retali atory options might well be manageable for regional­states­and­the­United­States­in­the­near­term,­espe­cially­given­the­benefit­of­pushing­back­Iran’s­nuclear­weapons­drive­by­several­years.