Public Comment

Will the U.S. Use the Military Option to Prevent Iran's Nuclear Ambitions?

By Ralph E. Stone
Monday July 26, 2010 - 07:16:00 PM

In my considered opinion, the United States will do everything in its power to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, possibly including military action. Few, if any, in the West and the Arab world, believes that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. And it is clear that civilian nuclear technology can easily be diverted secretly to weapons purposes. 

First, we start with our deep distrust of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This distrust only deepened after the violent suppression of demonstrations by Mir-Hossein Mousavi supporters protesting alleged election fraud in last year's presidential election. 

Second, at one time, military action was considered unthinkable. Air strikes could take out some of Iran's nuclear facilities, but there was no way to eliminate all of them. Some of the nuclear labs are located in heavily populated areas; others are deep underground. And Iran's ability to strike back by unconventional means, especially through its Hezbollah terrorist network, is formidable. And another war in the Middle East is the last thing the U.S. needs or wants. 

Now, however, there is a growing realization that diplomacy and economic pressure are not going to force Iran to negotiate a nuclear deal. The U.S. believes it made a generous deal, which the Iranian negotiators accepted, whereby there would be an exchange of Iran's 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium (3.5% pure) for higher-enriched (20%) uranium for medical research and use. The Iranian leaders rejected this proposal. This rejection put the military option is back on the table. 

The proposed Turkey-Brazil nuclear swap deal was viewed by the U.S. as unacceptable. When the idea of a uranium swap was begun, Iran had an estimated 1,200 kilograms of uranium, but that has since nearly doubled. In other words, even if Iran sent uranium abroad under the proposed Turkey-Brazil deal, it would still have enough to build one nuclear weapon. 

Third, vastly improved human-intelligence has made progress in providing more accurate targets. Israel has been brought into the planning process largely because the U.S. officials are afraid that the right-wing Netanyahu government might try to attack the Iranians on its own. 

Finally, Iran's Sunni neighbors seem to favor a U.S. military action. For example, United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said on July 6 that he favored a military strike against Iran despite the economic and military consequences to his country. This reflects an increasingly attitude in the region. And the Saudis, in particular, seems to agree. The danger is that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and other countries in the region will go nuclear too. No one wants the most volatile region in the world to go nuclear. 

Even a pinpoint attack on Iran would be disastrous. It would unify the Iranian people against the latest in a long series of foreign interventions. It might alienate and possibly unify much of the world — including countries like Russia and China that we've worked hard to cultivate — against the U.S. There would also be a certain Iranian reaction in Iraq, in Afghanistan, by Lebanese Hezbollah against Israel and by the Hezbollah network against the U.S. and Saudi homelands. It could lead to a catastrophic regional war. 

Maybe, the U.S. is merely saber-rattling to get Iran back to the negotiation table. Unfortunately, Iran has very little credibility and any offer by Iran to talk would probably be viewed as really only an offer to stall. And maybe the saber-rattling is not a bluff. If the U.S. won't tolerate a nuclear Iran and Iran won't budge, maybe a military action is inevitable no matter the consequences. 

Hopefully, Iran's leaders will agree to the deal agreed to by Iran's negotiators, but rejected by Iran's leaders. A world with less, rather than more nuclear weapons, would be a better, safer world. I am hopeful, but not optimistic.