In a New York Times article titled, "How to help Iran build a bomb," writer William J. Broad says a surprising number of experts argue that an airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities could actually lead to Iran’s speeding up its efforts, ensuring the realization of a bomb and hastening its arrival.
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Scott D. Sagan, a political scientist at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said an attack would increase the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the George W. Bush administration, recalls that the view among Bush's top advisors was that a strike “would drive them to do what we were trying to prevent.”
According to these sources, such a move would free officials in Tehran of many constraints. "An attack, for instance, would all but certainly lead to the expulsion of international inspectors, which, in turn, would allow the government to undo hundreds of monitoring devices and safeguards, including seals on underground storage units."
In addition, Iran would be permitted to present itself to the world as the victim of an attack and would receive sympathy and perhaps vital imports from nations that once backed trade bans. According to the analysts, the thinking also goes that a strike would allow Iran to further direct its economy to military ends.
Perhaps the strongest argument is that "an attack could unite what is now a fractious state… and build an atmosphere of mobilizing rage."
History, the analysts say, demonstrates that airstrikes and military threats often result in unbending resolve among the beleaguered to do whatever it takes to acquire nuclear arms.
Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, was quoted as saying that “people always assume the bad guys want nukes, but my sense is that the threat of military action makes bad guys feel like they need the bomb.”
He mentioned that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto seemed to have embodied that kind of determination when he said famously in 1965, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”
Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior nonproliferation official at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a prominent London-based arms analysis group, told the NY Times that it was “almost certain” that a military strike on Iran would result in “a Manhattan-style rush to produce nuclear weapons as fast as possible.”
Lewis and other experts often cite Iraq, whose Osirak reactor was bombed by Israel in 1981. The attack, they argue, hardened the resolve of Saddam Hussein and gave his nuclear ambitions new life.
“All of the historical evidence that I have seen,” Lewis wrote recently, “suggests Saddam had yet to decide to seek nuclear weapons until the humiliation of the strike.”
Top Israeli officials disagree of course, citing the Iraqi case as an example of why Iran should be attacked.
According to the NY Times, nuclear historians say intimidation alone can spur an atomic response, as when American hostility prompted China to seek nuclear arms. Beijing succeeded in 1964 with a thunderous blast.
'Iranian Entebbe' option
Foreign Policy magazine published a feature by Mark Perry, who served as the unofficial advisor of former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1989-2004 and presented the Palestinian stance in interviews to US television stations.
According to several high-level US military and civilian intelligence sources quoted by Perry, Pentagon war planners have had to "fly blind" in sketching out what Israel might do and have concluded that there are at least three possible Israeli attack options, including a daring and extremely risky special operations raid on Iran's nuclear facility at Fordow , which they call "Iranian Entebbe".
In that scenario, named after Israel's 1976 commando rescue of Israeli hostages held in Uganda, Israeli commandos would storm the complex, which houses many of Iran's centrifuges; remove as much enriched uranium as they found or could carry; and plant explosives to destroy the facility on their way out.
Iranian nuclear facility in Fordo (Photo: EPA)
According to Perry, however, it's not clear that Israel can pull off a successful strike: Netanyahu may not simply want the US on board politically; he may need the US to join militarily.
"All this stuff about 'red lines' and deadlines is just Israel's way of trying to get us to say that when they start shooting, we'll start shooting," retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman was quoted as saying.
"Bottom line? We can do this and they can't, because we have what the Israelis don't have," said retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner.
In the Washington Post, David Igantius, a columnist associated with the US administration, criticized Barack Obama's foreign policy, saying that the American president's election campaign engages in internal issues only.
The Washington Post also published a joint op-ed written by former head of US Central Command Retired Adm. William Fallon, former Republican Senator Chuck Hage, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, and former head of US Central Command Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni.
According to the five men, war with Iran is not inevitable. They support leaving all options on the table and believe that Iran should be pressured to achieve a diplomatic solution, but most of all they call for a "nonpartisan, reasoned debate about the implications for the US of another war in the wider Middle East."