Iran > Key Myths > Military Option
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Implications of attacking Iran


Bombing works. Bombing the Osirak reactor stopped Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.
Claim:
Bombing works. Bombing the Osirak reactor stopped Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.
Response:
Contrary to popular myth, the Israeli bombing of Saddam Hussein's Osiraq reactor in 1981 did not stop Iraq's nuclear weapons program. In fact, it may well have started or greatly expanded it, according to Iraqi nuclear scientists who have written on that episode.

Iraqi nuclear scientist Imad Khadduri claims that the Osirak reactor was designed by the French to be poorly suited for plutonium production.  Moreover, bombing the reactor did not stop Saddam Hussein's A-bomb program as often believed.  On the contrary, it convinced the Iraqi leadership to initiate a full fledged nuclear weapons program immediately afterwards -- and to do so covertly and on a large scale.1

Khadduri's account is independently corroborated by another Iraqi nuclear scientist,
Khidir Hamza, who would become a leading supporter of the Iraqi invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.  He reports that the Israeli raid on Osirak had the effect of transforming what had been a relatively modest operation involving 400 scientists funded at $700 million a year -- with a capability for generating enough plutonium for less than one bomb a year -- into a large, covert enterprise involving over 7,000 scientists and technicians with a $10 billion investment dedicated to developing the underground capacity to enrich enough uranium for six nuclear bombs a year.  2

It was not the Osirak raid that stopped Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, but Operation Desert Storm (ten years later) and the inspection regime that followed that finally prompted Saddam Hussein to terminate the program.

Footnotes

1. See Imad Khadduri, Iraq's Nuclear Mirage, Memoirs and Delusions (Toronto: Springhead Publishers, 2003), p. 82. [back]
2. See  "Crossfire transcript,"CNN , February 7, 2003, <http://www.cnn.com/> [back]
 
Threatening Iran with force can help avoid the need for force
Claim:
Threatening Iran with force can help avoid the need for force. more
Response:
This is nonsense that betrays a complete ignorance of the Iranian psyche and the relevant facts on the ground.  The Bush Administration not-so-subtly threatened Iran with force for years with no positive effect.  Iran's leaders may have feared a U.S. attack in 2003, when U.S. forces momentarily seemed invincible.  They are not afraid of an attack now, because they know that an invasion and occupation is out of the question.  They also know that a U.S. or Israeli bombing of Iran would be one of the best things, politically, that ever happened to hardliners in Tehran.  It would end all opposition to their rule overnight and would entrench hardliners in power indefinitely as Iranians of all stripes rally round the flag (just as Americans would do in their shoes).
Threats of attack will not scare Iran's leadership into submission.  They will merely poison the waters of diplomacy; convince Iran's leaders and much of the rest of the world that President Obama is ultimately no different from Bush; and squander what could be an historic opportunity for change.
 
The risks of attacking Iran are great, but the risks of allowing Iran's nuclear program to continue are even greater
Claim:
The risks of attacking Iran are great, but the risks of allowing Iran's nuclear program to continue are even greater. more
Response:
This might be true if it were known that Iran's "nuclear program" involved pursuing nuclear weapons and that attacking Iran would halt this pursuit.  But the facts are otherwise.  We don't know that Iran has resolved to acquire a nuclear weapon.  What we know Iran to be doing at the moment is enriching uranium to low levels under IAEA safeguards ostensibly for nuclear energy use -- a course of action that preserves a weapons option without committing to it.  Attacking Iran would be far more likely to create or harden Iran's resolve to acquire a nuclear weapon than to weaken or eliminate it.  The military option is far riskier on every level than diplomacy.
 
Though nuclear facilities can be hidden, U.S. intelligence can figure out where they are by looking at what facilities Iran moves to protect in a conflict
Claim:
According to Air Force General Wald, U.S. intelligence can figure out where hidden Iranian nuclear facilities are by looking at what sites Iran moves to protect in a conflict.
Response:
And what do you do if and when Iran moves to protect a whole bunch of sites such as hospitals and schools, either to ensure their safety or to score a propaganda coup when the U.S. Air Force mistakenly bombs them? 
More careful observers who have looked at military scenarios admit the truth:  we don't know where Iran's nuclear facilities may be hidden, and there is no easy or reliable way to find out.
 
An attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could be limited to bombing, which wouldn't over-stretch our military
Claim:
Everyone knows that U.S. ground forces are stretched to the breaking point.  Those who call for use of the military option -- such as retired Air Force General Chuck Wald -- assume that a successful campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities could be limited to air strikes.1
Response:
We have seen no credible military scenario involving bombing without invasion that plausibly leads to Iran's capitulation.

The far more likely consequence of a campaign restricted to bombing is the consequence that followed Israel's bombing of Iraq's reactor at Osirak in 1981:  the leadership is incensed and either starts or greatly expands a large, covert campaign to acquire nuclear weapons. 

Meanwhile, Iran is highly likely to launch retaliatory actions against U.S. forces through loyal militias in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East. 

Within Iran, hundreds if not thousands of Iranians will be killed or wounded, turning what had been the most pro-American public in the Middle East (outside of Israel) into a large nation of people who truly hate America.

Looking five years ahead -- instead of five days, as General Wald is doing -- reveals that bombing Iran is truly the march of folly.  It will exact an enormous price, while delivering the opposite of the consequence intended.

Footnotes

1. See Chuck Wald, “Opinion: There Is a Military Option on Iran,” wsj.com, August 7, 2009. [back]