January 23, 2006
By Peter Brookes
A reporter last month asked Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the Israel
Defense Force's chief of staff, how far Israel is willing to go to
stop Iran's nuclear (weapons) program; the general answered: "2,000
kilometers" - the flying distance from Israel to Iran's key nuclear
Keeping the military option on the table for dealing with the
Mullahs of Mayhem's atomic intransigence makes good policy sense.
Diplomacy and "soft power" options such as economic sanctions are
always more effective when backed up by the credible threat of
Unfortunately, flattening Iran's nuclear infrastructure isn't
easy or risk-free - and could have serious consequences for
American interests. The key challenge: the program is underground -
literally and figuratively.
Iran burrowed many sites deep below the soil, making them much
tougher targets. (It also put some near populated areas to make
civilian casualties a certainty if attacked.) And these are the
sites we know about: At least two dozen nuclear-related
sites are scattered across the country (which is four times
California's size) - but it may be more than 70.
By burying and dispersing its facilities, Iran is clearly trying
to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program back in 1981
- when Israeli F-16 fighters, crossing Jordan and Saudi Arabia,
destroyed Iraq's 40-megawatt Osiraq reactor in a dawn raid,
effectively setting Saddam's nuke dreams back a decade.
An Israeli strike at Iran today might feature fighters carrying
satellite-guided JDAM bombs, cruise missiles on diesel subs - and
Special Forces. But the task would be much tougher than the
Osiraq strike, thanks to the number of targets and their
dispersion, and the greater distances from any Israeli base.
What about U.S. airstrikes? These could take a range of
forms, depending on policymakers' desires. Surgical strikes might
limit their targets to Iran's air defenses (for access) and key
nuclear sites (e.g., Bushehr, Nantanz, Arak). Or an escalated
attack could nail all suspected nuke facilities - plus
forces Tehran might use in a counterattack, such as its ballistic
missiles and conventional forces.
Depending on the strike's objective, think Operation Iraqi
Freedom: B-2 stealth bombers carrying bunker-busters, F-117 stealth
fighters and other Navy/Air Force strike assets from carriers and
theater bases - plus Navy destroyers and subs loosing cruise
missiles on Iranian targets.
But could a raid destroy all sites? Thanks to the covert nature
of the Iranian program, that's not clear. It's highly likely,
though, that striking key facilities would set the program back,
possibly causing Tehran to reconsider the folly of its
But it's unlikely to be that simple. After an assault, Iran
might lash out with a vengeance. We'd have to be fully prepared for
some nasty blowback.
Tehran and its terrorist toadies can brew up some serious
trouble for both America and Israel - or anyone else that supported
an attack on the fundamentalist Islamic state.
The Iranian regime is already up to its neck in the insurgencies
in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could certainly increase its
financial/material support to the Sunni insurgents, Shia militants,
al Qaeda, and the Taliban to destabilize the new Baghdad and Kabul
governments - and kill Coalition forces.
And don't forget about Iran's other "secret" weapon - oil. As
the world's No. 4 oil exporter, Tehran could rattle oil markets and
major economies (e.g., Japan, South Korea, France, Italy) by
slashing output. It could also mess with other nations' oil exports
- attacking tankers in the Gulf using mines, subs, patrol boats or
The mullahs could unleash their terrorist attack dogs Hezbollah,
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad against Israel, killing untold
numbers in suicide attacks - and scuttling any peace process
prospects. Iran could also pound populous Tel Aviv with its
Shahab missiles mated with chemical/biological warheads.
The U.S. homefront could get hit, too. Over the last few years,
the FBI has evicted Iranian intel officers for surveilling New York
City tourist/transport sites. Hezbollah has supporters - and likely
has operatives - in America who might undertake acts of terrorism
or sabotage U.S. ports or bases, too.
Iran now harbors at least 25 senior al Qaeda operatives,
including senior military commander Saif al Adel and three of Osama
bin Laden's sons. If we come to blows, would Tehran help al Qaeda
hit the U.S. homeland? (The offices of Iran's U.N. mission might
facilitate such an attack. . .)
This doesn't mean we shouldn't use military might to interrupt
or end Iran's nuclear gambit; it may be the best/only option. There
are no easy answers, only tough choices.
But the military option has to stay on the table. Otherwise,
it's a snap that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will let
Tehran's nuclear genie out of the bottle.
Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His
book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is
First appeared in the New York Post
A reporter last month asked Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the Israel Defense Force's chief of staff, how far Israel is willing to go to stop Iran's nuclear (weapons) program; the general answered: "2,000 kilometers" — the flying distance from Israel to Iran's key nuclear sites.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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