The United States and the European Union believe Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.
The international community has been trying for years to persuade Iran to end its uranium-enrichment program, but to no avail. Low-enriched uranium can be used for civilian nuclear-power plants, but highly enriched uranium is an integral part of a nuclear bomb.
In an effort to pressure Tehran to end its enrichment program, the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran. And several individual nations, such as the United States, have imposed their own measures, for example targeting Tehran’s oil industry and financial sector.
In addition, two rounds of international negotiations held this year failed to yield any progress. But some analysts believe there may be a chance for movement with the election of moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, said the international community must not engage in what he called “wishful thinking” about Iran’s leadership.
Iran Seen as an Existential Threat to Israel
Israel considers a nuclear armed Iran to be an existential threat. And it has hinted that it is capable of carrying out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities to make sure Iran does not build a bomb.
Paul Rogers, a military analyst at Bradford University in England, northeast of Manchester, said the Israelis are faced with a difficult task.
“The Iranians have been quite dedicated in recent years in putting a proportion of their nuclear facilities quite deep underground, probably too deep for the Israelis to hi,” said Rogers. “The U.S. Air Force does now have a very powerful new deep bunker buster, but there is no indication that it is willing to give that to Israel. It has given other, medium-level bunker busters to Israel, but not the really powerful one, the 'Massive Earth Penetrator.’”
Thomas Hammes, a military expert at the National Defense University, said the Iranian targets must be well defined.
“This makes the huge assumption that we know where these facilities are," he said. "Remember, we invaded Iraq because we were sure there were weapons of mass destruction there and we knew exactly where some of them were. And we were right zero percent of the time.”
Hammes asks if the U.S. intelligence capability has improved so much in the last 10 years?
Attack on Iran May be Counter-productive
Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, whose foreign posts included Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, said if there is going to be any military action, it must be successful.
“The only thing worse than an Iran with nuclear weapons would be an Iran with nuclear weapons that one or more countries attempted to prevent them from obtaining by military strikes - and failed,” he said.
Jim Walsh, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said military action against Iran might be counter-productive.
“I fear that a military strike will produce the very thing you are trying to avoid, which is the Iranian government would meet the day after the attack and say: ‘Oh yeah, we’ll show you - we are going to build a nuclear weapon,’" he said. "I think we will get a weapon’s decision following an attack, which is the last thing we want to produce right now.”
Is a Nuclear-armed Iran Unacceptable?
Many governments, and analysts, say a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable.
But Thomas Hammess at the National Defense University takes another view.
“We certainly lived with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union for a long time. We are currently living, perhaps, with a nuclear-armed North Korea and we are with a nuclear-armed China,” said Hammess. “So the presence of nuclear arms does not necessarily mean you can’t live with or operate with a country. I don’t understand what makes Iran so much more dangerous with a nuclear weapon.”
Hammess said if Iran ever manufactures nuclear weapons and decides to use them, Israel will probably destroy that country. If not Israel, says Hammess, then the United States probably will.