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Column: Military Attack on Iran a Bad Policy Decision

FILE - The reactor building of Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is seen, just outside the port city of Bushehr 750 miles (1245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran.
FILE - The reactor building of Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is seen, just outside the port city of Bushehr 750 miles (1245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran.

Negotiators from Iran and six world powers have been trying for more than a decade to come up with an agreement preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But some have been advocating a more drastic approach to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities to make sure Tehran does not build a bomb. And, the United States has said “all options are on the table” - a euphemism for carrying out a military strike.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations [in the George W. Bush administration], favors military intervention.

“In a world where you have no good options, and only two outcomes, one of which is Iran and others get nuclear weapons, or Israel and the United States use pre-emptive military force against Iran - I think option two is better than option one. Neither are good, but we are in a situation where there are no good options,” said Bolton.

Analysts say Israel is perfectly capable of an air campaign against Iranian nuclear targets, which would include enrichment facilities, uranium mines, a wide-range of laboratories and engineering companies producing components used in nuclear facilities.

But experts also point out the Iranians have placed nuclear facilities deep underground, probably too deep for the Israelis to hit.

Paul Rogers, military analyst at Bradford University in England [near Manchester] said the United States is the only country that has the necessary equipment to hit deep underground targets, a bomb called the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator”.

“This one is designed specifically to go through many layers of reinforced concrete, to be able to tell when it is going through voids which are not yet the main target,” said Rogers, “and then to explode within the main target space. And this is, as I say, the only bomb of its kind. It weighs about 15 tons and dropped from high altitude, it would reach extremely high speed and could be delivered with considerable precision.”

Rogers and other analysts said any attack on suspected Iranian nuclear weapons targets would set back the country’s nuclear program by only two to three years.

“And the problem with any kind of Israeli attack is that if an attack were to take place, one can more or less assume that Iran after that would be determined to get nuclear weapons as quickly as it could,” he said.

Jim Walsh, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said “The U.S. intelligence community currently believes that Iran has not yet made a decision as to whether to build a nuclear bomb. It had a program, stopped in 2003, and as of now has not made a decision. There is certainly the chance that if you use military action, that will make the decision.”

Thomas Hammes, military analyst at the National Defense University, sees no reason for military action.

“What is the value of bombing if you know you are only setting them back a few years because then they are not just a nuclear-armed state, but they are a nuclear-armed state that is irritated at you because you bombed them and probably bombed them repeatedly,” he said.

Hammes said there is a lot of fear-mongering around the question of whether or not to bomb Iran.

“Remember, everybody who is saying Iran is on the verge of breaking out and getting nuclear weapons was saying the same thing in 2003,” said Hammes. "Go back and read the news stories and I think you could lift some direct quotes from some of the proponents who said back then Iran is three years away from a nuclear weapon.”

Hammes said those advocating bombing Iran “aren’t proposing a strategy, they are proposing a tactical approach: bomb and then bomb and then bomb again with no idea how it ends.”

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    Andre de Nesnera

    Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.