Conservatives such as AEI’s Joshua Muravchik have argued that a targeted air strike “would not end Iran’s weapons program, but it would certainly delay it.” Similarly, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton promoted the concept of air strikes, saying, “I don’t think the military option, with respect to the Iranian nuclear program, would involve forces on the ground. I think it would involve the destruction of the nuclear facilities. And that can be done in a variety of other ways.”
In a new study, the British-based Oxford Research Group reports that military strikes on Iran “could accelerate rather than halt Tehran’s production of atomic weapons.” “If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capacity, it is doing so relatively slowly,” the report says. But in the report’s introduction, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix warns that “armed attacks on Iran would very likely lead to the result they were meant to avoid — the building of nuclear weapons within a few years.” A key portion of the report:
If Iran’s nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash programme to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time: some months rather than years. The argument that military strikes would buy time is flawed. It does not take into account the time already available to pursue diplomacy; it inflates the likelihood of military success and underplays the possibility of hardened Iranian determination leading to a crash nuclear programme. Post military attacks, it is possible that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon and would then wield one in an environment of incalculably greater hostility.
It is a mistake to believe that Iran can be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities, and presumably continuing to do so should Iran then reconstitute its programme.
The Washington Post reported last year that the administration was “studying options for military strikes against Iran.” Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace “categorically” denied that the U.S. is planning for such operations. But media reports have indicated preparations for an air strike against Iran are reportedly “at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration.”
UPDATE: The Center for American Progress’s Iran strategy, “Contain and Engage,” notes, “After a U.S. military strike some countries might even decide that it is in their interests to help Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Russia, for instance, might regard U.S. military action in Iran as destabilizing and damaging to its national security and seek to counter U.S. power in the region by strengthening its relationship with Iran.”