A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) — an organization dedicated to carrying out non-partisan investigations for Congress — laid out considerations that could affect an Israeli decision to attack Iran’s nuclear program, and the potential issues that the U.S. might have to deal with in the wake of such an event.
The CRS report’s (PDF) summary states:
By all accounts, such an attack could have considerable regional and global security, political, and economic repercussions, not least for the United States, Israel, and their bilateral relationship. It is unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
A potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, and the nuclear non-proliferation regime — though U.S. intelligence has not concluded that Iran has made a decision to pursue a weapon. The Obama administration vows to keep “all options on the table” to deal with the possibility, but the efficacy and consequences of a strike raise serious questions, leading the U.S. to pursue, for the meantime, a pressure track aimed at a negotiated resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis.
An Israeli decision to carry out air strikes could hinge on the potential it sees for inflicting long-term damage on Iran’s nuclear program. One aspect of that potential — and one that gives rise to uncertainty — rests on Iran’s ability to reconstitute aspects of its program. Iran, over the years, dispersed it’s program into different locations, some shrouded in mystery.
The report honed in on Iran’s ability to preserve nuclear knowledge and the capability to rebuild its program through its opaque “workshops” for building centrifuges. Bloomberg News noted, “The possibility of dispersed facilities complicates any assessment of a potential raid’s success.” The CRS report went on to cite a former U.S. official with direct knowledge on the issue stating:
Iran’s centrifuge production is widely distributed and that the number of workshops has probably multiplied ‘many times’ since 2005 because of an increase in Iranian contractors and subcontractors working on the program.
Iran withdrew from the rigorous inspection standards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocols in 2006. While the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains access to Iranian enrichment sites, activities related to the construction of those centrifuges — before they get moved into enrichment sites — remain largely in the dark since 2006.
CRS estimated that Iran could largely rebuild its centrifuge construction “workshops” within six months of an attack. The Arms Control Association’s Peter Crail told Bloomberg news that a military strike would likely cause Iran to kick out IAEA inspectors, allowing the Islamic Republic to construct an entirely new enrichment facility dedicated to weapons-grade uranium away from international eyes. Crail told Bloomberg:
At some point they are going to reconstitute the program. It’s really just a question of can they do it within a year or two or is it going to take them a little bit longer.