The Osirak Option

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With the Obama administration in office, I’m now pretty confident that the United States of America won’t launch a unilateral preventive military attack on Iran. On the other hand, given that, it now seems more likely that Israel might—especially in light of the election results. This is still a terrible idea that will have bad results for Iran, bad results for Israel, bad results for the United States, and probably bad results for other people as well. This CSIS analysis by Anthony Cordesman (via James Fallows) runs through some of the main problems:

Iran’s Nuclear Program

• The more an Israeli threat to the survival of the regime in Iran, the more Iran will be determined to acquire nuclear weapons.
•Increase Iran’s long term resolve to develop a nuclear deterrent program. Could be the beginning rather than the end of such a program. Iran could start an accelerated program in building its own nuclear weapons. It could also covert it’s dispersed facilities into a full weapons development program and be brought online in a very short period of time.

Iran and the IAEA

Iran would withdraw from the NPT based on the argument that it needs to acquire nuclear weapons to deter any further aggression by Israel and the U.S.

Iranian response against Israel

• Immediate retaliation using its ballistic missiles on Israel. Multiple launches of Shahab-3 including the possibility of CBR warheads against Tel Aviv, Israeli military and civilian centers, and Israeli suspected nuclear weapons sites.
• Using proxy groups such as Hezbollah or Hamas to attack Israel proper with suicide bombings, covert CBR attacks, and rocket attacks from southern Lebanon.

The basic dynamics in the passages I’ve highlighted are very poorly understood in the American press and political system, and seem even worse understood in Israel. But there’s really no reason to think that unilateral airstrikes will do anything to the delay the point at which Iran has a nuclear weapon. Bombs will destroy facilities, but facilities can be rebuilt. And funding levels for programs can be altered. The political calculus about NPT participation can be altered. The calculus about the desirability of weaponizing nuclear material as opposed to just creating it can be altered. And a unilateral attack will alter all of those things in an unfavorable direction.