Former Bush administration ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said today on Fox News that the killing of an Iranian scientist and sanctions against Iran constitute only “half-measures” in the quest to stunt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Though he conflates them, the two tactics aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress are actually very different. One set of activities — sanctions — are overt and have international legitimacy. The measures against Iran’s nuclear and missile programs pushed through the U.N. Security Council by the Obama administration are among the few tactics which have been shown to slow Iran’s progress.
Covert work can be broken up into several different tacks as well. While assassinations are considered clearly illegal under international humanitarian law, other activities fall in murkier territory (take, for example, the Stuxnet computer virus unleashed on Iranian nuclear facilities reportedly by Israel and the U.S.). That’s probably why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out today and disavowed the attack on an Iranian nuclear scientist. A State Department statement added: “The United States strongly condemns this act of violence and categorically denies any involvement in the killing.”
BOLTON: Well, I think all of these efforts are doomed to failure and in fact the consequence of increasing the sanctions is simply to persuade Iran to finish — to get on with the business of finishing its nuclear weapon, putting it in the position of North Korea which we know has exploded two nuclear devices, which makes it a lot less likely — in fact, probably makes it impossible to believe we would attack North Korea because of the fear of nuclear retaliation.
So I think this is going to a very, very difficult year and I think, honestly, that half-measures like assassinations or sanctions are only going to produce the crisis more quickly. The better way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to attack its nuclear weapons program directly, break their control over the nuclear fuel cycle.
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What Bolton won’t tell you here is that sanctions, as mentioned before, have actually helped slow Iran’s nuclear progress — not accelerate it. A strike would merely delay the program, probably by no more than three years. Furthermore, a Israeli thinktank’s simulation exercise found that a Iranian nuclear test explosion does not, as Bolton claims, preclude a strike to delay further progress toward a viable, operational nuclear weapon.