Military Analyst: Airstrikes On Iran Would Be Complicated, Only Delay Nuclear Program

An expert on Middle Eastern military affairs at a think tank with a pro-Israel bent said airstrikes on Iran would be difficult and dangerous to pull off. Even if the strikes were successful, said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the AIPAC-formed Washington Institute for Near East Policy, they would only delay the Iranian nuclear program for two to three years.

“The attack itself is a complicated thing. It’s not something you can easily gloss over the complexity of,” said White at a panel convened by the Arms Control Association. He added:

You could make the argument that we could go for a very limited attack on just nuclear facilities, but I think that’s less likely. If we make a decision to do it, we’re going to make a big attack.

Iran hawks, especially neoconservatives, often play the idea of airstrikes off the invasion and occupation of a country. When Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who favors an attack on Iran, brought up a “credible threat of force” as part of a “reset” of Iran policy, she was quick to qualify it as “not occupation or invasion, but strikes sufficient to hobble Iran’s nuclear program, military and Revolutionary Guard.”


This prompted CAP’s Matt Duss to ask, “What’s Farsi for ‘cakewalk’?” Referencing the term used to sell the Iraq war because of its expected ease, Duss wrote: “[T]alk of ‘air strikes’ are for Iran what ‘cakewalk’ was for Iraq.”

White’s remarks on Tuesday only reinforced Duss’s point that hawks are once again minimizing the pitfalls and difficulties of engaging in yet another Mideast war.

Even if the attack is successful in extensively damaging Iranian nuclear sites, White said the Iranian nuclear program could only be delayed:

You can’t destroy knowledge and you can’t destroy the basic technology. The setback to the program would be measured in years I think — two years maybe three years.

White pointed out that, because of capability limitations, potential Israeli airstrikes would likely only delay the Iranian program by one year.


White acknowledged that the Iranian nuclear program also consisted of some difficult targets to reach, and suggested that using a small nuclear weapon might be necessary:

Burying a (nuclear) facility in a mountain does raise some issues and it raises the issue of using a small tactical nuclear weapon. It would be a possibility.

White also said such operations would be “phased” airstrikes — a sustained campaign of bombings over time — because “you cannot hit all these targets at the same time.”

Many other factors would complicate such an attack and its planning. Which countries would join or support the U.S. Would Western allies fly bombing missions alongside the U.S.? Would Gulf allies allow the use of bases on their soil to launch an attack or even to stage rescue operations in case U.S. or allied planes went down?

None of this even begins to address Iranian retaliation throughout the region, the alienation of allies, fallout from blowing up nuclear sites, or the effects of an attack on Iran’s fledgling democracy movement. But even the strikes themselves provide tremendous challenges. The hawks’ obfuscation of these details (again) should serve as a warning to the public to avoid the buyer’s remorse felt after the selling of the Iraq invasion.