Brief comment on Iran

2006-04-09

in Bombs and rockets, Law, Politics

The idea that the United States is planning to attack Iran seems to be gaining currency in the media. Let us hope that this is an intentional strategy of intimidation meant to bolster efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear program diplomatically. Compared to Iraq – which had been crippled by sanctions and frequent military interventions in the years leading up to the second Gulf War – Iran certainly retains the offensive capability to inflict considerable direct and indirect damage to American and other western interests.

Consider the single possibility of rendering the Strait of Hormuz impassable. Given the sheer volume of oil that passes through there, a disruption could cause severe economic problems worldwide. Between air power and missiles, Iran also has the capacity to strike targets throughout the region. Any military action in Iran would lead to casualties that make the 2000 or so in Iraq so far look like nothing: and that’s just if the strikes are based around conventional forces. There is apparently talk of using tactical nuclear weapons to strike embedded facilities, such as the uranium centrifuge cascade that is supposedly under construction. Even without nuclear weapons, Iran could inflict massive casualties in retaliation for such an attack: an attack that would also be a gross violation of international law and any reasonable code of morality.

Anyone who is as terrified as I am by recent revelations that the United States may be planning an attack on Iran, or who maintains a general interest in the Middle East region, might want to take a look at a new Oxford blog: Middle East Wonks. Among the contributors is my friend and fellow M.Phil student Roham Alvandi, who I was impressed to learn writes about Iran for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous April 9, 2006 at 2:59 pm

People seem a bit saner on your side of the pond:

“British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has dismissed reports of a possible US nuclear strike against Iran as “completely nuts”.

He told the BBC there was no basis for any military action despite suspicions over Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Anonymous April 9, 2006 at 3:46 pm

The New York Times features a story about Iran’s missile capabilities and space technology. (Registration required)

Reports from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California both detail Iran’s retaliatory capabilities.

(Source)

Anonymous April 9, 2006 at 4:46 pm

1) Seymour Hersh’s credibility is a little shaky – he tends toward the sensationalist in his coverage. There’s a line between coercive diplomacy and military action which he blurs significantly. That said, the idea that the US is willing to increase pressure strategies when negotiations don’t produce results is not exactly a surprise, nor is it beyond any “reasonable code of morality” – even the EU has said only that they want more time on negotiations.
2) What are your suggestions for what leaders should actually DO? At the end of the day, would you choose a nuclear-capable Iran, or authorize limited military strikes on nuclear/military facilities? I’m curious to hear what your solutions are….
3) Did you say anything about the presence of Canadian troops in Iraq? Perhaps I missed it, but I thought that would pique your interest….

Milan April 9, 2006 at 4:50 pm

1) My claim is that the use of nuclear weapons against Iran would be grossly illegal and not in keeping with reasonable codes of morality. I never said such a thing about “pressure strategies” in general.

2) I would say that a nuclear armed Iran is a less dangerous option than starting a war with Iran. They will be subject to the same threats of massive retaliation as other nuclear states, and their ability to destabilize the region in retaliation for an American or Israeli strike is considerable.

3) I didn’t say anything about Canadian troops in Iraq. As far as I know, there aren’t any.

Milan April 9, 2006 at 4:57 pm

On a procedural note, I’d really appreciate if people went by something other than Anonymous. To quote from Bruce Schneier’s blog:

“Real names aren’t required, but please give us something to call you. Conversations among several people called “Anonymous” get too confusing.”

Taylor April 9, 2006 at 5:14 pm

Hey Milan. Good post. I have been loosely thinking through the insanity of this lately, a few posts on it are up. What I at first found puzzling is why the administration has shunned all of the legitimate attempts by the Iranians to negotiate a solution, really from 2003 on. On this, Hersh’s piece provides the missing link – diplomacy will only address Iran’s nuclear capability, where as the desired strategic ends of the administration policy is regime change and middle east resource ‘stability’. Exactly like with Iraq, they are using the nuclear issue as the PR push, but really desire far more. The concequences of this are frightening indeed.

Milan April 9, 2006 at 5:26 pm

Taylor’s longer post on the Hersh piece is well worth having a look at, particularly if you don’t feel inclined to read the original article for yourself.

B April 9, 2006 at 6:08 pm

Doesn’t President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad strike you as just a bit too unstable and bellicose for standard patterns of nuclear deterrence to be effective against? We’re talking about a state that regularly threatens to wipe Israel off the map.

It may be worth the tens of thousands of casualties (at least) that a strike on Iran would generate, if that would definitively shut down their nuclear programme. That said, I expect that is is very well entrenched: especially after the Osirak strike demonstrated the vulnerability of above ground facilities.

In the end, having a strike plan in place is simply necessary. Should it become obviously required, then there will not be time to come up with one at that point. Especially if doing so requires the kind of covert action which the Hersh piece suggests is ongoing. If having the plan leaked a bit helps to make Iran think twice about what it’s doing, all the better.

Milan April 9, 2006 at 7:08 pm

B,

I think you underestimate the international importance an American strike on Iran would have. It would not be a matter of primarily bilateral concern. Israel would very clearly be in the line of fire and, at the level of engagement that is being discussed in this article, anyone with regional interests in the Middle East would be intensely concerned. Since all the great powers almost definitionally have interests in the region, their feelings with regards to a potential American interaction must be considered.

While Russia and China were willing to not kick up too much fuss about Iraq, I think that Iran would be a different matter. That becomes enormously more true when you start talking about nuclear weapons. Attacking Iran could be a major destabilizing event for a region that is already rather less than stable.

Anonymous April 10, 2006 at 12:04 am

Hey Milan,

Not getting into the Iran debate, but to clarify an earlier question/comment, there were Canadian troops embedded in the US-led coalition from the beginning of the war, mostly on training exchanges, which Harper confirmed last week after Canadian forces were involved in the rescue of Canadian citizens there. It is also widely believed by most independent analysts that Canadian special forces are operating in Iraq, though the government will neither confirm nor deny.

See http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/iraq/bal-te.canada26mar26,0,6859766.story?coll=bal-iraq-headlines

Sheena

Anonymous April 10, 2006 at 9:49 am

More on this from Patrick Porter of OxBlog.

Anonymous April 10, 2006 at 7:34 pm
Anonymous April 11, 2006 at 4:11 pm

US President George W Bush has dismissed as “wild speculation” a media report suggesting he is considering using nuclear weapons against Iran.

Gen. 'Buck' Turgidson April 27, 2006 at 2:22 pm

Don’t you realize that if we were to launch an all out and coordinated attack against all of their airfields and missile bases, we would stand a damn good chance of catching them with their pants down!

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