At Large

Thinking About Bombing Iran

Not as unthinkable as the Washington establishment would have it.

By 3.19.10

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According to an article in the Financial Times, "Do Not Even Think About Bombing Iran" by Michael O'Hanlon and Bruce Riedel, both of the Brookings Institution, "the strike option" on Iranian nuclear facilities "lacks credibility." The authors believe that this is so because of "Iran's ability to retaliate against the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan…" This logic, like much else in this anti-war polemic posing as analysis, just doesn't withstand scrutiny.

It would have been far better if O'Hanlon/Riedel admitted from the beginning that they, like the Obama Administration, have no stomach for an attack on a murderous, ambition-crazed, self-perpetuating and self-justifying theocracy in the Middle East that seeks to dominate the region. Instead the authors prefer to present unsupported arguments such as, "… even a massive strike would not slow Iran's progress toward a bomb for long."

What militarily and technically inaccurate pap! For some reason O'Hanlon/Riedel seem to believe that operational nuclear weapon and development sites are actually capable of being hidden from counteraction. They present as evidence the fact that the media discovered a new nuclear development site in Qom last year. Digging in the middle of a major city can't be seen on the ground or by satellite, eh?

Obviously these authors -- and other liberal Washington pundits -- are thinking only in conventional weapon terms in relation to any attack on Iranian nuclear weapon facilities. There is no reason for such a limitation. There are a panoply of classified exotic systems currently available to disrupt and destroy any and all Iranian attack modes, nuclear or not. The claim that O'Hanlon/Riedel make that "Iran can rebuild fairly fast…" is again based on a perception that only conventional weapons would be available for use in the current international political context.

The FT column argues that President Obama would not militarily attack Iran because he is bound by "his effort to recast the U.S. as a country playing by international legal norms." Here is where O'Hanlon/Riedel may be completely correct. Obama has shown very little stomach for directly countering military threats. He certainly will stretch out as long as possible the program of sanctions along with diplomatic threats.

A key point in the O'Hanlon/Riedel argument is that Iran has already supported terrorist attacks and proxy wars on Israel and the United States. They contend that the danger of Iranian nuclear weapon buildup is lessened by the fact that Tehran has done quite well in its efforts at conventional and irregular warfare. Suggesting that Iran shouldn't waste time pursuing nuclear weapons when it's already doing so well with terrorists and surrogate forces doesn't seem to hold much potential.

The O'Hanlon/Riedel commentary neglects to consider Israel's unilateral capability to defend itself whenever it perceives imminent danger from Iran. The article offers the suggestion: "We should also pledge to provide a nuclear umbrella over Israel and other threatened states." The authors ignore this protection has been implicit in the Middle East, and elsewhere, for decades.

It is also possible, however, to consider the use of the currently highly classified weapons mentioned earlier. Certain of these weapons are already available and could be utilized at a point when Iran is seen to have created its first nuclear-armed missile or just before. These capabilities should be emphasized more. The perspective would be improved.

Among the best known would be the electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapon that might be detonated at an altitude up to 400km in salvos above a central Iranian target set. This action effectively would disable all electricity-dependent instruments from automobiles to home appliances and on to missile batteries and even deep underground facilities (as discovered by the Russians years ago in their own test firings).

Ultimately all power grids throughout the targeted areas in Iran would be shorted out for hundreds of miles. There would be no need for selective targeting other than to avoid "spill-over" into non-Iranian border regions. The details of such range and target control mechanisms remain some of the most highly sensitive and thus of the strictest classification.

To compliment and supplement the EMP barrage there would be a massive computer hacking effort before and during the attack. This cyber offensive pulverizing Tehran's tactical command and control systems reportedly has been gamed successfully on several occasions -- again highly classified. The combination of the two attacks is believed to be able effectively to bring Iran to a standstill.

Defense consultant Chet Nagle, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and author of the acclaimed work, Iran Covenant, characterized the overall effect: "In fact, if the strike [EMP] was at noon on a sunny day, the people below would not know it happened except their lights would go out, cars would stop, fridges die, power line transformers short out, oil refineries shut down, and those uranium enrichment centrifuges in caverns would stop spinning."

Such an action would immobilize Iran and allow conventional U.S. sea and air forces time to attack the already degraded Iranian coastal defense, thus preventing the closing of the Straits of Hormuz. Such a scenario supports the fact that the issue is not whether Iran can be shut down, but whether the Obama Administration would have the will to do so.

The Iranians and O'Hanlon/Riedel are betting against American will. The Israelis may agree with them, but such a view only further insures an Israeli preemptive strike. So perhaps it might be better if we did talk about -- "bombing" Iran!

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.