At Large

Dr. Strangelove Visits Iran

The U.S. has electronic and laser weapons at its disposal, as Tehran must know.

By 7.25.08

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According to Keyvan Imani, a ranking member of the Iranian delegation that recently came to Geneva, there is no possibility of negotiation on the issue of Iran's enrichment of uranium. "There is no chance for that," he is reported to have said. What then was the purpose of this session held with representatives of the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and attended by U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns? Equally, why were the Persians given another two weeks to consider the matter?

The simple answer is that the UN group once again did not want to close down the possibility of more talks before advising on the increase of economic sanctions against Tehran. For their part, the Iranians are using the North Korean method of negotiation: Keep talking about fringe matters and avoid as long as possible concrete discussions of the basic issues.

Tehran wants to extend any negotiation in order to make eventual nuclear weapon acquisition a fait accompli. The next step is for the UN Security Council to vote an increase in the economic sanctions already in place. Iran will use every device in its not inconsiderable bag of tricks to forestall that action.

In the meantime the threat remains that the Iranians will seek to close off crude oil shipped through the Straits of Hormuz if the United States or Israel attacks their nuclear development facilities. From a military standpoint, however, Tehran has more to worry about than a traditional conventional bombing attack. Iran's nuclear facilities are particularly vulnerable to certain exotic weapon systems.

MUCH DISCUSSED RECENTLY in unclassified journals, the non-nuclear electro-magnetic pulse weapon has been under development for over twenty-five years by the United States. An EMP weapon has the ability to create a massive energy surge that can disable electrical/electronic systems in a target area. Integrated circuits are the most vulnerable, and they would be key to any nuclear development or weapon system.

Some protection can be provided against EMP by the construction of "Faraday cages" around each separate circuit system and electrical lead, though new military-use EMP's can circumvent these. Combined with advanced versions of high power microwave (HPM) devices, disabling damage is said to be capable of being inflicted on any e-system.

In addition to the EMP both the United States and Israel have the advanced software ability to invade the Iranian military computer system in such a way as to negate Tehran's ability to make operational any nuclear weapon it may have in development. Iran must know this already.

The evidence of the existence of this particular computer hacking capability exists in the already publicly known fear that Washington itself has of an increasing danger of the Chinese ability to do just this very thing. And if the Chinese have such electronic invasion software, the U.S. has it already and the Russians certainly can't be far behind.

One of the more interesting weapons known to be under current development is the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) system. This weapon is being tested for air-to-ground use. This version reportedly has a target radius down to a matter of inches from a range of five miles at 10,000 feet. The weapon is adjudged to have the power to penetrate and destroy targets such as missile batteries, commo centers, and other more hardened C3 facilities.

There are numerous other exotic weapon systems under development, some quite target specific. The proliferation and dispersion of Iranian nuclear development installations, many underground, is their primary method of defense. Nonetheless, each of these facilities is under high priority surveillance. The Iranians would have to be extraordinarily naive not to have realized this.

IN THEORY, all these exotic weapons have an ability to contribute to destroying an enemy's war-making potential without massive body counts or destruction of civilian population centers. It is perhaps not "surgical", but certainly far less life threatening. It is a type of offensive capability of overwhelming strategic value. Even the promised Iranian counterstrike against traffic through the Gulf would be substantially degraded. Most important, aside from several covert special operations teams, no U.S. ground forces would participate.

The Iranians seek to become the dominant regional power, and they believe obtaining nuclear weapons is key to this aim. They are counting on the American military as overextended and U.S. domestic politics as war weary; all of which adds up to a nation incapable of an effective tactical response to Iranian military development.

Unfortunately for Iran, it is least one generation behind the strategic times. It would be well if the Iranians graciously accepted the proffered European carrots, because the American sticks are far greater and more sophisticated than they realize -- if Washington will use them.

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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.