Bombing Iran? Take It "Off the Table"

Joe Klein of Time magazine has a new piece out this week indicating that after being largely dismissed during the Bush administration, "the military option is very much back on the table" with respect to Iran's nuclear program. And while he notes that "the White House remains as skeptical as ever about a military strike," the Pentagon, the CIA and Central Command seem to be doing serious planning about how such a strike might be carried out.

Klein cites an Israeli military source who suggests that the Central Command has a much better plan now due to better "human intelligence": "there really wasn't a military option a year ago . . . But they've gotten serious about planning, and the option is real now." Given all of the potential push back against such a strike (which would more likely be a protracted series of strikes, as noted below), Klein indicates that in the worst case, "A catastrophic regional war is possible." Not likely, but possible.

Klein's revelations come the same week as the release of a new briefing paper by Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group that looks at the likely impacts of Israeli military action against Iran. Rogers' analysis suggests that an Israeli war on Iran over its nuclear program has far more risks than benefits: "The consequences of such an attack would lead to a sustained conflict and regional instability that would be unlikely to prevent the eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran and might even encourage it."

Rogers's most important point is that any attempt to eliminate Iran's nuclear capability would be a long-term process, not a series of lightning strikes. It would include not only bombing of major nuclear and missile facilities -- "military real estate," as Rogers puts it -- but would likely extend to "factories and research centres, and even university laboratories, in order to do as much as possible to the Iranian that underpins the programme." The effort might even extend to assassinations of key scientific and technical personnel. Substantial numbers of civilian casualties would be inevitable, not just among technical personnel but among their families and others living near key research and production facilities as well as the people working at them.

What might all of this accomplish? Everything from Iran's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to Iranian missile attacks on Israel, to actions aimed at disrupting global oil supplies, to increased support for Hezbollah attacks on Israel, to Iranian support for anti-Western paramilitary groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is possible that Israel would launch a second war on Lebanon in an effort to cripple Hezbollah in advance of striking Iran. Israel's summer 2006 effort to do so was unsuccessful, even as it generated significant civilian casualties and destroyed large amounts of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure.

Meanwhile, within Iran, it is likely to harden resolve to build a nuclear bomb and further unify that politically divided nation behind the nuclear option.

All of which leads to Rogers' final point: "the consequences of a military attack on Iran are so serious that they should not be encouraged in any shape or form. However difficult, other ways must be found to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis."

Rogers' analysis has not received as much attention as it deserves, albeit Reuters did a story and a piece ran in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Given his findings, it's crucial that the military option be taken "off the table," both in Israel and the United States.