First, it’s not at all clear that Israel has the military capability to attack at least one of Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, namely, Fordow. Built deep into the side of a mountain near the city of Qom, the Fordow plant has received a great deal of media attention since the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last Thursday, which describes in detail how Iran has more than doubled the number of centrifuges there over the summer. In May of this year there were 1,064 centrifuges installed at Fordow; as of August there were 2,140. The number of operating centrifuges has not changed, however, and they are of poor quality. Nonetheless, for Israelis like Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the addition of more than one thousand centrifuges during the span of a single summer to a highly fortified facility is extremely worrying and a sign that Iran is inching ever closer to that oft-cited “zone of immunity” if it’s not already there. Even now, the New York Times cites “military professionals” as saying that the most an Israeli attack on Fordow could hope to accomplish would be to close its tunnel entrances. Surely Iran can dig those tunnels again, so this hardly seems like a sustainable solution.
Well, what about the United States? According to “current and former military and intelligence analysts,” Fordow may well be impregnable to Israeli firepower, but the United States’ capabilities are far more advanced. With bombs like the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which bores through earth and concrete before detonating, there is no zone of immunity as far as the United States is concerned. That said, last week’s remarks by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, reiterated the Obama administration’s policy of continuing to apply diplomatic and economic pressure, but stopping short of a military attack. He also scuttled the notion that the U.S. would be willing to countenance a unilateral Israeli strike, saying, “I don't want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.” I think it highly unlikely that Israel will go it alone lest Israel risk decimating its relationship with its closest supporter and ally. As Jeffrey Goldberg over at the Atlantic reminds us:
The only thing more important to Ehud Barak (apart from Ehud Barak) than shutting down the Fordow facility is keeping Israel (and himself) on the right side of the American president, and the American people.
A strained relationship with the United States is but one of many deleterious consequences likely to result from a preemptive Israeli attack. Advocates of war would also do well to remember:
(1) Israeli bombs can only delay Iran’s nuclear program. American bombs would extend the length of that delay. At the end of the day (or, more accurately, in a few years’ time) the Islamic Republic will reconstitute its nuclear program.
(2) If there was any doubt in Ayatollah Khamenei’s mind that Iran needed a nuclear deterrent, there won’t be one after an Israeli attack. Western intelligence agencies say Iran is in the process of creating nuclear weapons breakout capability that would give it the option to acquire a bomb in short notice, but the Supreme Leader hasn’t made the final decision to go nuclear. An Israeli attack will make that decision for him.
(3) When Iran does rebuild its nuclear program (with the full support of the Iranian people, no matter their political leanings), it’s a safe bet that the facilities will be harder to attack (read, deeper underground), and the pace at which Iran seeks the bomb will likely be highly accelerated.
(4) Before the dust settles on Iran’s nuclear sites, both Israel and the United States can expect swift retaliation via ballistic missiles and proxies like Hezbollah. Iran’s retaliation may be met with Israeli reprisals, marking the onset of an overt war of undetermined length. Combine this with a “shadow war” that has been fought for decades and the result will be something Parisa, myself, and just about everyone else with any semblance of sense would like to avoid:
(5) Death, destruction, and displacement.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist