May 7, 2009
Why attacking Iran may be morally and militarily necessaryBy James Lewis
The decision to go to war is always a profound moral question, for any sane and civilized country. It is also a military and political question, and in the case of Iran, situated as it is at the head of the Persian-Arab Gulf, a major economic question. All the ducks have to be in a row for the decision to be made.
SecDef Gates argued in public testimony last week that knocking out Iran's nuclear installations would make little sense, because it would only slow down the mullahs' rush to nukes, and not bring them to a screeching halt. But in a crisis like this one, no public statement can be believed; disinformation is at least as common as truth-telling. Some people have argued that Gates took the military option off the table, thereby Jimmy-Carterizing Obama good and proper. In this view, Obama is committing public self-castration for the cause of peace.
I don't believe it, because Gates is a pretty good player of the info/disinfo game. Obama must know that he, too, could become Carterized if the ayatollahs make the US look helpless long enough. Gates' argument also contradicts a careful recently published study on Iran's nuclear vulnerabilities. There are industrial choke-points in nuclear and missile production that are centralized, and which afford tempting targets. Even area weapons like conventional EMP could be employed. And Iran has other vulnerabilities, like its limited oil-refining capacity, that could be threatened to control any threats of revenge.
The most important military argument for striking Iran's nuke facilities is the fast development of anti-missile defenses in all the surrounding countries of the Gulf. For half a century of the nuclear age there were no effective defenses. That is now changing very rapidly. A strike on Iran's nuclear weapons of aggression could slow down its offensive capabilities and give time for defensive weapons to be perfected and deployed in all countries that are threatened by rogue nukes.
With Obama prancing and preening our new-found weakness, our allies are taking matters into their own hands. Australia just announced a new military doctrine on the assumption that the US would fail to support Pax Americana in the Pacific. Australia therefore needs to rapidly beef up its military capabilities. India is seeing the same handwriting on the wall. Japan has been acquiring US antimissile defenses, and developing its own in collaboration with the US.
We don't know what's happening in secret around the industrialized world, but when the cop on the beat gets drunk, it's not just the criminals who reach for their guns. Solid citizens do, too.
Israel has demonstrated time and again that with its back to the wall, it will strike enemies with very great effect. Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear power plant in 1981, and under Prime Minister Menachem Begin the IAF destroyed it in a matter of minutes. France, which was building the reactor, secretly cooperated in the Israeli strike and withdrew its engineers from the Osirak plant so that none were harmed. But even in 1981 peaceniks no doubt argued that knocking down the Saddam's Osirak plant would only make Saddam stronger, and cause him to disperse his weapons and personnel. We know what happened.
This time Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States may well cooperate in secret with a powerful series of strikes on Iranian nuke facilities. They have been signaling their concerns about the mullahs like mad, because Ahmadinejad is constantly, openly threatening them. A'jad has only one string on his fiddle: It's the bald threat. He works by spreading fear and direct intimidation. The Arabs do not appreciate that; after all, they have fought the Iranians since the Persian Empire three thousand years ago. Islam's earliest victories were against the Persian Empire. A few weeks ago Egypt discovered a Hezb'allah (i.e., Iranian) plot against them, and have been ranting up a public storm against Tehran.
The real question is whether to wait a year, to allow more and better defenses, or whether to strike now that oil prices are low, and a strike will not harm economies around the world. The moral case for pinpoint strikes against Iranian world-threatening nuclear sites is irrefutable, except for those who are in denial and have therefore fled from reason. They are not in the game; they may preen and posture, but only the suckers fall for that. When the time comes the real moralists will step forward.
This matter is slipping out of US hands. None of our allies are going to let themselves be raped by such as Iran, or in the case of Eastern Europe, by Putin's Russia. India is much more powerful and has much better intelligence about Pakistan and the Taliban than it normally reveals in public. China can't be thrilled with an out-of-control North Korea, where it may not be able to influence the succession to Kim-Jong Il. Everywhere in the world where rogue powers are developing nukes, surrounding sane nations are preparing their defenses.
In the case of Israel, a little-noticed fact about the recent Gaza War -- which was really a punitive strike -- is that Hamas was able to fire its still-primitive rockets close to the nuclear complex at Dimona. That is an unbreachable red line for Israel. If Iran smuggles more effective missiles to Gaza, with more powerful warheads, the container vessel of the Dimona nuclear plant could be damaged or destroyed. That is unacceptable.
As always, Israel is playing this one very close to the vest. They will strike when the world understands it has no other option. That may be in the next 12 months. What is known in public about Israel's strike capabilities is likely to be only a fraction of what it really has in its armamentarium. The IDF has had three decades of Khomeini-type threats to Israel's existence to prepare for this.
At the same time an Israeli strike is likely to be swift and time-limited. If the US is circumvented -- something that is quite possible with the secret cooperation of Saudi Arabia, for example -- the Obama administration will have the unpalatable choice of actually fighting a faithful ally, allowing the strike(s) to proceed, or playing defense against Iranian retaliation in order to protect Arab countries and Israel if and when a strike occurs. Since the survival of Iran's neighbors is directly threatened, we are not in a realistic position to oppose rational actions taken by them in self-defense.
That's what you get when you quit being the cop: Others take over the job of policing their neighborhoods.
Rahm Emmanuel (with the obvious permission of Obama) has been threatening to keep aid against Iran hostage to Israeli concessions in Jerusalem and the West Bank. But that is no longer an option. America made such a move during the Six Day War, by blocking military supplies to Israel to stop the IDF advance into Egypt. In the last thirty years the Israelis have worked consistently to insulate themselves from such pressure by building their own weapon systems. They don't want to do that, but they can if they have to.
To be sure, the Israelis want American cooperation in any action against Iranian nukes. If they fail to get it, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Eastern Europe and the Arab countries will instantly draw their own conclusions: Pax Americana is no more. But it's their necks on the line. Israel cannot stand by and watch nuclear Armageddon come closer every day.
At some point the White House will get that, even if it hasn't so far. It's hard to tell with these people. My guess is that when push comes to shove -- as may be happening in Pakistan today -- Obama will turn into George Bush III. If not, he will be defeated in 2012 by a disillusioned American public.
Bottom line: The military option is not off the table vis-a-vis Iran. After three decades of preparation for this moment, the IDF is well-prepared to take effective action. The United States will not have much of a choice if and when that happens. I don't expect a major military strike until the last rational moment before Iran gets working nukes and delivery systems.
Obama will be given time to let his public gestures turn the stony hearts of A'jad and his Twelver Cult change toward love and peace. But when the sands run out, expect a series of very effective strikes on the nuclear choke points of Iran's WMD program.