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  Print view: Prospects and Consequences of Attacking Iran

Prospects and Consequences of Attacking Iran

by Stephen Lendman
Monday, 26 July 2010
Israeli extremists say Iran is a threat, despite no confirming evidence, Tehran calling its commercial program legitimate. So do dozens of other nations, America and Israel included, despite continued rhetorical threats.

Hopefully its folly will prevent it. Otherwise, expect severe repercussions, including a considerable counterattack and disruption of regional oil supplies, further impacting a troubled global economy. So why consider it, given the December 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) saying:

"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; (perhaps it never had one); we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons..." True or not, dozens of nations may consider one, for defense, not offense in a hostile world, America and Israel the main aggressors, threatening humanity with their weapons of mass destruction.

The NIE also said:

"We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop (them).

Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop (them) than we have been judging since 2005."

Expect a new NIE update later this summer, hopefully with similar conclusions, then Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair saying so to Congress before his dismissal, perhaps why he was sacked, a "mistake" his successor, General James Clapper, won't make, but what's coming isn't certain, given influential forces on both sides in America, the same ones arguing them for years. Yet beyond saber-rattling rhetoric and sanctions, the administration's position is unclear.

Posturing and Provocations

Besides Washington and Israeli rhetoric, the Security Council (on June 9) imposed new sanctions on Iran, followed by America and EU nations adding others, banning transfers of refining, liquefaction, and liquid natural gas technology as well as on trade, finance, Iranian banks, transport, and against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In addition, some large western insurers won't cover Iranian shipping, deputy manager of the Iranian company Sea Pars, Mohammad Rounaghi, saying "most ports will refuse them entry if they are not covered for possible damages."

Not according to Mohammad Hussein Dajmar, Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) saying, "The world has many ports. We will sail to those nations that want to do business with us," among them China, Russia, India, Venezuela, and Brazil, important trading partners.

In early May, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, affirming his nation's compliance, IAEA inspections confirming it, its chief, Yukiya Amano, saying Tehran hasn't diverted nuclear materials for weapons, though he can't "confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities," a contradiction on its face.

In contrast, non-signatories Israel, India and Pakistan are nuclear outlaws. In addition, in 1970, when NPT was implemented, (189 nations are now parties), the five acknowledged powers - America, Russia, China, Britain and France - agreed to stringent safeguards for their commercial programs in return for progressively dismantling existing stockpiles. To date, there's little change, America asserting the preemptive right to use them against any perceived threat, a clear NPT violation and danger to global stability.

In his January 27 State of the Union address, Obama said:

"the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They....will face growing consequences. That is a promise" - so far, just rhetoric and sanctions, and according to Council for Foreign Relations senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Steven A. Cook, in a June 9, 2009 Foreign Policy op-ed, if Israel(i) (and by inference Washington) leaders were going to strike, they would not be broadcasting it to the world."

They're saber-rattling instead, reports saying Washington is stockpiling bunker-buster bombs in Diego Garcia (about 1,000 miles south of India). In addition, Egypt let an Israeli submarine and 11 US warships, including an aircraft carrier, sail through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea. A deliberate provocation ahead of a planned false flag attack? It bears watching as events are fluid, the most recent House Resolution 1553 on July 22:

"Expressing Support for the State of Israel's right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel."

It was referred to committee, endorsed by nearly one-third of House Republicans, but not by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, or other top Pentagon officials.

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski told the Senate that a domestic terrorist attack might be falsely blamed on Iran, and Rep. Ron Paul said he's concerned about "a contrived Gulf of Tonkin-type gain popular support for an attack on Iran." Russian analyst Alexei Vlasov disagrees, saying a "military operation on Iran" is just rumor.

The UK-Based Oxford Research Group (ORG)

ORG advocates for "non-military resolution of global conflict(s), combin(ing) in-depth political and technical expertise (with) serious analysis, dialogue and change."

In July, it published a Paul Rogers Briefing Paper titled, "Military Action Against Iran: Impact and Effects," concluding that:

"military action....should be ruled out as a means of responding to (Iran's) possible nuclear weapons ambitions. The consequences of such an attack would lead to a sustained conflict and regional instability that would....unlikely....prevent (Tehran's) eventual acquisition....and might even encourage it" for self-defense.

ORG believes US action is unlikely, but Israel's belligerence has increased, at least rhetorically, given its own voices on both sides, saner ones knowing the folly. Worrisome, however, is the IDF's improved strike capabilities, its "newly developed ability to conduct major attacks" with long-range aircraft, drones and improved tanker aircraft as well as "the probable availability of support facilities in north-east Iraq and Azerbaijan....increas(ing its) potential for action against Iran."

Israeli extremists say Iran is a threat, despite no confirming evidence, Tehran calling its commercial program legitimate. So do dozens of other nations, America and Israel included, despite continued rhetorical threats.

In February 2006, ORG published a study titled, "Iran, Consequences of a War," analyzing its possible outcomes, assuming that:

"any military action by the United States or Israel would have as its function the inflicting of severe damage on Iran's nuclear installations and medium-range missile programmes (sic), while, in the case of the United States, endeavoring to pre-empt any damaging Iranian response."

It also assumed no attempted regime change, just an action to destroy Iran's nuclear sites, supportive research, and retaliation capability, knowing Tehran "would have methods of responding....includ(ing) disruption of Gulf oil production and exports, (and by supporting) insurgents in Iraq (and) Southern Lebanon....A military operation against Iran....would set in motion a complex and long-lasting confrontation. It follows that (it) should be firmly ruled out and alternative strategies developed."

Today, ORG thinks an American attack is less likely, Israel posing a greater threat. Yet with November congressional elections approaching, neocon and other right-wing circles claim Iran is "a much greater threat to US regional and global interests than Iraq ever was." However, in March 2003, it was believed "if we get Iraq right, we won't have to worry about Iran," suggesting a convincing victory would cow Teheran into submission.

Iraq, however, is far from "right," and won't ever be under occupation. Attacking Iran compounds it disastrously, yet right-wing US hardliners and the Israeli Lobby want it. "While the Obama administration seems unlikely at present to consider military action, its rhetoric has certainly become far tougher," so far confined to posturing and sanctions.

Israel's Military Posture

Besides a nuclear capability of 200 or more warheads, it can deliver them by aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, and possibly submarine-launched cruise missiles. "Israel currently has three German-built Dolphin-class submarines with two more" to be delivered in 2012.

In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq's Osiraq reactor, and in September 2007 attacked a suspected (not proved) Syrian nuclear site. Using long-range versions US F-15 and F-16 aircraft (the F-15I Ra'am and F-16I Sufa), some reportedly with conformal fuel tanks for increased range, and backup tanker planes, Iran is within reach.

In addition, "Israel has been a leading developer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), used mainly for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR), the Hermit 450" a deployable variant armed with Hellfire missiles with an endurance up to 20 hours. A new UAV, the Eitan, is Israel's largest - "a 4,000 Kg high-altitude drone with a range of over 7,400 km (4,600 miles), an endurance of 36 hours, and a maximum payload of 2,000 kg."

Israel has also been involved in various operations in Iraq, especially training Kurdish commandos in the northeast, close to the Iranian border.

Besides its considerable military program, America supplies billions of dollars in annual aid, including state-of-the-art weapons and technology. It's acknowledged that Israel needs Washington's consent to attack, unilaterally or collaboratively. Doing so would involve over-flying US-controlled air space, likely via Iraq.

Despite being oil and gas rich, Iran wants (and is entitled to) a commercial nuclear capability for electricity - along with 30 other countries as of June 2010, including America, Canada, 15 European nations, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Japan and China, their programs encouraged, not opposed. Iran, alone, incurs hostility because of its suspected (not verified) military ambitions.

For years, Israel claimed Tehran is a year or two away from acquiring capability, the CIA waffling in its estimate, director Leon Panetta recently telling ABC News enough uranium is now available for two bombs, and within two years Iran will be able to deliver them. However, others inside the Agency disagree, and kidnapped Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri said Iran has no nuclear weapons program, despite high pressure to get him to say so.

At best, "all that can be said is that Iran is slowly developing the technologies and personnel (to) handle a range of nuclear-related systems." If it wants a nuclear arsenal, "three to seven years from now might be an appropriate estimate, the seven-year period being the time required to produce perhaps six usable weapons."

However, no evidence shows intent, despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise. In addition, at this time, Iran's fuel cycle is under safeguards. If not, it "would set off a major international alert many months before (it) would be able to convert the material into a weapon," or be able to have shadow facilities for large quantities of fuel through mining, milling, uranium conversion, enrichment, fabrication and weaponization.

Iran does have an ongoing ballistic missile program, ranging from short to long-range solid fuel systems. Until recently, its longest was the Shahab-3 able to hit targets up to 1,000 km away, short of reaching Israel. It's also developed a longer-range 1,600 km capability Ghadr-1 missile able to strike the Jewish state, but it's believed few so far have been produced.

Ahead may be more powerful solid fuel ballistic missiles, the Sajjil, able to reach targets up to 2,400 km away and carry a similar payload to the Ghadr-1. Tests have been conducted, but no reliable reports confirm deployments. It's estimated five years will be required to produce Sajjils in large numbers, Iran believing it needs a strong defense knowing "regimes to the east (Afghanistan) and west (Iraq) of it were terminated by large-scale (US) military action," Washington and Israel suggesting Tehran may be next.

If so, likely targets would be the following:

  • uranium enrichment plants, including their scientific and technical staff, especially near Natanz, Iran's main enrichment facility;
  • the Esfahan uranium conversion facility;
  • nuclear research and development locations in Tehran, near Arak, and the new Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant control systems, not the reactors to prevent regional contamination;
  • factories making supportive equipment, especially involved in centrifuge production;
  • military bases with missiles capable of striking Israel, including their personnel, research, development and production facilities; and
  • physics, engineering, electronics and related university departments, and their staff, with curricula related to nuclear and missile programs.

Overall, the likely strategy would be to destroy Iran's nuclear and missile capabilities and prevent attempts to resuscitate them. The "end result would be an attack with a very broad effect," causing widespread casualties, including in Tehran.

If Israel attacks, it might first strike Hezbollah in Lebanon to prevent its retaliatory response. "There have been reliable reports that the (IDF has) developed comprehensive plans all-out assault on the party's arsenals, command centres, commercial assets and strongholds throughout the country." Hezbollah may, in fact, expect one preemptively and is prepared to respond.

On July 22, the Jerusalem Post reported a planned IDF drill as part of extensive preparations for possible war with Hezbollah and Syria, the army preparing missile attacks on main roads and bases as well as infantry and armored force invasions, anticipating south Lebanon the main battleground, Hezbollah's stronghold with command centers and weapons depots.

If attacked, Iran will also respond, including by withdrawing from NPT under Article X provisions based on "extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this treaty (that) have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country." In addition, prioritizing nuclear weapons development to deter future attacks would be likely, including in below-ground secret facilities, reportedly under construction.

Other actions, over time, might include the following:

  • missile attacks against Israeli and US forces in Iraq;
  • Straits of Hormuz blockage to disrupt oil shipments, causing a sharp rise in prices, "potentially catastrophic" on a weak global economy;
  • attacks on western Gulf oil production, processing and transportation facilities - essentially soft targets despite greater security; and
  • support for Iraq and Afghanistan resistance fighters.

The Iranian public and Arab street would be supportive, perceiving Israel as a US client state, and Washington a regional menace.

"Perhaps the most important aspect of an Israel(i) attack (is) that it would almost certainly be the beginning of a long-term process of regular air strikes to further prevent the development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems," Israel and Washington believing once initiated, "it could not easily stop." Over time, Iran would respond accordingly, embroiling the entire region in conflict with catastrophic longer-term consequences.

At the same time, expect the unexpected, perhaps involving Lebanon, Syria, and regional state responses, depending on a protracted conflict's instability - not preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; in fact, likely encouraging it.

These "dangerous consequences (clearly) militate against military action," leaving two alternative paths:

  • more robust diplomacy for peace and the prospect of a nuclear-free Middle East; and/or
  • accept an eventual nuclearized Iran, using it to start "a process of balanced regional denuclearisation," knowing the risks - an unwilling Israel and the possibility it will encourage regional proliferation, a certainty if Israel and/or Washington attacks Iran.

The catastrophic consequences of doing so makes avoiding it essential. The alternative is unthinkable.

A Final Comment

Author/political critic Webster Tarpley sees the worst in his July 21 article titled, "Obama Is Preparing to Bomb Iran," saying we approached this abyss in summer 2007, escaped, and now face it again, quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski's remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2007 saying:

"If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the (Islamic) large. A plausible scenario for a military collision....involves Iraqi failure to meet benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for (it); then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the US blamed on Iran; culminating in a 'defensive' US military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan."

His lengthy article makes the case for war, concluding that "aggressive forces inside the United States think they have a much freer hand" than earlier, the Brzezinski cooler head faction losing ground to extremist neocons, strengthened by the possibility of General David Petraeus elected president in 2012.

He also believes the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), when released, will be "fixed around the desired war policy," coming likely during "the dark of the moon," perhaps an October 7 surprise. His advice - it's time for "persons of good will (to) get active, (otherwise) radioactive."

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, avoiding a regional or possible world war, perhaps to divert attention from the deepening economic depression.

Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at His blog is

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.

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This story was published on July 26, 2010.

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