September 10, 2012

The Realities of “Preventive” Strikes

Certain media outlets as well as conservative political camps in both the US and Israel would have you believe that it would take no more than a few days of airstrikes to delay and/or end Iran’s nuclear program. This claim is misleading in more ways than I can count, but here are a few.
Compared to the peaceful options laid out by Trita Parsi at last week’s Wilson Center panel discussion, “preventive strikes” carry a high risk of Iranian retaliation, regional war and American casualties. Pacifist fluff? Hardly. Take it from Admiral Michael Mullen:

“The US is aware that the action of a military strike could be destabilizing for the entire Middle East region and potentially generate a nuclear weapons race in that part of the world. I think an attack would also be, by us or by anybody else, very destabilizing.”

Further, according to a report published by CSIS, Gen. James N. Mattis, Commander of US Central Command, told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.
The report CSIS outlines that retaliation from Iran would include “swarm tactics” on a heavy US naval presence and a potential rain of missiles from Iran – well known in the region for an ample ballistic missile program. Missile attacks on Gulf neighbors, all members of a united Gulf Cooperation Council, would give them a right to return fire in self-defense.
Though the report, written and prepared by CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan, dubs the US as the only power capable of launching a sustained attack that would delay enrichment for several years, it does assess the potential outcomes of military action by Israel, laying out the difficulties and likely failure of a unilateral Israeli preventive strike:

We can conclude that a military strike by the Israeli Air Force against Iranian Nuclear Facilities (sic) is possible; however, it would be complex and high risk in the operational level and would lack any assurances of a high mission success rate.

In addition to flying missiles and raging naval battles, Iran is in a strategic position to close off the Strait of Hormuz, through which 35% of the world’s seaborne traded oil was transported in 2011.
The long and short of it? Our military leaders are warning us that war would be costly. Many would be dragged in, and all involved would suffer the loss of life. The world would feel the economic stress – as if it isn’t already bad enough.
And really we’re talking about a delay in Iran’s nuclear capabilities that may buy some time but ultimately convince Iran to make an all out sprint for the bomb.  As former CIA and NSA directer General Michael Hayden put it, strikes “will only set the Iranians back some time and actually push them to do that which it is supposed to prevent, getting nuclear weapons.”
Come to think of it, the consequences of a quick “preventive strike” sound quite similar to what we have seen before from “pre-emptive strikes”. Hmmmmm. . .

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