Fri 19 Apr 2024 9:48 am - Jerusalem Time

Hawks' calls to strike Iran now are wrong

Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton called on Israel to respond to the massive failed Iranian missile bombing last weekend by destroying nuclear fuel facilities. On the one hand, this is not surprising; Bolton rarely saw a problem that he did not believe could be subdued by bombing. However, he is not alone in believing that Tehran's decision to openly attack Israel has provided a rare window for decisive action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. All that is required is the will to act.

Far-right members of Israel's government agree, as do some of its security services. If it were just a matter of will.

Bolton is reckless, but there are many things he and other hawks understand about Iran, starting with the claim that Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, by attacking Israel directly on Saturday evening, changed the rules of engagement. Before that, the two countries were waging an undeclared war in the shadows. By making the attack direct and open, Khamenei created new political options for Israel.

The hawks are also right that Iran is preparing to produce a nuclear bomb, despite its denials. Since former US President Donald Trump said in 2018 that he would withdraw his country from the nuclear agreement it concluded with Tehran, Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium has jumped from almost nothing to more than five tons, including increasingly significant quantities that have been enriched to 20 percent. And 60 percent, well above the 3.7 percent required for civilian use, is ready for more rapid weapons-grade enrichment, at about 90 percent.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security now believes, based on an analysis of a report by international inspectors issued last February, that Iran has stored enough enriched uranium to produce “seven nuclear weapons in one month, nine in two months, and eleven in a month.” Three months,” 12-13 in four months, and 13 in five months. In other words, it is already a power on the nuclear threshold.

It is equally true that Iran - as was proven once again on Saturday - poses a potential existential threat to Israel, whether directly or through allies such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen.

Few will deny that if Iran becomes a nuclear state, other governments in the more volatile region will likely look to do the same, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey. For this reason; Concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions have always been of interest to both the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States as well as in Israel. The disagreement was about how best to thwart it.

This is where the Falcons make a mistake. They always claim that Iran has come close to possessing a nuclear bomb because of the “weakness” of successive US presidents, with the exception of Donald Trump, of course, who celebrated his “maximum pressure” policy and his decision to abandon the 2015 agreements. Bolton campaigned long and hard for this exit.

Successive American and Israeli governments failed to cancel the program because it was difficult to do so, and because they rightly feared that a failed attempt might backfire. In fact, the result of Trump's "maximum pressure" was to produce Iran's maximum enrichment capacity and maximum enriched uranium stockpiles.

Bolton called for a disproportionate response in a television interview and said destroying Iran's nuclear facilities would first involve a major campaign to destroy its air defenses. The United States and Israel have the most capable air forces on the planet, but as the war in Ukraine has shown, modern air defense systems — some of which Iran has purchased from Russia — are also extremely capable.

This may be a risk worth taking if the process can reasonably be expected to reach and destroy all nuclear facilities. In some cases it will be as simple as just dealing with the air defences; Because Iran has many known above-ground enrichment facilities that could be hit. But it has also been working to fortify its software against attacks for years. Chains of centrifuges spin to 60 percent enrichment at Fordow, where early last year inspectors from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency discovered traces of uranium enriched to 84 percent - just below weapons grade.

An Associated Press analysis of satellite images last May found that Iran was also digging a new site for its most famous enrichment plant, at Natanz, 180 kilometers south of Qom, under another mountain. And this time it's deeper than Fordow. There is no guarantee that even bunker-buster bombs developed by the United States for this purpose would be able to drill through these mountains to reach the facilities underneath.

It is also a myth that the United States and Israel never attacked Iran's nuclear program. They have done so for years, in ways that pose much lower risks of escalation, including smuggling explosive devices and infecting the computers that control centrifuges. The Stuxnet virus destroyed one thousand out of nine thousand centrifuges at the Natanz facility (above ground) in 2010, by making them spin very quickly.

Explosions in Natanz in 2020 and 2021 destroyed thousands more centrifuges. In between all of this, a large number of Iranian nuclear physicists and administrators were assassinated. Arguably, these setbacks are as great as an air strike can achieve. However, after three to four years, Iran has more advanced centrifuges and more highly enriched uranium than ever before.

What all of these previous attacks prove is that even if the United States and Israel were able to identify all overt and covert enrichment facilities, neutralize Iran's air defenses and penetrate subterranean caverns, the resulting damage would likely delay but not eliminate the program, while ensuring a regional war.

As long as it retains the knowledge, Iran will be able to rebuild its operations. On the other hand, the regime is certain to end all remaining cooperation with international inspectors as it strives to produce a credible nuclear deterrent.

Since 2012, a study endorsed by more than two dozen former American generals, diplomats and others, including former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, has weighed the pros and cons of the attack, sided with caution, and assessed that Tehran's program by then could be delayed by as much as two years. More, and then Iran will become more likely to obtain nuclear weapons, not less likely. Meanwhile, there will be significant negative reaction.

The vulnerability-versus-rigidity approach is a terminological game inappropriate for war and peace decisions. It says nothing about what might work, nor does it specify whether the benefits outweigh the costs of war and the unknown it opens. The reality, as the United States has found in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Israel in Gaza, is that tough action in the absence of a solid political framework and achievable goals tends to backfire.


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