Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Attack on Iran

The Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein predicts that Israel will attack Iran within the next few months:
Given that the anti-Iranian consensus is so solid even on the Left, I would be very surprised if the Israeli government fails to follow through on its promise to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons--assuming, of course, that Iran isn't stopped by other international forces.
If he is correct, it would seem that any such military venture would be for the benefit of popular opinion within Israel, not for any legitimate defensive purpose. And it would likely backfire.

Let me explain. Almost twenty-five years ago, Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program which Israel eliminated with a single air strike. Iran has been slower to get into the nuclear weapons game, but they paid attention to Iraq's experience and have structured a program that is by all accounts dispersed across the country (declared sites as of November, 2003). There is no single site to hit, and even successful strikes on several facilities may have little impact on the overall weapons program. I expect that Iran has also been calculating in putting some key facilities in densely populated areas, such that any strike against their weapons facility would likely result in significant casualties to civilians. (Followed, no doubt, by "video footage" of those facilities analogous to Iraq's "you attacked our baby milk factory" claims from the first Gulf War.)

Any significant loss of life to Iranian civilians would be used as a rallying cry against Israel throughout the Muslim world. Any strike at all would be used first as a basis to declare that the attack was an offensive failure (whatever the reality) and second as a justification for the necessity of a defensive nuclear weapons program.

Iran is engaged in a form of oil diplomacy, whereby it is forging economic relationships with Russia, India and China which would likely make it impossible to get any authorization for sanctions, let alone for military action, from the UN Security Council. Even if military action were authorized it is not clear how it could be effective - the U.S. is strained already in its occupation of Iraq, and no other nation is up to the task of invading, disarming, and occupying Iran (even assuming a nation were willing). Unfortunately, I am not sure that there is an answer to the problem of Iran's developing nuclear weapons.

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