Will Iran get the Bomb?
It seems pretty obvious that Iran will get the nuclear bomb and there is not much anyone can do about it. I’m not saying it is a good thing. I’m just saying that I can’t imagine what would stop it.
One thing that might have stopped it was direct military action. But not all sorts of military action would likely be effective. A US or Israeli air strike on the centrifuges thought to be at Natanz is unlikely to be decisive. Centrifuges don’t have to be kept all in the same place, and if Iran has 200 of them, they have almost certainly been spread around so that they could not be taken out with a single strike.
If an airstrike by the Americans or the Israelis would not likely entirely succeed, what are the options? The Israelis cannot easily mount a land war against Iran. It would be difficult to airlift armor and men to Iran across Jordan, Syria and Iraq, two of which would not give their permission for such a thing. Iran has a significant manpower advantage over Israel (70 million to 6.4 million), and showed in the 1980s that it could repulse an attack by a strong enemy.
The US can no longer mount a land campaign against Iran. It is bogged down in Iraq fighting a guerrilla war. The Iraqi Shiites would never put up with a US campaign against Shiite Iran. US stockpiles of smart weaponry are seriously depleted.
The US could not make up any slack from allies such as the UK. Tony Blair’s parliamentary majority has been whittled down to only 66. About 40 Labour MPs routinely vote against his bills and intitiatives anyway. So his real majority may be razor-thin. He certainly could not convince this parliament to go to war in Iran, e.g.
So the military options are not apparent.
What are the covert options? It seems highly unlikely that the Iranian officer corps would cooperate in a coup. The clerics would be very difficult to overthrow in any popular movement as long as the police, intelligence services and army are loyal to the state and anti-American. Iranian nationalism is fierce and the population would support the government against a foreign invasion.
Some have suggested that Iran’s ethnic diversity might prove an opening for mischief by Washington. Iran is only 51 percent Persian-speaking. There are substantial minorities of Azeri Turks, Turkmen, Qashqa’i Turks, Kurds, Lurs, Baluch, and Arabs in Iran. In oil-rich Khuzistan, about half the population is Arab Iranians. The Arabs are evenly divided into Shiites and Sunnis. The recent unrest in Khuzistan, where the Arab Iranians rioted in protest, was blamed by some on Washington. But I don’t see how you stop a nuclear program with ethnic unrest.
In essence, by concentrating on Iraq during the past two and a half decades, Israel and the US have foregone the practical opportunity to stop Iran. The Israeli air strike on the Osirak light water nuclear reactor in Iraq in the early 1980s signaled to countries like Iran that they should not put everything in one place. (The Israeli strike was in any case unnecessary– light water reactors don’t produce nuclear by-products for bomb making, in and of themselves.) Then by invading Iraq, the US made it impossible to use the military option against Iran. It is bogged down in a quagmire, and its credibility has been undermined internationally.
Fred Kaplan at Slate quotes a “nighmare scenario” from a rightwing magazine:
“In short, if Iran goes through with its plans, all hell could break loose. Last fall, the American Conservative published a nightmare scenario: Israel strikes the Iranian facilities; huge protests erupt; embassies are ransacked worldwide; Iran instructs Hezbollah forces in Lebanon to cross the Israeli border; fundamentalists demand that Saudi Arabia declare war on Israel; al-Qaida sympathizers in Pakistan overthrow Musharraf, place nuclear weapons onboard passenger planes, and order suicide-bombers to crash them into cities in Israel, the United States, or both. Is it possible to slam on the brakes and stop this wreck from happening? Do any brakes exist?”
This scenario makes no sense to me. Israel cannot easily strike the Iranian nuclear facilities. Syria and Iraq are not going to give the Israelis overflight rights for such a thing. Moreover, bombing the centrifuge warehouse in Natanz would only be a minor annoyance to the Iranians, since the centrifuges have been spread all around.
Iran would certainly use Hizbullah to take revenge on Irael and the US if there were a strike. But Hizbullah cannot “cross the border.” The Israeli army could easily stop a few thousand motley militiamen from doing that. Musharraf is not going to be so easy to overthrow. Nor is Saudi Arabia. Nor would Pakistan and Saudi Arabia necessarily be unhappy about their rival, Iran, being deprived of a nuclear capability. The Pakistani military is alleged by Sy Hersh to have been cooperating with the US in monitoring Iran for progress toward a nuclear capability. The Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia are terrified of a Shiite, republican Iran with a bomb.
The rightwing scenario just amalgamates all Muslims and has highly unlikely premises.