Former mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has said that “the use of military force against Iran would be very dangerous. It would be very provocative. The only thing worse would be Iran being a nuclear power.”
Giuliani is absolutely right, but why are we sitting by as these frightful alternatives become the only two feasible options?
Seven recent developments have brought us closer than ever to Giuliani’s point:
• Results from last Friday’s second round of Iranian parliamentary elections show that the various hard-line principlist factions and their “independent” allies will once again dominate the Majlis with roughly 80% of the seats in their hands. Although not a surprise, the results do make the prospects of a negotiated settlement with Iran less likely.
• On April 25th, the U.S.’s top military officer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, said that the U.S. is planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran. Mullen also said that Tehran was complicit in the death of American soldiers and was an “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made similar comments a few days prior.
• On April 23rd, it was announced that Gen. David Petraeus will be nominated to take over as chief of U.S. Central Command (the head of all U.S. forces in the Middle East). Petraeus, a fierce critic of Tehran’s activities in the region, will be replacing Adm. William Fallon who stepped down after appearing to criticize the Bush administration’s hard line on Iran.
• The Russian news service RIA Novosti reported that Russian intelligence has information that the U.S. has completed preparations for a military strike against Iran and that everything will be ready for an attack as early as late April (the fact that this report came out on the day before President Bush visited Ukraine to back the former Soviet Republic’s bid to join NATO should not be dismissed).
• A report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed that if the Iranians were permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, the Saudis and Turks would almost definitely follow suit. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons already have the world on edge. A handful of additional nations with their very own Islamic Bombs will cause a decrease in regional stability and security that will severely endanger U.S. interests.
• A report by Reuters stated that Tehran has begun to install IR-2 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. These advanced centrifuges can enrich uranium at a rate that is two-to-three times faster than that of the centrifuges currently in use. This development further erodes the small window of opportunity that exists to solve the situation without force.
• On his nation’s National Day of Nuclear Technology, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted that Iran has begun to install 6,000 new centrifuges (in addition to the 3,300 already in operation) at Natanz (it is not clear whether they are IR-2 or not). 3,000 fully operational centrifuges running for one year can produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.
An attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities would not be simple. Iran learned a lot from Israel’s 1981 Osirak strike on Iraq’s nuclear program. The Iranians have spread their nuclear plants around the country and have also built them deep underground and behind thick shields of reinforced concrete.
Assuming that a strike could be successfully carried out, the associated consequences would be very severe and may well consist of any number of the following:
• The 350,000+ American and foreign troops, contractors, and mercenaries stationed on Iran’s borders in Iraq and Afghanistan will almost certainly be targeted in some way as part of Iran’s response; as will Israel and nations in the Gulf and Caucasus that have a hand in the attack.
• Parts of Europe, all of Israel, and the Middle East (including the Gulf nations’ oil installations) are within the range of Tehran’s ballistic missiles.
• Iran has established biological and chemical weapons programs.
• Iran’s terrorist proxies could also be activated:
-- Iran’s militias in Iraq will cause as much havoc as possible, undoubtedly erasing all the security gains made in the past year.
-- Israel can expect to be attacked from all sides by Tehran’s proxies with Hezbollah’s Katyushas raining down from the north and Hamas/Islamic Jihad striking from the east and south.
-- Iranian funded Shia militias could also cause mayhem and unrest among the Shia populations in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
-- Terrorist attacks against Western and Israeli targets in South America (where Hezbollah has extensive terror networks and has struck on behalf of Tehran before), Europe, Africa, and Asia might also be part of the retribution.
• Iran can retaliate against the Strait of Hormuz, through which 30% of the world’s oil passes, sending the price of oil skyrocketing and dragging the economy down with it.
But what would this attack really accomplish? Domestically, the Iranian people, under attack, will presumably “rally around the flag.” In all likelihood, there will also be a vicious crackdown on all forms of dissent and opposition to the regime.
All of this, to, at best, set the nuclear weapons program back a decade.
Of course, if it comes down to bombing Iran or allowing their elementary school dropout Supreme Leader and his apocalyptic President to get within a button’s click of setting the world on fire, there really is no choice at all. However, with all of the associated consequences, military action must truly be a last resort.
So what should be done to avoid military action?
First of all, economic sanctions must be ratcheted up as much as possible. If there is any hope of getting Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons program the financial squeeze currently applied must be a lot firmer.
With Russia and China holding vetoes on any new UN Security Council resolutions, the likelihood of this within a UNSC framework is low. America and its allies could and should try to accelerate their own sanctions against Iran. But, the recent $28 billion gas deal between Swiss company EGL and the Iranians is a big step in the wrong direction.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has all but accepted that sanctions alone won’t do the trick, when she recently conceded that “this is not the time, I think, to expect changes.”
Since the prospect of sanctions alone doing the job is so minuscule, we must also do everything in our power to strengthen and support the various Iranian pro-democracy and opposition groups. Exiled groups such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the monarchist Constitutionalist
Party of Iran, the liberal nationalist Party of the Iranian Nation, and the Mossadegh founded National Front, as well as the various groups inside Iran representing ethnic Kurds, Azeris, Ahwazi Arabs, and Baluchis, must all be assisted.
While many of these groups have deficiencies and are far from perfect, the more hands that are pulling at this regime, the weaker, and more likely to fall, it will be.
While these may seem like obvious approaches to addressing the situation we currently face, it seems that the U.S. and Europe are doing just the opposite.
Dan Rabkin is a Middle Eastern Affairs and National Security analyst based in Toronto, Canada. He was Canada’s 2005 Governor General’s Medalist. He can be reached at