What To Do About Iran?

If your neighbor spent every day yelling at you over the picket fence about how he’s going to take over your house or destroy you if you don’t leave, would you feel comfortable if you saw his garage stuffed to the rafters with submachine guns and assault rifles?

“Oh, they’re just for hunting deer in the woods,” he says, and puts a bullet into the head of a paper human outline at the end of the garage. Okay, he’s obviously telling the truth because to tell a lie would be abhorrent and horrible, and no one would do that in the public eye. But when he’s not cleaning his M-16, he’s threatening and lambasting you over your fence. Clearly, you have an important decision to make before you wake up one morning with a gun barrel in your mouth.

Let’s make this clear; allowing Iran to obtain nuclear power on the condition that they don’t use it to make weapons is as good an idea as allowing John Wilkes Booth to bring a gun into Ford’s Theatre on the condition that he doesn’t use it to assassinate anyone.

With ever-constant surprises regarding Iran’s nuclear program – a previously undisclosed uranium enrichment plant here, a rocket test there – the threat of the theocracy’s hostile ambitions, coupled with the ability to create weapons of mass destruction, has put many countries on edge, both Western and Arab. People are now looking back to Israel’s 1981 bombing run on Iraq’s Osirak reactor – which affected the course of the Cold War on a drastic level – and a 2007 Israeli attack on an unfinished plant in Syria and wondering if they can be replicated in Iran.

Every country has a right to development for the sake of bettering the quality of life for its people and advancing its own scientific knowledge. Iran and its people are no different. The regime in control of Iran – the neighbor who yells at you over the fence while sharpening an axe in his garage – is different.

In the past few years, Western governments have utilized economic sanctions in the hopes of dissuading Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions to no avail. States in the U.S. have recently begun approving boycotts on companies engaged in trade with Iran. In the face of a complete lack of results, many people are now considering what it would mean to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

This option is not only being considered in the Western world, but in some Arab countries as well. Several recent polls, such as the Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey and the 2009 Pechter poll have asked Arabs about their views on Iran’s nuclear program. The wide majority of the results revealed that most Arabs polled held unfavorable views of President Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. One-third of Saudis polled said they would approve of an American military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and a quarter expressed the same sentiment about an Israeli airstrike. Earlier this year in June, Saudi Arabia gave Israel free passage through its airspace should the need for an airstrike on Iran arise.

This all proves that the urgency sweeping the Western world about Iran’s nuclear program is not without reason. However, a military option is not something to be taken lightly. The problem with economic sanctions is that the Iranian regime only understands military force, as exemplified by its brutal and terrifying crackdown on the 2009 election protestors. In the current regime, it will always be the people who suffer before the government. The problem with a military strike is that Iran, ever paranoid and military-minded, has taken such an attack into consideration; unlike Iraq and Syria, Iran has at least 17 nuclear facilities scattered throughout the country, with its main facility at Natanz built underground in order to withstand Israeli bunker-busters. The operation would be significantly more costly in terms of money, politics and risk of life compared with runs on the single reactors in Iraq and Syria.

Assuming Israel would be the country to saddle up and attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, here is how it would be likely to play out: using F-15 or F-16 fighter jets, Israeli Air Force pilots would need to fly 1,100 miles to reach Natanz. This includes 400 miles within Iran’s airspace before IAF pilots would even reach Natanz, running the almost-certain risk of being attacked by Iran’s 29 different Tor-M1 mobile missile defense systems (provided by Russia). Pilots assigned to other targets, like the reactor at Bushehr in the South, would have to travel farther. Such distance threatens the limits of an F-15/16’s capabilities, though they can reach larger distances by re-fueling in mid-air or using additional fuel tanks. The most direct routes are over Saudi Arabia or Iraq. While the former provides safe passage and the latter has no anti-aircraft capabilities of its own, a damaged Israeli fighter forced to land in either country would make for a diplomatic firestorm.

Should Israel run such an attack, Iranian retaliation could be expected to take the form of a missile launch that has the capability of reaching Israel, as well as U.S. military bases in the region. Iran may also choose to retaliate through Hezbollah, its puppet military in Lebanon. While largely incapable of directly striking Israel, Iran also has the influence to impact oil sales to Western nations. Retaliation against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and any remaining U.S. presence in Iraq is also likely.

The possibility of a military strike on Iran is not being taken lightly by the U.S. or Israel. Even hawkish Israelis are not too enthusiastic about such a choice; a military strike carries heavy ramifications not only in long-term Israel-Iran relations, but in the stability of the region as well. While the Jewish state – which has been the target of as many threats and racial slurs from Iran’s president as there are grains of sand on a beach – is willing to delay its decision to allow for the international community to try out more peaceful methods, the necessity for such a decision to be made grows larger as each day passes.

AE Anteater is a fifth-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.