What happens if there is a military strike on Iran (by Israel or the US)?
In my last post, I discussed the intelligence work that shows there is no proof to support widespread claims that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapons program. Since that post, the conversation in Congress has moved in a troubling direction.
Last week, H.Res. 568, a bill that lowers the threshold for war with Iran, passed overwhelmingly in the House, and a Senate version of the bill is currently picking up steam. This hawkish rhetoric came just days before the second round P5+1 talks with Iran in Baghdad, and could threaten the tentative progress toward a diplomatic solution that was made in the first round of negotiations last month. Not helpful, to say the least. In the words of Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell,
This resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war, and could be the precursor for a war with Iran….it’s effectively a thinly-disguised effort to bless war.
It is important to note, however, that the vote came only after one of its lead sponsors, Howard Berman (D-CA), went on the record to define its terms more specifically, and to clarify that the bill does not specifically authorize military action. Meanwhile, an amendment stating that nothing in the NDAA authorizes military force against Iran was adopted, while Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to appoint a special envoy for US-Iran relations, giving diplomacy the patient attention it needs received a paltry 77 votes.
While the intentions of Congress on the matter are less than clear, one thing is crystal: the military option is not an option at all, and should be taken off the table for good. Let’s hear what top military and intelligence officials have to say on the matter.
Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense:
[If Iran were to be attacked] the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases, and there are economic consequences to that attack….which could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States.
The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think it could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.
Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense (2006 – 2011):
If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.
Conner’s axiom — never fight unless you have to — looms over policy discussions today regarding rogue nations like Iran … Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need. In fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels.
Meir Dagan, former head of the Israeli intelligence agency MOSSAD:
[The possibility of an Israeli Air Force Attack on Iranian facilities is] the stupidest thing I have ever heard … It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.[Attacking Iran] would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program. The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.
(Click here for a complete round-up of the stances U.S. military leaders past and present have taken on the topic.)
Let’s not forget that even the most successful attack on Iran’s enrichment facilities would only set back a hypothetical weapons program a few years, tops, and could have the maddening effect of conjuring the exact outcome it is designed to prevent. According to former US ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering,
[A military strike] has a very high propensity, in my view, of driving Iran in the direction of openly declaring and deciding, which it has not yet done according to our intelligence, to make a nuclear weapon to seemingly defend itself under what might look to them and others to be an unprovoked attack.
And in the words of General Michael Hayden, CIA Director from 2006-2009,
When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.
Then there are the costs of an attack. In addition to the fact that an attack on Iranian enrichment facilities would no doubt kill thousands of innocent civilians, and is likely to spark a regional war of unforeseeable volatility, such actions would undoubtedly cause the price of oil to skyrocket. Some analysts say that we could see the price of gas at the pump as high as $5-$6 per gallon, straining already faltering European and American economies.
So let’s review: a military attack would unleash a whole new can of worms in the Middle East, slaughter civilians, upset the global economy, all while creating the conditions for a nuclear armed Iran. Hmm. Does this sound like much of an option to you?