Attacking Iran: Not Just a Crime

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, re-published at The New Atlanticist General Chuck Wald makes a good case that an attack against Iran would be technically feasible:

An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would mostly involve air assets, primarily Air Force and Navy, that are not strained by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the presence of U.S. forces in countries that border Iran offers distinct advantages. Special Forces and intelligence personnel already in the region can easily move to protect key assets or perform clandestine operations. It would be prudent to emplace additional missile-defense capabilities in the region, upgrade both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expand strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia to pressure Iran from all directions.

Conflict may reveal previously undetected Iranian facilities as Iranian forces move to protect them. Moreover, nuclear sites buried underground may survive sustained bombing, but their entrances and exits will not.

while making an even better case that it would be risky:

Of course, there are huge risks to military action: U.S. and allied casualties; rallying Iranians around an unstable and oppressive regime; Iranian reprisals be they direct or by proxy against us and our allies; and Iranian-instigated unrest in the Persian Gulf states, first and foremost in Iraq.

Furthermore, while a successful bombing campaign would set back Iranian nuclear development, Iran would undoubtedly retain its nuclear knowhow. An attack would also necessitate years of continued vigilance, both to retain the ability to strike previously undiscovered sites and to ensure that Iran does not revive its nuclear program.

There are additional reasons, unmentioned by Gen. Wald, that an attack against Iran in the absence of specific information about the scope and location of its nuclear weapons development, would be a serious error.

First, as I’ve mentioned in the past, most of Iran’s known nuclear development facilities are located in or near large, urban areas. Any attack substantial enough to cause serious damage to hardened nuclear weapons development facilities would be likely to cause substantial civilian casualties, too.

Second, whether or not Iran is developing nuclear weapons now, such an attack would give the Iranians every reason in the world to develop them in the future and use them.

Both of those factors should be weighed in any calculation of the costs and benefits of military actions against Iran. My view remains as it has been for some time: in the absence of solid intelligence on the existence, scope, and location of an Iranian nuclear weapons development program, an attack against Iran to eliminate or slow such a program would be worse than a crime, it would be a mistake.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. I agree, and I go into more detail about the supposed negative consequences of Iran getting nukes here:

    Wald is smarter and more experienced that me, but in this case, he’s just not making sense.

  2. As I have suggested before, the US may not have a choice in the matter of attacking Iran and its nuclear facilities. Israel holds the key, not the US. For them, it is a matter of continued existence.

    If Israel attacks Iran, in my opinion, it will be a full force effort, using their considerable air and missile resources, not only to take out nuclear sites, but also to hit every military site threatening the assault, such as anti-air missiles, airfields, command and control and communications, troop and armor concentrations. The attack will be sustained for quite a period of time, until Israel is satisfied that they have seriously degraded Iran’s nuclear and military capability.

    The catch is, Iran has stated more than once that they would retaliate against not only Israel, but also the United States and its overseas operations and businesses, using in-place terrorist groups such as Hisbollah, Hamas and others around the world. This will force the US to join in the attack, either after Iran has hit US facilities, or perhaps before, if we truly believe the Iranian threat to us.

    We end up at war with Iran.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Bernard, I suspect that Gen. Wald is scratching an itch. I do it myself occasionally. So, for example, somebody said “We can’t attack Iran!” and he responded “Sure we can”.

    I think the key word in his article is “technical”.

    manning, I think you’re overstating Israel’s capabilities a little. As I’ve posted at some length, we control the airspace in the region and have a legal responsibility to control Iraq’s airspace. Israel would need a by-your-leave from us to attack Iran.

    Having attacked Iran, what then? They can’t be sure of having eliminated their nuclear weapons development capability and in the very best case are likely only to have slowed it, meanwhile giving the Iranians a Get Out of Jail Free card to destroy Israel.

    I’m hoping that the strident comments from Israeli leaders over the last few months are mostly bluster. Otherwise the remarks have been nuts.

  4. mannning says:

    Having attacked Iran, what then? They can’t be sure of having eliminated their nuclear weapons development capability and in the very best case are likely only to have slowed it, meanwhile giving the Iranians a Get Out of Jail Free card to destroy Israel.

    I am sure that this gives the Israelis pause to consider their options. Should they simply pinprick the Iranians and delay their nuclear development a bit, or, should they go all out given that Iran would have a GOOJF Card with the pinprick? My opinion is that they would go all out just short of using nukes, reserving that for possible retaliation later. A key reason for holding off is that they want the US to be dragged into the war as a result of Iranian attacks on US personnel and facilities. Going nuclear first would make that scenario difficult in not impossible to achieve.

    If the US did enter the conflict, we would declare war, and there would be far more tonnage dropped on suspected nuclear sites, and far more tonnage dropped on military targets.

    I further suggest that once we did enter the fight, we could invade the Western portion of Iran and capture a good percentage of their oilfields, and perhaps draw Iranian land forces out into a pitched battle where we could win handily with our air superiority and precision weapons. By capturing their oil areas in the west, we would break Iran economically in short order. This perhaps would be extended to southern Iran as well to root out the missile farms threatening operations in the Gulf.

    It has been speculated that Israel has some 200 nuclear devices and the missiles/aircraft to deliver either the nukes themselves or conventional explosives, and Iran is well within their range. They also have considerable tanker capability now.

    Their policy of “ambiguity” concerning nukes prevents a certain count. The three Dolphin class submarines they own have four specially widened torpedo tubes each, presumably for launching nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

    Regarding overflight of Iraq by the IAF, does anyone seriously think that the USAF would shoot down Israeli warplanes on their way to or from Iran? I do not believe, oh, I refuse to believe that we would do such a thing.

    Under these scenarios, the “what then” question resolves itself to forcing terms on Iran for its continued existence as an independent nation.

  5. mannning says:

    If Iran does not attack US personnel or facilities, after an attack by Israel, what then?

    Presumably, Israel would be on its own to defend against Iranian counterattacks, mainly via Hezbollah//Hamas, but possibly via missiles from Iran directly. In any exchange of long-range missiles with Iran, I think Israel would win just now.

    But the rain of short-range inaccurate missiles from Lebanon and Gaza/Palestine, and perhaps Syria, would be real trouble. This has that “here we go again” feeling of the past conflict. To stop this rain, Israel would have to reoccupy Gaza, and roll into Palestine and Lebanon far enough to find and prevent missile launches. They also would have to be ready to defend against Syria, who has been known to have a go at attacking in the past.

    Meanwhile, the IAF would continue to bomb away at suspected Iranian nuclear sites and military infrastructure till they had no more bombs, or no more planes. (Would the US resupply bombs/planes to Israel as in the past?)

    Then they would have to wait out the Iranian nuke program once again for a few years.

  6. steve says:

    There have been a few Army War College papers out on attacking Iran. Most seem to come to the conclusion only a ground attack would really stop the nuke program. Also, Israel is extremely loss averse. DO you really see them doing a long term bombing campaign?


  7. Steve, in this instance, the stakes for Israel are extremely high considering that if Iran has nukes they state they will blast Israel out of existence. Which is more important: pilots and aircraft, or the million citizens of Haifa or Tel Aviv and surroundings? Israel will bomb until they are satisfied that they have done their best.

    The only way we go into this war, I believe, is if we are attacked by Iranian terrorist groups around the world in a significant way as part of their retaliation for the Israeli attacks. This was threatened by Iran’s president, but that may have been bluster and bluff.

    Of course, it isn’t really possible for Israel to attack Iran on the ground. The only forces capable of it are the US Army and Marines, supported by the USN.

    US forces in Iraq would be ideally positioned to attack Iran, but the Iraqis would have a lot to say about it–no, in three or four languages, in all probability. We are left with landings by Marines, followed up by Army heavy armor units. We might finesse the Iraqi NOs at some point and get away with it.

    But, I am suggesting that if we capture their oilfields and ports in the west and south, Iran could then be squeezed economically to surrender. There would be no need to fight our way into Tehran with M1A2s and Bradleys. Tough terrain to go through to get there!

    The wild cards in this scenario are Russia and China. What would they be able to do about it? What would they do? Can they be neutralized? I do not know. There is considerable risk here, and it all depends on Israeli and Iranian actions, and our seemingly passive President on the matter.