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January 17, 2006

Israel must bomb Iran in the next two months - argues Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It

Posted by Douglas Murray

Israel must bomb Iran - in order to destroy its nuclear facilities - within the next two months. After that, it will be too late to take action to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. Israel is the only country with the capacity and political will to carry out this vital operation: the "international community" will not act decisively; the situation in Iraq makes it all but impossible for the USA, or the UK, to take military action against Iran. If Israel bombs Iran's nuclear facilities, this will have appalling repercussions - but the alternatives are much, much worse. This is the argument of Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.

The International Atomic Energy Agency seals have been broken at Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities and work on uranium enrichment is recommencing. As a result, Iran may now be only weeks away from "the point of no return", where the international community will be all but incapable of depriving the regime of its prize. So the ultimate Islamic despot's goal is within reach of a man who has made quite clear what he intends to do once he gets there.

But all is not lost. As Saturday's Washington Post reassured us, an international response is already being prepared. After the IAEA seals were broken:

U.S. and European diplomats privately said they are mapping out a series of possible steps, starting with a stern statement issued by the council president.
A "stern statement"? From the council president? This must be serious.

Iran's nuclear project, assisted by the same A. Q. Khan network which assisted Libya until the Iraq war, has remained not only beyond the control of the International Community, but also frequently beyond its knowledge. In 2003 the IAEA discovered a uranium enrichment programme which Iran had managed to keep hidden for 18 years. The IAEA "condemned" Iran for keeping this secret. Last September the IAEA stepped up it's rhetoric, passing a resolution which described Iran's nuclear programme as "illegal and illogical". You can see how bothered a man who believes a mystical aura hangs over him at the UN might be by being called "illogical". And the financier of Palestinian terror and assistant of Iraqi terror must find particularly distressing the accusation that his country is doing anything "illegal". But then, there are still people in the UN who think Iran won't develop a bomb because Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - in the era of the Shah...

And you can always rely on European statesmen like Angela Merkel to put their finger on the problem. Ms Merkel has declared that Iran is sending "worrying signals" on the nuclear issue. These "worrying signals" presumably include:

a) Assembling a nuclear bomb
b) Expressing a desire to wipe a certain "Zionist entity" off the map.

"Worrying signals" they certainly are, but it's unclear what Ms Merkel and co. might do even if the latest worrying signals are more worrying than the last worrying signals. Ms Merkel might indeed find it all very worrying, but the salient question is simply what governments like hers plan to do about it? Does the German government imagine that anyone, least of all Iran, seriously thinks German planes are going to fly sorties against their country? Of course not, and the bluff of each and every such international posture has been similarly called by Iran.

Western governments mutter about sanctions: Tehran responds by threatening to send the cost of a barrel of oil soaring. And although it's all the rage these days to talk about a "last resort" of reporting Iran to the UN Security Council, it looks like Iran might even be able to stand up to that threat. A few days ago Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi stated simply:

Tehran isn't afraid of being referred to the Council.
Which rather takes the wind out of the Merkel sails. Perhaps Merkel and co should launch a strongly worded statement of their own? Or fire one off through the UN, to gain that all-important international clout? Judging by the UN's dealings with Iraq, such a tactic means we might look forward to a statement from an important committee sometime around 2010, possibly stressing that it's all very worrying, or that they are "losing patience" with Iran's "non-co-operation".

But by then, of course, the issue will be entirely academic, because even by the most modest estimates, 2010 will be plenty time for Iran to acquire at least one bomb (however rudimentary) of its own. And as Ahmadinejad's rival, the "moderate" Rasfanjani, has said, one bomb is all Iran needs to deal with the Zionist problem once and for all.

And, lest anyone be under any doubts, the timing predictions are not neocon scaremongering. One of the most authoritative surveys, performed by the International Institute for Strategic Studies bears out the notion that a bomb by the end of the decade is more than feasible. Other assessments, including Israeli ones backed by the US and UK, claim that if Iran goes all out for it, it could have a device by as early as next year.

This is the reason to act: but the reason to act now is that sources suggest that as early as March Iran will have the capability and expertise to enrich uranium in the quantities required to make a device. This is the point after which our options are appallingly limited. Once it has its uranium, Iran can develop its bomb, and do so safe in the knowledge that no foreign power will risk attacking a reactor once it has gone "hot".

There appears to be only one option, and no doubt about who can and must carry it out. Israel must strike Iran by the end of March. America's blessing will be important though not essential - America was hardly supportive of Israel's triumphantly vindicated disarming of the nuclear threat at Osirak in 1981. Besides, as Secretary Rice's disappointingly softly-softly approach since arriving at State Department makes clear, American appetite for direct involvement in Iran appears if not remote, then at least distant. The UK's Jack Straw on the back foot since Iraq has declared that the UK has no intention of pursuing a military option. And so, once again - as with the thwarting of Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions - the task of supporting regional as well as global security in the face of a deranged Middle East leader falls to Israel.

Though the window to bomb is now around two months, the situation is as ever far from ideal. Ariel Sharon's stroke has taken out of the equation one of the few figures able to carry off the diplomatic as well as military fall-out of an attack. It is debatable whether his acting successor, Ehud Olmert, has the political power or military experience to carry this off. And of course Israel cannot delay the decision until its elections in March because by then it may be too late. If the political parties in Israel are able to put aside their differences, then the strike could be co-ordinated and backed by a coalition of national unity led by Netanyahu, Olmert and Peretz.

Such unity will be vital. No one must underestimate the repercussions of this attack. From Osirak, Iran learnt not to put all its eggs into one basket. As a result, its facilities stretch across the country, with many deliberately located in civilian areas (designed to ensure civilian casualties are as high as possible). The range and scale of the attack will be vast. On the one hand, the Israeli Air Force might attack the dozen or so main sites, including Natanz, Arak, Bushehr and the Tehran Nuclear Research Center. This itself will prove more than the challenge of a dozen Osiraks, for apart from the greater flying distances, many of these facilities lie deep underground, requiring perhaps consecutive strikes from the "bunker-buster" bombs Israel has recently acquired. Such a strike would certainly manage to put back Iran's nuclear programme, perhaps even putting it back long enough for the international community to realise it should act to prevent the thugs of Tehran going nuclear.

On the other hand, Israel might opt for the comprehensive destruction of Iran's nuclear programme, including the hitting of undeclared sites of which Mossad has learnt and sites of more minor and research-related significance. Such a list of targets would significantly lengthen the necessary period of bombing. Massive, sustained power, including repeated airborne refuelling would be necessary. If the list of targets remains at the lower-end then the IAF may only have to violate Jordanian, Saudi or Iraqi airspace a couple of times. On the other hand, a sustained week, or weeks, of bombing may well stretch regional tension beyond the point at which Israel can remain safe from more than diplomatic fall-out. Osirak was miraculously accomplished with no Israeli casualties: Israel will have to prepare for many fatalities from a strike on Iran.

The fallout will, in any case, be appalling. But then attacks on Israel already go on daily, launched from the newly "returned" Gaza strip and other enclaves under "Palestinian Authority". Anyone who thinks there is currently "peace" with Iran should remember not just the support Tehran gives to Hezbollah, or the financial promises to Islamic Jihad if it fires rockets into Tel Aviv from the West Bank, or the training of Chechen "rebels" which Iran's Revolutionary Guard carry out at the Imam Ali training camp, or the IED's the country is providing to kill British troops. This is not peace, and only the international community seems to be fooled into thinking it is.

But the people threatened first are, as ever, the Israelis. Ahmadinejad's recent outbursts on wiping the State of Israel off the map may have caused some concern among Western leaders. But these are not unique or new outbursts, but rather the reiteration of long-expressed Iranian state policy. When a state leader claims that the six million were not killed, but that the six million in Israel should be, then the world should take him seriously. Sadly it does not, and is relying once again on the discredited and increasingly useless threats of the international community. Fortunately, Israel takes this all very seriously, which is why despite the inevitable consequences Israel must again be prepared to defy international opinion in order to protect the security of the world, and the survival of its people.

Douglas Murray is a bestselling author and freelance journalist. Douglas Murray's Neoconservatism: Why We Need It has recently been published by the Social Affairs Unit.


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Some nitpicking:

"...one bomb is all Iran needs to deal with [Israel]"
Assuming the weapons are fission devices in the kiloton range (comparable to Hiroshima/Nagasaki) rather than megaton range thermonuclear types, then a lot more than one would be needed.

One could wreak appalling death and destruction, but could not destroy even Tel Aviv alone. (Which is, of course, no reason for Israel to tolerate even one aimed at it by such a regime).

"Once it has its uranium, Iran ...(is)... safe in the knowledge that no foreign power will risk attacking a reactor once it has gone "hot".
Reactor?
If Iran is just developing a U-235 weapon it does not need a reactor, only uranium super-enrichment facilities. Weapons fuel U-235 neither needs nor is useful for a reactor. Which is why the "breaking of the seals" is significant.
A reactor only comes into the equation if Iran decides to pursue the Pu-239 weapon type as well.
And neither is easy to either conceal or "harden" against attack.
Unless Iran already has large-scale production operating or ready to start, it will take at least 2, more likely 3, years to a single device, more to a weapon, and more yet to a weapons system with arsenal plus delivery.

Please understand, I am not arguing for complacency, or against the forceful disarmament of Iran, or that Israel should not do so if no other way seems likely. Simply that the issue is not YET so urgent as to require immediate military measures, when other, arguably preferable, courses remain open.

Posted by: John SF at January 17, 2006 01:52 PM
•••

I completely agree with JohnSF on the irrelevance of the nuclear reactor "going hot" as the defining issue which makes an Israeli strike so urgent.

However, for a completely different reason, I agree with Douglas Murray's assertion that Israel must strike soon. That reason is the expected delivery by the Russians of SA-15 Guantlet anti-aircraft missile sytems. Once these are in place, complementing existing air defence systems, the chances of any successful Israeli raid are very substantially reduced. I have rehearsed this issue in more detail on my own website, here:

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/01/shapes-of-war.html

and here:

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/01/march-of-clogs.html

with a very healthy on knowledgeable discussion on the accompanying forum.

Further, I cannot see that Murray's scenario of the IAF making multiple raids is at all credible. No strike could take place without, at least, tacit US approval but, at least, the US could deny complicity - albeit not very convincingly - if the IAF carried out just one strike on the grounds that it had been caught by surprise.

Multiple strikes, over a period, would prove (or be taken as proving) direct US involvement and put the United States in the front-line as a co-belligerent. This would not be politically sustainable.

In a single strike raid, however, the IAF is at a serious disadvantage. Unlike Osirak, it would have to split its forces to hit near simultaneously multiple targets. This means it would not be able to achieve local defence saturation - leaving aircraft highly vulnerable to anti-aircraft defences.

Therefore, the best - and possiibly only - chance of the IAF carrying out a raid successfully is to do it sooner rather than later. The timetable will depend, more than anything else, on the delivery schedule for the Gauntlets and the time taken for the Iranian forces to get them fully operational.

Posted by: Richard North at January 17, 2006 04:38 PM
•••

Another point - if Iran is attacked by Israel - will this not tip the world into a global recession? Oil is now at $67 a barrel. This has - surprisingly to many due to past experience of oil price hikes - not yet tipped the global economy into recession. But bombing Iran would obviously disrupt Iranian oil supplies - a major oil producer. This would surely push the price of oil to - what - say over $100 a barrel? Surely enough to tip us into a global recession.

This is not necessarily a reason for not bombing Iran - but it must surely give us pause for thought.

Posted by: David at January 18, 2006 11:56 AM
•••

But bombing Iran would obviously disrupt Iranian oil supplies - a major oil producer. This would surely push the price of oil to - what - say over $100 a barrel?

Iran might choose to stop supplying for a period, but other than that it is difficult to see why a clinical strike on specific targets would cause much disruption.

Personally I think the nutter of an Iranian president wants such a strike to shore up support for the regime.

Posted by: EU Serf at January 18, 2006 04:15 PM
•••

you are all quite clearly crazy.

A: we might have a problem in the future

B: oh, lets drop some bombs now, that always helps.

great. we're in the 21st century and this is the best you can come up with.

Posted by: Martin at January 19, 2006 02:13 PM
•••

ultra conservatives to the right of me and religious extremists to my left all have the same attitude, and connot be reasoned with.

Look back to the beginning of the second world war. Perhaps diplomacy and fear of the unthinkable.....never again a world war with such terrible suffering. In a secular kinder world with international agreements we cannot persist with states that extol the virtues of destruction of whole chunks of the world, and support irrational genocide. It is reaching a point that the world be hamstrung by beauracracy and process when events are happening faster than a large commitee can come to a consensus and act.

Posted by: Darrall at April 30, 2006 04:44 PM
•••

Iran needs to be disarmed asap for the sake of 6 million people and possibly 5 billion people.

Posted by: wayne at January 12, 2007 11:32 AM
•••
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