Worries mount over blowback of
attack on Iran By Barbara
WASHINGTON - A former senior
adviser on the Middle East to the past four United
States presidents says that "the negatives far
outweigh the positives" of war with Iran and the
United States should augment Israel's nuclear
weapons delivery systems to dissuade it from
attacking the Islamic Republic.
Riedel, who served on the White House National
Security Council and dealt extensively with both
Israel and Iran, told an audience on Tuesday at
the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based
think-tank, that while an Iran with nuclear
weapons would be a significant strategic setback
for the United States and Israel, deterrence and
containment were preferable to military force.
He criticized those, including all but one
candidate, who discuss an
attack on Iran's nuclear installations as though
it would be "over in an afternoon or a couple of
"I don't use the term 'military
strike'," Riedel said. "We will be at war with
Iran. Once we begin it, the determination of when
it ends will not be a unilateral one. This could
become another ground war in Asia."
global economy would suffer a huge blow from
spiking oil prices, and US personnel in Iraq and
Afghanistan would be likely targets of Iranian
retaliation, Riedel said.
would be especially dire for Afghanistan because
Iran could become a second sanctuary, after
Pakistan, for Taliban militants. In that event,
"the chances of success in Afghanistan on the
timeline the [Barack Obama] administration has
laid out is virtually nil," he said.
the US military and intelligence establishment
appears solidly against a war with Iran, Israel's
attitude has been ambivalent. A major concern for
US policymakers is that Israel might attack Iran
without giving the United States warning - and
thus the opportunity to try to veto the action.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in December that this
was a possibility. Dempsey was due in Israel on
Thursday for discussions about Iran.
US and Israel were to have staged this spring a
massive new joint maneuver to practice
intercepting incoming missiles, "Austere Challenge
12", but have put off the exercise. Israeli
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday said he
had asked for the delay, but it is also possible
that the Obama administration made the decision to
convey US displeasure over Israel's more
aggressive posture toward Iran.
Eisenstadt, a specialist on Iran and nuclear
proliferation at the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy, told the Atlantic Council session on
Tuesday that while a war is risky, so is a policy
of containment and deterrence when it comes to
Both men predicted that 2012 would
be "the year of decision for Israel" on Iran, as
Iran steadily amasses enriched uranium and moves
enrichment into a hardened site at Fordow near
At the same time, Eisenstadt
suggested Iran might be dissuaded from building
nuclear weapons by continuing a covert campaign
that includes assassinations of Iranian scientists
and sabotage of centrifuge parts and computers.
These actions, he said, have shown Iran
that its program has been penetrated by foreign
intelligence and that Iran would have a hard time
building a nuclear weapon without being caught.
Eisenstadt said the US would have to
strike a "delicate balance", keeping pressure on
Iran but not pushing Tehran so hard that it
decides to break out and rush to build nuclear
weapons. He conceded that Israel might take
unilateral action against Iran despite US
opposition, noting that "it's easier to ask for
forgiveness than permission".
that a nuclear-armed Iran would not be an
existential threat to Israel as some Israelis have
claimed and that the balance of power would
"remain overwhelmingly in Israel's favor" even if
Iran acquired nuclear weapons.
noted, not only has "the finest conventional
military in the Middle East" but has had nuclear
weapons since at least the late 1960s and is
believed to possess more than 100 bombs. It also
has delivery systems from three countries - the
Jericho from France, US F-15s and Dolphin
submarines from Germany.
confirms nor denies that it has nuclear weapons -
a policy of opacity that may have outlived its
To reassure Israel that it
could deter a nuclear Iran, the United States
should enhance Israel's naval and submarine
capabilities, Riedel said. This would "ensure that
the balance of terror is overwhelmingly in
The comments by the two
men added to the growing debate here over what to
do about Iran's nuclear program, which Western and
Israeli officials contend is designed to build a
If the current strategy of
ever-tougher economic sanctions and sabotage fails
to halt the program in the near future, all but
one of the Republican presidential candidates,
among others, have called on the administration to
prepare military strikes against Tehran's nuclear
facilities or, in any case, stand with Israel if
it decided to carry out an attack.
week, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and
Independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman
announced they would introduce a resolution to put
the senate on record as ruling out a strategy of
containment against a nuclear-armed Iran that they
said would be "catastrophic mistake" on
While the Obama
administration has repeatedly called Iran's
acquisition of a nuclear weapon "unacceptable",
senior officials, including Dempsey and his boss,
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have also stressed
the potential downsides of a US or Israeli
military attack on Iran.
In his remarks on
Tuesday, Riedel called the Graham-Lieberman
Slavin is a senior fellow at The Atlantic
Council and moderated Tuesday's discussion.