The military option

October 8th, 2009

The discovery of Iran’s secret nuclear facility, with its small size and hidden location, suggests that Iran is, indeed, pursuing nuclear weapons. This makes the “military option” of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities a much more viable alternative. But an attack on Iran could potentially ignite a regional war in the Middle East. The key factor is who initiates the attack.

Israel has been advocating the military option all along. But an Israeli attack on Iran could have devastating consequences. Iran, with its Syrian ally, might counter the attack with an all-out war on Israel, putting the rest of the Arab states in a bind. Would they side with Israel, a country that many of them don’t even recognize, let alone have relations with? Or would they side with their Muslim brothers in Iran and Syria, risking certain military defeat at the hands of a powerful, U.S.-backed Israel?

The possibility of provoking an Iran-Arab coalition against a U.S.-Israeli alliance should be avoided at all costs. Despite the fact that we would surely win if such a war broke out, there would be a number of negative long-term consequences, including the strengthening of terrorist networks such as al-Qaida and the destabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What if, instead, the attack were initiated by the United States? In short, the same scenario could occur. The Iranian regime is built upon hatred for both the United States and Israel, and often views the two as one-in-the-same, so it’s possible to foresee a U.S. attack countered with an Iranian attack on Israel.

But here’s the kicker: most, if not all, Arab states do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Iran – a Persian, Shiite Muslim country – is ethnically and religiously different from Arab countries, which – with the exception of Iraq – are predominately Sunni Muslim. And if Iran were to go nuclear, it would have much more ability to influence regional affairs.

So if Iran’s nuclear facilities have to be attacked, it should be done by an Arab country. In this case, if Iran were to respond with a counter-attack, the Arab states would have the backing of Israel and the United States, which is a much more favorable position for all three parties. Saudi Arabia, which spends over $38 billion annually on defense and has a rather advanced military, seems like the best candidate to strike Iran.

However, the military option should be a “last-straw” decision. Most experts predict that it will be at least a year (probably more) until Iran has a nuclear weapon, which gives us plenty of time to solve the Iranian threat diplomatically.

And even if we do attack Iran, there’s a chance that it may not counter-attack. Instead, it could simply increase its support for terrorist organizations and work to destabilize Iraq, Afghanistan, and the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Or it could even do nothing, which is what Syria did when Israel bombed its secret nuclear facility in 2007.

But the Iranian regime is highly unpredictable, so there’s no telling how it might respond. Therefore, the United States should take all possibilities into consideration, prepare for the worst, and if it decides that Iran must be attacked, encourage Saudi Arabia to take the initiative.