I’m not sure if our military buildup in the Persian Gulf has Iranian mullahs looking over their shoulders, but it certainly seems to have spooked the Europeans. The Guardian reports that European political leaders have become more convinced that the Bush administration will resort to air strikes to stop the Iranian nuclear program:
Senior European policy-makers are increasingly worried that the US administration will resort to air strikes against Iran to try to destroy its suspect nuclear programme.
As transatlantic friction over how to deal with the Iranian impasse intensifies, there are fears in European capitals that the nuclear crisis could come to a head this year because of US frustration with Russian stalling tactics at the UN security council. “The clock is ticking,” said one European official. “Military action has come back on to the table more seriously than before. The language in the US has changed.”
The Americans and Europeans have sought to maintain a common front on the nuclear issue for the past 30 months, with the European troika of Britain, France and Germany running failed negotiations with the Iranians and the Americans tacitly supporting them.
But diplomats in Brussels and those dealing with the dispute in Vienna say a fissure has opened up between the US and western Europe on three crucial aspects – the military option; how and how quickly to hit Iran with economic sanctions already decreed by the UN security council; and how to deal with Russian opposition to action against Iran through the security council.
“There’s anxiety everywhere you turn,” said a diplomat familiar with the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. “The Europeans are very concerned the shit could hit the fan.”
The idea of air strikes is nothing new, but it won’t be as easy as Osirak was for the Israelis. The Iranians have prepared for that eventuality and have buried their most sensitive operations. They have also hidden them, playing a shell game with their facilities in order to keep the US guessing about its assets. It will be difficult to take out their entire nuclear operations.
However, that probably wouldn’t be necessary. All we need to do is to set it back a few years, and even if we only hit 25-30% of their nuclear-research support structure, we could easily have that effect. Even deeply buried facilities have to move material to the surface for transport, and the destruction of support systems around these laboratories would devastate Iranian nuclear development.
Another consideration will be the political reaction in Iran. Right now, the mullahcracy has generated plenty of unhappiness with the oppressive nature of the theocracy, and Ahmadinejad has done a great job of wrecking the economy on top of that. Put that with the international isolation his approach to nuclearization has caused, and the Iranian people might be ripe for a counter-revolution to throw off the Islamists. That will all dissipate if the US attacks Iran, even in “surgical” strikes designed to cause a minimal amount of collateral damage. It would probably steel public opinion against the US and strengthen the hand of the mullahs, at least in the short term.
Would it be worth it? It might, since popular Iranian dissatisfaction has hardly translated into any kind of massive pushback against the mullahs up to now. Waiting for the counter-revolution will probably ensure that the mullahs get the bomb. Certainly the Russians have made it clear that we cannot rely on the UN Security Council to stare down the Iranians, and Europe won’t consider any other strategies. If it’s a choice between playing nice while the radical Islamists make themselves some nukes and blowing up a few of their facilities, I’d reluctantly go for the latter.
Just don’t tell the Europeans. It sounds like they’re already looking to surrender, and our ships haven’t even arrived yet.