Center for Arms Control

Fact Sheets

Fact Sheet: Statements Against a Military Attack on Iran

October 4, 2012
Updated by Usha Sahay

U.S. Military Officials

“The current U.S.-led push to force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions through steadily increasing economic and diplomatic pressure is beginning to show results and it would be "premature" to resort to military force.”

-Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, January 26, 2012

“After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next? What happens if they decide, in their hardened shelters with their mobile missiles, to start launching those? What happens if they launch them into U.S. bases on the other side of the Gulf? What happens if they launch into Israel, or somewhere else? Into a Saudi oil field? Into Ras Laffan, with all the natural gas? What happens if they now flush their fast patrol boats, their cruise missiles, the strait full of mines, and they sink a tanker, an oil tanker? And of course the economy of the world goes absolutely nuts. What happens if they activate sleeper cells? The MOIS, the intelligence service; what happens if there’s another preemptive attack by the West, the U.S. and Israel, they fire up the streets, and now we’ve got problems. Just tell me how to deal with all that, OK? Because, eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere, and as I tell my friends, if you liked Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.”

-Gen. Anthony Zinni, Former Centcom Commander, September 1, 2009

“If they [Iranians] have the intent, all the weapons in the world are not going to change that.”

“[A]n attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert…The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world."

-Robert Gates, Former Secretary of Defense, October 3, 2012

-Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, February 24, 2012

"It's possible [a strike] could be used to play to nationalist tendencies…There is certainly a history, in other countries, of fairly autocratic regimes almost creating incidents that inflame nationalist sentiment. So that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects."

-Gen. David Petraeus, Centcom Commander, February 3, 2010

"Because even if we bomb, as I just described, we’re going to kill a lot of innocent people: men, women, and children. And, we are going to do some major damage to every facility in Iran that we want to attack, but we are not going to stop them. In fact, we are probably going to accelerate them in getting a nuclear weapon. We are going to cause them to make the decision to get a nuclear weapon."

-Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Former U.S. Army Colonel and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, May 5, 2012

“I'm fighting two wars, and I don't need a third one... I worry about the instability in that part of the world and, in fact, the possible unintended consequences of a strike like that and, in fact, having an impact throughout the region that would be difficult to both predict exactly what it would be and then the actions that we would have to take to contain it.”

-Admiral Mike Mullen, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 20, 2008

"A military strike, whether it's by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States' national security."

-Admiral Joe Sestak, September 4, 2011

“Proponents of a more comprehensive military intervention will argue that a full-scale invasion is the only means by which to crush the regime and its military apparatus, guarantee total elimination of the Iranian nuclear enterprise, and create a window for democratic change. But the price of invasion would be astronomical, and the nationalistic reaction would be fierce; thus, the projected cost in life and treasure must be weighed against the envisioned, yet unpredictable, advantages of a new regime in Tehran.”

-Lt. Col. Leif Eckholm, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 1, 2011

U.S. and Israeli Intelligence Officials

“President George W. Bush's administration concluded that a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would be a bad idea -- and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.”

-Michael Hayden, Former CIA and National Security Agency Chief, January 19, 2012

“The agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict.”

-Gen. Ron Burgess, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, February 21, 2012

“An Israeli bombing would lead to a regional war and solve the internal problems of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It would galvanize Iranian society behind the leadership and create unity around the nuclear issue. And it would justify Iran in rebuilding its nuclear project and saying, ‘Look, see, we were attacked by the Zionist enemy and we clearly need to have it.’ A bombing would be considered an act of war, and there would be an unpredictable counterattack against us. And the Iranians can call on their proxy, Hezbollah, which, with its rockets, can hit practically any target in Israel”

-Meir Dagan, Former Chief of Israel's Mossad Spy Agency, September 3, 2012

"An attack on Iran could affect not only Israel, but the entire region for 100 years." Iran’s capabilities are still "far from posing an existential threat to Israel."

-Ephraim Halevy, Former Chief of Israel's Mossad Spy Agency, November 3, 2011

"Even were it only Israeli planes that carried out the raids, Washington and Tel Aviv would be lumped together as aggressors….In Pakistan, with conspiracies about nefarious joint American and Israeli designs already a staple of popular opinion, Iran could take pleasure in witnessing a further blow to Pakistan’s relations with the United States and conceivably a genuine divorce. This international political bonanza would be more than matched by an appealing domestic payoff. Notwithstanding the disdain that millions of Iranians have for their Islamic government, the country’s fiercely nationalistic public can be counted on to rally behind its leaders to the country’s defense.”

-Marvin G. Weinbaum, former intelligence analyst in U.S. Department of State and current scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute, March 19, 2012

“If the saber rattling were ever to lead to the use of military force, among the disastrous consequences for U.S. interests would be to ensure the enmity of future generations of Iranians and to provide the strongest possible incentive for those Iranians to build, or rebuild, a nuclear weapons capability."

-Former CIA Intelligence officer Paul Pillar, February 3, 2011

Other Present and Former Government Officials

“I think they’re developing a nuclear capability [but] our intelligence makes clear that they haven’t made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.”

-Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, February 28, 2012

“Even if they get a single bomb it means that they are not a threat yet to anyone because they are not suicidal and they know that if they were to use it they would precipitate consequences to them that would be most grave.”

-Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor, February 23, 2012

“Air strikes would undoubtedly lead Iran to hit back asymmetrically against us in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider region, especially through its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. This reminds us of Churchill's maxim that, once a war starts, it is impossible to know how it will end.”

-Nicholas Burns, Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, May 6, 2009

“We are determined to continue to rally international support to raise the costs on Iran for failing to abide by its obligations. But at the same time we are also sincere in wanting to resolve this diplomatically.”

-Phil Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State, February 16, 2012

Members of Congress

“Leaving aside a unilateral attack without American approval or support, the fact is, we’re really going to have hell to pay. They will come back on us, and the implications for the Israeli people here are very severe.”

-GOP Senator Dick Lugar, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, September 28, 2012

“An Israeli Attack On Iran Would ‘Light The Middle East On Fire'”

-GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, House Intelligence Committee Chairman, February 5, 2012

Iran Experts/IAEA Officials

“The worst thing I can imagine right now is something short of war that causes the Iranians to kick the IAEA out.”

-Robert Kelley, Former Chief Inspector for the IAEA, February 22, 2012

"Anybody who is going to attack Iran, frankly, will be totally crazy. [Iran would] absolutely go on a fast track to develop a nuclear weapon with the support of every Iranian, with support from pretty much everybody in the Middle East and a lot of people around the world…I pray that this will never happen. I think the Israelis are intelligent enough to realize that this will diminish their security instead of adding to their security.”

-Mohamed ElBaradei, Former Director General of the IAEA, March 27, 2012

“If you're worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon, the nearest term pathway to that is probably a relatively ineffective Israeli strike.”

-Colin Kahl, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, February 22, 2012

“If they [the Iranian leadership] respond too little, they could lose face, and if they respond too much, they could lose their heads… as for long-term consequences, it’s way too murky to say anything but this: It will be ugly.”

-Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment Associate, February 29, 2012

"From a cost-benefit point of view, [a strike] would not achieve much. It will delay the program for a couple of years, but would galvanize Iran to dash toward the ultimate deterrent."

-Dr. Ali Vaez, Director, Federation of American Scientists Iran Project, February 29, 2012

"It is highly unlikely that an Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would succeed in preventing an Iranian bomb over the long-term…In fact, it could well bring the day when Iran tested a weapon closer, rather than delay it.”

-Graham Allison, Harvard University expert on arms control, April 23, 2012

"We want now to move to a sustained process of serious dialogue, where we can take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead on to compliance by Iran with all its international obligations. In our efforts to do so, we will be guided by the principle of the step-by-step approach and reciprocity. We expect that subsequent meetings will lead to concrete steps towards a comprehensive negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. This is why we will meet again soon, on 23 May in Baghdad, preceded by a preparatory meeting of deputies."

-EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, April 15, 2012

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