As a part of their newest roundtable discussion, which happens to be on Iran, Gen. Gard and I have a piece in the latest edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The piece addresses recent “rhetoric suggesting that the United States, Israel, or both could become embroiled in a military conflict with Iran.”
Like Iraq after the first Gulf War, an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities now will simply set the stage for a full-scale war later. Even if all of Iran’s nuclear facilities can be located and destroyed, ruling hardliners would begin rebuilding these facilities immediately. This time, though, it would be without the constraints of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement. In no more than a few years, Iran’s program would be back on track and more likely to succeed without the prying eyes of weapons inspectors.
Israel has attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear reactor twice. In 1981, Israeli warplanes successfully bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak. Likewise, in 2007 Israel destroyed a North Korean-built reactor in Syria. Iran is different. Cognizant of those previous attacks, Iranian leaders have hardened and dispersed their nuclear installations, and several important facilities are located in Tehran or near other population centers. The Qom facility, for example, is built inside a mountain for maximum protection from a possible aerial attack.
The facts on Iran’s nuclear program are often misconstrued. Multiple steps are involved in the construction of and ability to deliver a nuclear weapon that go far beyond the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which Iran achieved in February of this year.
Doing the math, this means that Iran will not possess a meaningful nuclear threat to Israel, Turkey, or southeastern Europe for a minimum of three years and could not threaten the US and Western Europe for at least a decade if Iran does not succeed in obtaining outside assistance. This is not to suggest that Iran should be allowed to achieve such capacity, but to be clear that a highly significant amount of time still exists to work toward a negotiated solution.