10 March 2012

Iran, nuclear weapons and an Israeli strike

There is no direct evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but there is a lot of indirect evidence:
  • The construction of ballistic missiles that are useless for anything bar attacking cities and employing WMDs
  • Enriching uranium far beyond the levels needed for a civilian nuclear programme.
  • Building underground nuclear facilities
  • Generally unpleasant rhetoric towards a state that is in no position to attack it directly and has never done so.
  • Support of terrorism against said state
  • Refusal of a perfectly decent offer for enrichment outside the country.
There's generally no smoke without fire and the UN is right to order Iran to stop enrichment until safeguards are in place. None of us want a regime like that with nuclear weapons. If they were to use them against Israel (it would only take two or three nukes getting through Israeli missile defences to effectively destroy that country), the consequences would be devastating for Iran as well - but you bet the leadership won't be taking any of them.

That said, a unilateral Israeli strike could cause serious consequences of their own.

As you may or may not be aware, I am currently running an RP revolving around the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. While I have made some slight tweaks to the scenario for gaming purposes and allowing for the 2015 setting, the scenario is based on real and projected capabilities of both sides.

So here are some of my thoughts on what might happen:
  • An Israeli strike might not destroy all the facilities, but hitting the right ones could slow the regime down considerably.
  • There is extremely little Iran can do to stop an Israeli strike from succeeding with its air defences.
  • A strike may well eliminate any support for the reform movement in Iran, but that movement seems, sadly, to have largely stalled. I may be wrong on this and I'm sure Jams can help here.
  • Any attempt by Iran to mine the Straits of Hormuz not only gets the US involved, it gets Oman, the UAE and the GCC involved.
  • Iran cannot close the Straits long-term - any attempt to do so will result in the loss of the bulk of its naval and air forces.
    • The best Iran can hope for is a few symbolic losses of Western assets, say a destroyer or two.
  • Iran's ballistic missiles at the moment will not do serious long-term damage to a nation used to rocket attack. Witness the lack of impact that the V2s had on Britain - and Iran has less missiles.
    • In fact, Iran poses no threat to the continued existence of Israel without nukes.
  • While a war may drive Iran to develop a nuclear weapon - it will never be allowed to actually develop one by the United States and other Western powers. A full-scale invasion might well follow.
  • The economic damage of Iranian strikes against the GCC would be considerable, particularly in terms of oil prices.
  • Israel will need to present very strong evidence of an Iranian nuclear programme to win over a global public opinion that is hostile to it.
I don't want a war with Iran, but I don't want an Iranian bomb. What is needed is for both sides to come to the table and talk. The US and Israel should make statements that an attack will not take place unless clear red-lines are crossed - such as actual moves towards constructing a nuclear device.

Otherwise, either way, a lot of people are going to die.


jams o donnell said...

SH, an Israeli strike would kill the reform movements dead at a stroke. A lot Iranians genuinely want an Iran free of the bloody mullahs and their instruments of repression but an external attack will unite the country at least in the short term

Iran cannot block the Straits of Hormuz without effectively declaring war on Oman by violating its national waters. A closed Strait is effectively a declaration of war against every nation whose only sea access is via the the Strait.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a reasonable and considered summary.