Selecting ‘Options on the Table’ Carefully: The Consequences of a Military Strike on Iran

January 30, 2012

As a part of the Muslim Public Affairs Council's (MPAC) vision for a safe and more secure American and global society, we abhor the thought of nuclear weapon proliferation by any nation, including Iran. We also oppose, on religious grounds, to both the theocratic and authoritarian nature of the current Iranian political system.

These criticisms not withstanding, MPAC is also concerned about renewed statements that advocate for a military strike against Iran. It is our belief that toning down the confrontational rhetoric, re-engaging effective international institutions, reinvigorating diplomacy and sanctions that target human rights violators, not the Iranian people, are more promising, yet under-explored approaches. Meanwhile, the arguments in favor of attacking Iran rest on a number of overly optimistic and faulty premises.

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Drawing upon many of the world’s top regional, military, economic and political subject experts and in the spirit of concern for our nation’s best interest, the people of Iran and the welfare of our brothers and sisters in humanity, MPAC offers this paper as our take on this critical situation. While remaining consistent with our moral principles, we seek to serve a voice of pragmatism and level-headed thinking during a time of excessively politicized debates about an issue which carries significant military, economic and political consequences far beyond the immediate region.

This paper seeks to assess the pros and cons of a military strike option by answering the following questions:

  • Will US. military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities ensure their complete physical elimination, thus destroying possible nuclear weapons capabilities?
  • What are the immediate security, economic and political ramifications of U.S. military strikes against Iran?

Echoing other expert analysis, including the intelligence community’s 2007 “National Intelligence Estimate” and its 2011 “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” this paper reaffirms that Iran is a rationally-driven country. In addition, as other Iran experts have noted, Tehran’s nuclear program is driven by a desire to be treated as an equal by the international community, as well as security concerns to deter the United States or any other nation from seeking “regime change.”

The U. S. and the international community have not exhausted all options for dealing with Iran. Insider experts note that American policy-makers prematurely gave up on diplomatic engagement with Iranian power brokers, despite its apparent success when utilized by other countries, such as Turkey and Brazil.

Ensuring there is solid intelligence complicates any mission that seeks to completely destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Furthermore, many known targets such as sites near Natanz and Qom, Iran, are buried and/or hardened which may mitigate the effects of an aerial assault, even when considering recent developments in armaments technology. An attack may only set back Iran’s nuclear program by a few years, but not indefinitely cripple it.

An attack would invite severe reprisals by conventional and asymmetrical Iranian forces in the region, proxy attacks by allied militant countries and calculated instigation of sectarian strife for subversive purposes. This also would potentially have negative side effects such as severely driving up the price of oil.

Moving forward, American policy-makers need to reassess the situation and consider alternative options.

  • American policy-makers should remain ever cognizant of is to “do no harm.” 
  • Should the U. S. decide to mention the use of military force, it needs to draw new “red lines” about when force can be appropriately used. 
  • A targeted approach to sanctions focusing on human rights abusers within the Iranian government, not the Iranian people is a more ethical and effective alternative. 
  • Third, American policy-makers should reinvigorate their support for multilateral institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). When given the opportunity to fulfill its mandate, it has been effective. 
  • Additionally the U.S. should increase its engagement with other pivotal nations such as Russia and China. 
  • The U.S. should lay out an alternative set of contingency plans in the event Iran obtains nuclear weapons. Even prominent Israeli security experts – the current and former heads of Israel’s foreign intelligence service and a former military chief of staff – have stated that a nuclear Iran is not an existential threat to Israel. 
  • Finally, in order for the United States to maintain its effectiveness as a global superpower, it should also couple nuclear non-proliferation of Iran with nuclear disarmament of Iran’s surrounding neighbors, including India, Pakistan and Israel. 
  • Pushing for regional nonproliferation and disarmament, particularly when it comes to Israel, is shared by a solid majority of people in the Middle East, including Jewish Israelis. 
  • A comprehensive and balanced regional approach to nonproliferation and disarmament led by the U.S. enhances global security while effectively isolating any Iranian intransigence. In other words, the U.S. cannot be accused of double standards in the scenario, and more of the Iranian people will be supportive of our nation.

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