The satellite photo above left was taken in February, 2000. The photo above right, of the same site about 20 miles north northeast of the Iranian city of Qom, was taken four days ago, Sept. 26, 2009. It is believed to be the site of the newly revealed Iranian nuclear facility. The satellite photo to the right offers a more detailed look at the above-ground portion of the facility, most of which is underground and difficult to reach by aerial attack.
So what do we do?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said repeatedly that a military effort to take out Iran’s nuclear complex would set back their effort by one to three years, and that is consistent with every other estimate I’ve seen. I’ve seen no authoritative estimate that it would stop the effort. In fact, I think that over the long term it would harden Iran’s resolve to get the bomb and guarantee its eventual success. The Iranians would sensibly reason that with the bomb in their possession, no one would treat their territory with such disrespect again.
Other concerns also weigh against the military option. We’re stretched thin fighting two wars already, and taking on a third would be foolish. As we draw down our forces in neighboring Iraq, they become more vulnerable to attacks as well. And given the state of the global economy, disruption of oil shipments from the Persian Gulf might push us over the precipice.
That said, I also don’t hold out much hope of negotiating successfully with the current Iranian government. I do think it’s worth the effort, if for no other reason than to demonstrate their intransigence to the world. But success is unlikely.
So where does that leave us? Long term, the best hope for stopping Iran short of a nuclear weapon would be a change of government in Tehran. However, the US government can’t achieve that change or even lobby for it too aggressively; the Iranian people have to do it themselves.
That’s another problem with the military option. An attack on Iran, whether launched by Israel or the United States, would instantly rally the Iranian people around their current government and dash any hope of change.
The only good news is that in the wake of the stolen elections, Iran’s government remains in serious trouble with its people. Top Shia clerics are divided about support for the current regime, and dissent and opposition continue to bubble up from the street and mosque. It’s hard to tell what effect that opposition may have, but the fact that it continues with support from high-ranking clerics is encouraging.