By Jeremy Herb
A U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities could have unintended consequences that would lead to all-out war, according to a new report endorsed by more than 30 national-security experts.
The report, which is being released Thursday, says that a U.S. airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facility would set back Iran’s program up to four years, but would not permanently disable it.
And if the United States attacked Iran, Tehran would likely respond with both direct and surrogate asymmetrical attacks, the report says, potentially escalating the conflict into an all-out regional war.
“Serious costs to U.S. interests would also be felt over the longer term, we believe, with problematic consequences for global and regional stability, including economic stability,” the report says. “A dynamic of escalation, action and counteraction could produce serious unintended consequences that would significantly increase all of these costs and lead, potentially, to all-out regional war.”
“We believe that military action probably would reduce the possibility of reaching a more permanent political resolution of concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” it says. “In fact, we believe that a U.S. attack on Iran would increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb, because the Iranian leadership would become more convinced than ever that regime change is the goal of U.S. policy, and building a bomb would be seen as a way to inhibit future attacks and redress the humiliation of being attacked.”
The Obama administration has said that no options are off the table to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including a military strike, but that it prefers a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear conflict.
Israel, however, has ramped up its rhetoric about a potential strike on Iran as it’s complained about U.S. inaction and the ineffectiveness of sanctions and negotiations.
Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but the United States, Israel and their allies suspect Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon.
The report says that a U.S. aerial strike on Iran could destroy or damage the six most important nuclear facilities in Iran, setting back Iran’s nuclear program for up to four years — but not permanently.
In order to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb, the report suggests the United States would require a “a significantly expanded air and sea war over a prolonged period of time, likely several years.”
If regime change in Iran was the goal, the report predicted the United States would need “a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”
The report says an Israeli strike, on the other hand, would set back Iran’s program for up to two years, and would not have the same success as it did in Iraq or Syria because Iran’s Fordo facility is buried into a mountain.
Potential Iranian retaliation would include targeting U.S. facilities in the region, attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz and targeting Israel, according to the paper. Attacks by proxies like Hezbollah would also be likely.
The report also raises concerns that the international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program could break down in the wake of a U.S. or Israeli attack.
The report, which was drafted by Austin Long of Columbia University and William Luers, director of the Iran Project, draws on analysis and opinion from publicly available documents, including unclassified intelligence reports. The authors say it is not an advocacy paper but designed to weigh the costs and benefits of military action against Iran.