“It’s a moment of truth. We want to know what you really want.” This was the message Vice President Joe Biden tried to convey on Sunday night as he spoke with Iranians about their country’s future following its landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran participates in military drills in southern Iran on December 22, 2021.
Sepahnews/Zuma Press photo
Negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program began this week in Vienna and promptly stalled—and it’s no surprise. Tehran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons and is uninterested in a diplomatic breakthrough.
As a result, President Biden will very certainly be forced to choose between permitting the religious dictatorship to become a nuclear-weapons state or employing military action to prevent it. When Iran’s timetable for obtaining a nuclear weapon falls to less than the Pentagon’s reaction time, military action will be considered. On current trends, this might happen as early as this year. If and when this occurs, the president should approve military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
A negotiated deal that verifiably and permanently blocks off all Iranian avenues to the bomb would be the finest conceivable solution to this issue. However, the 2015 nuclear deal fell short of that goal, and Tehran is uninterested in any accord that does.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Iran could already make enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in three weeks and test a primitive nuclear device in six months. It may take a year or two to build a working nuclear warhead that can be delivered by missile, but the game is over once the religious dictatorship gets enough weapons-grade material. Physically, the world could no longer prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Tehran, like North Korea, could store bomb-grade material in covert sites and manufacture weapons undetected. To prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Washington must prevent Tehran from obtaining significant amounts of fissile material.
As neighboring nations like Saudi Arabia develop their own nuclear weapons, a nuclear-armed Iran would exacerbate proliferation. Iran would increase its regional hostility and backing for terror and proxy organizations if it had nuclear weapons. The religious dictatorship would have more freedom if Washington was discouraged by the threat of escalation, which may include a nuclear attack on Israel. As Tehran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program progresses, the United States will become more exposed to Iranian nuclear threats and coercion.
Fortunately, the United States possesses viable military choices. As successive defense secretaries have acknowledged, the Pentagon has little doubt that it can destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities (even those that are well hidden and fortified).
At the very least, American attacks would stall Iran’s aspirations for years, if not permanently. Without the requisite infrastructure, Tehran will be unable to enrich uranium. Rebuilding, installing, and operating centrifuges, as well as reassembling fissile material stockpiles, would take time. An Israeli attack would only buy one or two years, according to the US administration, while an American strike would be more successful. Iran may reconsider investing billions to rehabilitate facilities that the US may bomb again.
Iran would almost certainly respond, but President Trump’s attack on Gen. Qasem Soleimani two years ago taught us that Tehran’s retaliation would be limited. Because the invasion will be unexpected, it will shock Iran’s political establishment; Islamic Revolutionary Guard newspapers now often ridicule American resolve. The ruling clerics still dread a big conflict, which would destroy their military and bring their government to an end. Washington can dissuade retaliation even further by threatening Tehran that if it escalates, the Pentagon would attack more than its nuclear facilities.
Mr. Biden could openly request that the Pentagon revise war preparations and undertake drills targeting fake Iranian nuclear sites with friends and partners. He should also make certain that US partners and bases in the area are safe from Iranian counter-offensives. Israel would gain from assistance in combating Iran’s threat of precision-guided missiles. Mr. Biden may also be able to arrange an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia on missile and drone technology, which Riyadh needs to protect itself against Iranian assaults. It may also have the effect of boosting the kingdom’s participation in the Abraham Accords.
When military alternatives aren’t needed, they’re most effective. Tehran will be more willing to deal if it realizes that diplomatic stubbornness would have major implications. Putting the military option back on the table, together with a fresh sanctions effort, is the best chance for those who believe coercive diplomacy can still solve the Iranian nuclear dilemma.
Mr. Biden should be prepared to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if all else fails. The dangers of this strategy diminish in compared to the prospect of living for decades with a nuclear-armed Iran.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ chief executive is Mr. Dubowitz. Mr. Kroenig is a Georgetown University government professor, the head of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative, and a former Pentagon senior policy advisor (2017-21).
Main Street: Critics say that threatening military action with Iran would suffocate any possibility of a negotiated settlement. However, the contrary is more accurate. Images courtesy of AFP/Getty Images Mark Kelly’s composite
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