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Luttwak: How to Bomb Iran

Edward Luttwak, the iconoclastic military historian and strategist of “Give War a Chance” fame, is now making the case for a strike against Iran. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Luttwak argues that the conventional wisdom poses a false binary choice between an all-out assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities and a policy of containment:

[T]his war planning denied to the president and American strategy the option of interrupting Iran’s nuclear efforts by a stealthy overnight attack against the handful of buildings that contain the least replaceable components of Iran’s uranium hexafluoride and centrifuge enrichment cycle—and which would rely on electronic countermeasures to protect aircraft instead of the massive bombardment of Iran’s air defenses.

Luttwak points to historical precedent in support of his proposal:

[T]his kind of attack was carried out in September 2007, when the Israeli air force invisibly and inaudibly attacked the nuclear reactor that Syria’s Assad regime had imported from North Korea, wholly destroying it with no known casualties. To be sure, an equivalent attack on Iran’s critical nuclear nodes would have to be several times larger. But it could still be inaudible and invisible, start and end in one night, and kill very few on the ground.

Via Meadia supports tough diplomacy and sanctions to bring the mullahs to heel, but if the current standoff continues, we expect many more editorials discussing options like these to make their way to major newspapers and the desks of policymakers. The war drums may still be far in the distance, but our current path is taking us closer to conflict every day.

In the meantime, we hope the Iranians aren’t reading the Wall Street Journal.  If they are, they might start moving some of that vulnerable equipment.

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  • Luke Lea

    We don’t call what Israel did against Syria’s nuclear reactor a war. We call it a strike. Why don’t we call this a strike?

  • Lorenz Gude

    @ Luke Lee Probably because Iran has lots of ways to defend itself and treat any strike as the act of war it is. The strikes in Syria and Iraq were unanswered and were not followed up by Israel so they remain as strikes.

    More generally, I think the calculus for Israel striking Iran’s nuclear facilities includes the development of anti missile technology which they are furiously working on but naturally not saying a whole lot about. One the other side of the calculation is that Iran will almost certainly strike back, if not directly, then through their proxies like Hezbollah.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    Casualties in this case are highly desirable. Iran’s nuclear sites should be attacked — Time-on-Target with cruise missiles — in a fashion intended to kill as many scientists and skilled workers as possible. They are vastly more difficult to replace than equipment. The program must be decapitated, even if the regime is not.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Retaliation issues from only attacking Iran’s WMD capability make regime change a better objective, and more feasible. The same amount of military action would be required for both. The difference would be that some of the airstrikes directed at the more hardened WMD facilities would go instead at Iran’s POL refinery and internal distribution infrastructure (pumps, power plants, etc). And close its ports with naval mines.

    The mullahs’ regime is very vulnerable to destruction of its financial means to reward regime supporters. The certainty that its hard currency earnings capability is gone would drive the leadership abroad to their foreign bank accounts, and collapse the remainder of the regime long before it could rebuild its WMD capability.

  • WigWag

    I have a strong suspicion that in his heart of hearts President Obama is actually hoping that the Iranians develop a small number of nuclear weapons because he views this as a prequel to his greatest wish, a nuclear free Middle East and a disarmed Israel. I also suspect that his coterie of leftist advisors and their friends in the pundit community are hoping for exactly the same thing.

    All the talk about containing a nuclear Iran is utter nonsense and even the people shouting loudly about containment know it. While the United States was able to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War (and the Soviets were similarly able to “contain” the United States), the Cold War experience provides no insight into what a nuclear armed Iran would mean for the Middle East.

    The United States and the Soviet Union were both superpowers with thousands of nuclear warheads and a triad of delivery systems (land launched, submarine launched and airplane launched). Since the early 1960s there were numerous systems in place to insure that mistakes were never made and “launch on warning” was never necessary. None of these systems exist in the Middle East and they never will.

    Given the arsenals of Israel and the United States, Iran will be incentivized to launch whatever nuclear weapons that it has whenever there is even the slightest perceived risk to those weapons. Their incentive will be to use them before they lose them and in this type of environment, tragic mistakes are almost unavoidable. The essence of containment and deterrence during the Cold War was not only the mutually assured destruction scenario, it was the ability of all the belligerents with nuclear arsenals to count on a second strike capability. This is absent in the Middle East; Israel is so small that it will only take one or two nuclear weapons to wipe out 50 percent of the world’s Jewish population. Because Israel has a second strike capability and Iran doesn’t, Iran will have a strong incentive to launch first in the hope that no Israeli Jew is left alive to order a second strike. The situation is highly unstable and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the situation that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union.

    Superimpose on all of this the fact that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons the Saudis have already said that they will too and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East will be impossible to avoid; Egypt will seek nuclear weapons as will Turkey and perhaps the Gulf States. With all of these unstable Muslim nations possessing nuclear arsenals, proliferation to terrorists becomes not only possible but likely.

    My fear is that this is exactly what Barak Obama is counting on. Given the nightmare scenario that proliferation and the unstable relationship between Iran and Israel entails, Obama’s solution is bound to be what he’s wanted all along-negotiations towards a nuclear free Middle East.

    This would put the Israeli’s in a terrible bind. On the one hand giving up its nukes to prevent several hostile Muslim regimes from maintaining them and perhaps proliferating them (either accidentally or deliberately) to terrorists might seem like the way to go to prevent a strong possibility of annihilation for the Jewish people.

    On the other hand, despite all of its technological sophistication and economic prowess, without nuclear weapons Israel, a nation of less than 6 million Jews, could find itself at the mercy of 300 million Arabs and a Muslim world with a population of over 1 billion.

    My guess is that this is precisely the situation that Barak Obama truly wants. He hopes that he can pursue his fantasy of a nuclear free world by starting with the Middle East and he believes that if the Iranians actually develop a nuclear capability he can use it as an incentive to begin the process of ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons through negotiation. The fact that this would leave Israel far weaker than it is now is totally inconsequential to the President. In fact, the reality that an Israel without nuclear weapons would have nowhere to look for its survival other than the United States is ultimately what Obama is praying for. I suspect that the idea that the Jewish people should be able to protect themselves is an anathema to President Obama. A Jewish community as vulnerable as it was in pre World War II Europe causes him to lose no sleep at all.

    The Israeli leadership surely understands that President Obama is its enemy. They should take any steps necessary in the Middle East to prevent this terrible scenario from coming true.

  • WigWag

    Barack Obama not Barak Obama. Sorry for the typo.

  • Kris

    WigWag@5: A not entirely implausible hypothesis.

    Among other flies in the ointment: I highly doubt Israel’s biologists are any less capable than its physicists.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Via Meadia supports tough diplomacy and sanctions to bring the mullahs to heel”

    Everyone has attempted sanctions and tough diplomacy for well over a decade, perhaps the author will give a time table for when such attempts can be said to have failed? And to provide a measure for how much risk to how many millions of people, should be acceptable. America was willing to bomb Libya who presented no nuclear threat to the US or anyone else. So I have to think there is some leftist reason for why bombing Iran hasn’t been done long before now, when the risk is so much greater. Iran is a national supporter of terrorists, they have been murdering US military and civilians through surogates, self forming projectile mines, and trumped up charges in Iran. They are the US’s formost enemy and we should make an example of them.

    We should spend a few days reducing their entire soft target energy industry, putting them all on foot and in the dark. The Iranians have played no part in the development of modern civilization, and should have it denied to them as an example to others.

  • LarryD

    Do the hardened facilities generate their own power?

    And if we collapse the entrance, then the uranium (and personnel) can’t get out until the access is dug out. And then the entrance can be re-collapsed, maybe a little farther in…

  • buddy

    Geez,Luttwack supported attack on Iraq,and now it’s Iran in crosshairs.How many Muslim nation do Israel supporters want to be at war with??With anothe mid east war,the rest of the world has to worry about oil spiking to $200 a barrel,but NOT Israel. How come?

    US TAXPAYER IS ON THE HOOK….Pay for the Israel F-15’s and the fuel in ’em.
    US obligated to supply Israel with oil in emergency.
    See SiniaII Agreement.

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