Everyone has suddenly noticed an elephant in the room: Play the War Card! So right after Daniel Pipes’ column in National Review Online last week, “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran,” pundits from Arnaud de Borchgrave, to Pat Buchanan, to Sarah Palin rushed to approve or disapprove of the idea. They all bring their agendas to the debate, but they all agree a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would significantly raise Obama’s disastrous approval poll ratings. Like politics, all warfare is domestic.
Even with the issue finally out in the sunlight, questions remain like: Why attack Iran when sanctions and ballistic missile defenses are available? Would an attack be effective anyway, and what about the Muslim response? Examination of those key points is timely.
First, no serious observer doubts Iran’s intentions except Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who told Congress last week he did not know whether Iran has decided to produce nuclear weapons. Although this has been the posture of the Bush and Obama administrations for years, officials now publically concede that Tehran’s huge uranium enrichment program is designed to build nuclear weapons. In addition, the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung just reported that with the help of a Russian expert in advanced warhead design, Iran is developing a nuclear warhead small enough to fit in their Shahab 3 intercontinental ballistic missile. The paper added that Western intelligence agencies and diplomats confirmed the report; other reports suggest Iran already has a warhead but it is too large for their missile.
Whatever the status of Iran’s program, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu gave a thinly veiled warning to Iran on Jan. 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day) saying, “From this site, I vow as the leader of the Jewish state that we will never again allow the hand of evil to destroy the life of our people and the life of our state. Never again!”
Tempo increased with a statement on Feb. 9 by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that his country would “punch” the western powers during the annual celebration of the revolution on Thursday, Feb. 11. He said: “The Iranian nation, with its unity and God’s grace, will punch the arrogance (western powers) on the 22nd of Bahman (11 February) in a way that will leave them stunned.” (Agence France-Presse).
What might that “punch” be? If Iran tests a nuclear device the calculus of terror in the Middle East changes dramatically, and things will surely happen on several fronts. Such a test is unlikely, however, and the “punch” is probably some new conventional armament. Nevertheless, Iran’s promise to wipe Israel off the face of the earth would spur that nation to action should Iran demonstrate a nuclear arsenal. And Israel is not the only concerned Middle East nation. A nuclear arms race is already under way in the region and would accelerate. The purchase of Pakistani nuclear weapons by Shiite Iran’s fearful Sunni neighbors cannot be ruled out.
With China refusing to endorse an embargo on gasoline sales to Iran, and with Russia dragging its feet, the peaceful option of sanctions is a dead horse. Ineffectual promises of sanctions and vague threats were hallmarks of the Bush presidency. To that Obama has only added lapsed deadlines and the offer of ballistic missile defenses (BMD) to Iran’s neighbors. Why does Washington follow such failed policies? The answer is that a nuclear-armed Iran is a distant threat to the United States, and even if Iran somehow landed a missile on American soil we would absorb the blow and completely incinerate them. So Washington delays action, counsels patience, and hopes that something will happen soon—even if that something is an Iranian nuclear capability. Israel does not have the luxury of distance or land mass, and a single Iranian nuclear missile slipping through the Aegis or Patriot BMD systems would be a catastrophe. Into this mix comes the debate of whether or not American military action against Iran would bolster poll standings of president Obama. I believe U.S. military action is a moot point, since there is absolutely nothing to indicate that Obama would consider playing the war card.
White House meetings on the subject of Iran must be interesting. If we attack Iran we face a tsunami of condemnation while Islamic leaders whip the ‘Muslim Street’ into a frenzy. Terror attacks on Americans will take place here and abroad. And if Israel attacks Iran instead, we will be named a co-conspirator and face the same tidal wave. Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Meanwhile, the military ball is in Israel’s court.
The world knows the U.S. military can destroy any target in the world without using nuclear weapons. But what about Israel? That country, with a population less than that of New York City, has developed a “triad”—the capability to launch a nuclear strike from aircraft, missile silos, and submarines. Besides Israel, only the US, Russia, and China have that deterrent power. But would Israel use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike on Iran? I suggest that is unlikely because, as we will see below, it is unnecessary in the usual sense. As for a non-nuclear pre-emptive strike, Israel cannot successfully attack Iran with conventional weapons or aircraft. The distance is great, the defenses formidable, and the casualties would be very high. Instead, I believe Israel will use an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon. What’s that?
In 1962 the U.S. conducted an atmospheric test called Starfish Prime. In it, a 1.4 megaton weapon was detonated 400 kilometers above Johnson Island in the Pacific. The EMP from that test knocked out street lights in Hawaii, 900 miles away! The Soviets held similar tests and discovered EMP effects can penetrate far underground. If Israel used one of its Jericho III missiles to detonate 400 kilometers above north central Iran there would be no blast or radiation effects on the ground. In fact, if the strike was at noon on a sunny day the people below would not know it happened except their lights would go out, cars stop, fridges die, power line transformers short out, refineries shut down, and yes, those uranium enrichment centrifuges in caverns stop spinning. This bloodless annihilation, coupled with a selective cyber attack, would freeze Iran for decades.
What could be Iran’s response to such an attack? If they can find a working radio they can announce they have mined the Strait of Hormuz. Because of depth, width, and its hydrographic features the Strait cannot be mined, but if Iran says it is mined it would have the same effect. Lloyds will cancel insurance for any tanker transiting the Strait. Then we revisit “Tanker War” tactics of 1985, and the U.S. Navy would escort any ship anxious to cash in on the crisis. If shore missile batteries were somehow still operational, a battle group in the area together with bombers from Diego Garcia would reduce them to rubble, along with associated infrastructure like military harbors. A rain of missiles from Hezbollah in Syria would have to be endured by Israel, unless another EMP weapon was used. Terror attacks would be made on Israelis and Americans, but those can be dealt with by law enforcement and military forces, especially if they are forewarned. Of course the price of oil and gold would spike for a while. On the positive side, Iranian “Green” opposition forces would have an opportunity to take to the darkened streets of Tehran and rid themselves of the corrupt clerical regime.
So it seems the “war card” is in the hands of Israel, and the card has “EMP” on it.
Chet Nagle is the author of IRAN COVENANT.