How to help Iran build a bomb

William J Broad writes: Advocates of airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities have long held that the attacks would delay an atom bomb for years and perhaps even buy Israel enough time to topple the Iranian government. In public statements, the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, has said that an attack would leave Iran’s nuclear program reeling, if not destroyed. The blow, he declared recently, would set back the Iranian effort “for a long time.”

Quite the opposite, say a surprising number of scholars and military and arms-control experts. In reports, talks, articles and interviews, they argue that a strike could actually lead to Iran’s speeding up its efforts, ensuring the realization of a bomb and hastening its arrival.

“An attack would increase the likelihood,” Scott D. Sagan, a political scientist at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said of an Iranian weapon.

The George W. Bush administration, it turns out, reached an even stronger conclusion in secret and rejected bombing as counterproductive.

The view among Mr. Bush’s top advisers, recalled Michael V. Hayden, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was that a strike “would drive them to do what we were trying to prevent.”

Those who warn against attacking Iran say that such a move would free officials in Tehran of many constraints. An attack, for instance, would all but certainly lead to the expulsion of international inspectors, which, in turn, would allow the government to undo hundreds of monitoring devices and safeguards, including seals on underground storage units. Further, an Iran permitted to present itself to the world as the victim of an attack would receive sympathy and perhaps vital imports from nations that once backed trade bans. The thinking also goes that a strike would allow Iran to further direct its economy to military ends.

Perhaps most notably, an attack could unite what is now a fractious state, these analysts say, and build an atmosphere of mobilizing rage. As the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland wrote earlier this year, “It’s difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision.”

History, the analysts say, demonstrates that airstrikes and military threats often result in unbending resolve among the beleaguered to do whatever it takes to acquire nuclear arms. [Continue reading…]

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