Peter Brookes writes
a weekly column on foreign policy and defense
for the New York Post and is penning
a book on national security affairs for McGraw
Hill due out early next fall. He appears regularly
on national TV and radio.
Prior to joining the Heritage
Foundation, Brookes served in the Bush
administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary
of Defense (DASD) for Asian and Pacific Affairs
in the Office of Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, where he was responsible for the
development, planning, guidance and oversight
of U .S. security and defense policy for 38
countries and 5 bilateral defense alliances
in the Asia-Pacific region.
Brookes has a distinguished military background,
including active duty in support of military
operations in Iraq/Kuwait (Desert Storm);
Haiti (Restore Democracy); and Bosnia (Joint
Endeavor). He flew reconnaissance missions
in East Asia and the Persian Gulf while stationed
in Japan covering military matters related
to the Soviet Union, North Korea, China, Vietnam,
Iran and Iraq. His personal awards and decorations
include: the Joint Service Commendation Medal;
the Navy Commendation Medal (3 awards); the
Navy Achievement Medal; several naval and
joint unit awards; the Defense Language Institute’s
Kellogg Award; the Joint Chiefs of Staff service
badge; and Naval Aviation Observer (NAO) wings.
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September 29, 2004
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Time after time, the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency
has demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium. Yet Tehran keeps
on thumbing its nose at the U.N. body, saying its uranium enrichment
is just a peaceful effort to produce electricity.
To many nations, especially Israel, it seems only a matter of time
before Iran breaks out as a nuclear power, ratcheting up tensions
across the Middle East. An Israel-Iran showdown over Tehran's outlaw
nuclear-weapons program now seems increasingly imminent.
Last week, for example, Israel charged that Iran was merely "buying
time" and will never abandon plans to develop nuclear weapons. It
called for the U.N. Security Council "to put an end to this nightmare."
Addressing reporters at the U.N., Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan
Shalom kept all options on the table by avoiding answering whether
Israel would take military action against Iran if it continued to
pursue nuclear weapons.
Also last week, the administration informed Congress that it was
selling Israel 5,000 precision-guided "smart bombs," including 500
satellite-guided, one-ton JDAM "bunker busters" of Baghdad fame.
(JDAMs are capable of penetrating six feet of concrete.)
In response to the arms sale, Iran warned Israel against attacking
its nuclear facilities, saying it would react "most severely" to
any Israeli military action against Iran.
Then, over the weekend, Iran pointedly announced that its Shahab-3
ballistic missile was now operational. The missile can reach Israel,
and Iran has 25 to 100 of them. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhrani
crowed that Iran was now "ready to confront all regional [read:
Israeli] and extra-regional [read: American] threats."
OK, so you say, a little chest-beating isn't the same as the beating
of war drums. True. But bear in mind, Israel takes the threat of
nuclear weapons in its neighborhood quite seriously. Just ask Saddam
In 1981, Israeli fighters conducted a low-level, 700-mile, daylight
raid through Saudi Arabian and Jordanian air space into Iraq.
In a minute and a half, the fighters laid waste to the French-supplied
Osiraq nuclear reactor - the centerpiece of Iraq's burgeoning nuclear-weapons
So what would happen if Israel decided to conduct a pre-emptive
surgical strike on Iran's nuclear facilities?
Some say that an Israeli attack on a Muslim country would set the
Middle East ablaze in an anti-Jewish frenzy. Possible, but not likely.
Sure, all Muslim governments would vociferously condemn the Israeli
strike. But most would breathe a quiet sigh of relief. No one in
the Middle East (except maybe Syria) wants to see fundamentalist,
hegemonic Iran go nuclear. This is especially true for Iran's cross-Gulf
rival, Saudi Arabia.
No Arab country would strike back at Israel, but Iran's Lebanese
terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, would almost certainly target Israeli
(and perhaps U.S.) interests in the region.
Iran itself could decide to retaliate on Israeli cities with missile
strikes. And while Israel has a limited missile defense system,
missiles raining in on Tel Aviv, a city of 3 million, could be devastating.
But Israel could threaten to respond to Iranian strikes on Israeli
civilian targets with nuclear weapons.
The other problem is exactly how to inflict sufficient damage on
the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has as at least 24 suspected nuclear
facilities scattered around the country. Some are underground; others
are (intentionally) located by major population areas to ensure
civilian casualties during a raid.
But the cost of doing nothing may be the most expensive. An Iranian
nuclear breakout would mean a radical shift in the balance of power
in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia would certainly move to go nuclear
(with likely help from Pakistan).
Tehran might, as well, put Damascus under its new nuclear umbrella
or, worse yet, give Syria the bomb. (Happily, even Iran's likely
to see giving a nuke to Hezbollah as way too risky.)
Clearly, there are no easy choices, only hard decisions. A peaceful
end to the Iranian nuclear problem should continue to be sought,
but the countdown to a nuclear Iran has already begun.
Israel - at least for the moment - seems to be committed to a peaceful
solution. But don't be surprised if Israel decides to jump the diplomatic
track in an effort to end - or at least forestall - Iran's bid to
become the first anti-Israeli member of the exclusive nuclear club.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.
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© 2004 News World Communications, Inc.
All rights reserved. Mr. Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National
Security Affairs at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. This
column originally appeared in the New York Post. All opinions
expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily
reflect those of Military.com.