When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly last month that Iran’s nuclear programme was unlikely to breach his “red line” for presumed military action until next spring or summer, many observers here looked forward to some relief from the nearly incessant drumbeat for war by U.S. neo-conservatives and other hawks.
But even as the Barack Obama administration and its Western European allies prepare a new round of sanctions to add to what already is perhaps the harshest sanctions regime imposed against a U.N. member state, the war drums keep beating.
Earlier this week, Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham said he is working on a new Congressional resolution he hopes to pass in any lame-duck session after the Nov. 6 elections that would promise Israel U.S. support, including military assistance, if it attacks Iran.
And after the new Congress convenes in January, he suggested he would push yet another resolution that would give the president – whether the incumbent, Obama, or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney – broad authority to take military action if sanctions don’t curb Iran’s nuclear programme.
“The 30,000-foot view of Iran is very bipartisan,” he told the Capitol Hill newspaper, ‘Roll Call’.
“This regime is crazy, they’re up to no good, they are a cancer spreading in the Mideast. …Almost all of the Democrats and Republicans buy into the idea that we can’t give them a nuclear capability,” he said.
While Graham, who succeeded last month in pushing through the Senate – by a 90-1 margin – a resolution ruling out “containment” as an option for dealing with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, disclosed his new plans, the CEO of the influential foreignpolicy.com website published an article in which he claimed that the U.S. and Israel were actively considering a joint “surgical strike” against Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
Citing an unnamed source “close to the discussions”, David Rothkopf, a well-connected former national security official under President Bill Clinton, claimed that such a strike “might take only ‘a couple of hours’ in the best case and only would involve a ‘day or two’ overall,” using primarily bombers and drones.
Such an attack, according to “advocates for this approach” cited by Rothkopf, could set back Iran’s nuclear programme “many years, and doing so “without civilian casualties”.
In an echo of the extravagant claims by neo-conservatives that preceded the attack on Iraq, one “advocate” told Rothkopf such an attack would have “transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”
Rothkopf’s article spurred a flurry of speculation about his source – at least one keen observer pointed to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, a long-time personal friend who has kept up his own drumbeat against Iran on the op-ed pages of U.S. newspapers.
It also caused consternation among most informed analysts, if only because of the Obama administration’s not-so-thinly-veiled opposition to any military strike in the short- to medium term and the Pentagon’s preference, if it were ordered to attack, for a broad offensive likely to stretch over many weeks.
“The idea that the American military would agree to any quick single strike seems fantastical to me,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a non-proliferation expert who served in the Obama White House until earlier this year. “Should we decide to go, I believe U.S. military planners will – rightly – want to go big and start with air defence and communication suppression. This means many hundreds of strikes and a lot of casualties.”
Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a think tank that has issued a succession of hawkish reports by a special task force on Iran since 2008, released a new study here Thursday on the potential economic costs – as measured by the likely increases in the price of oil – of a “nuclear Iran”.
The 47-page report, “The Price of Inaction: An Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran”, appeared intended to counter warnings by other experts that an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran would send oil prices skyward – as high as three times the current price depending on the actual disruption in oil traffic – with disastrous effects on the global economy.
“In the public debate during the last year, a recurring concern has been the economic risks posed by the available means for preventing a nuclear Iran, whether tough sanctions or military action,” it began. “Such risks are a legitimate concern.”
“…Inaction, too, exposes the United States to economic risks,” the task force, which includes a number of neo-conservative former officials of the George W. Bush administration, noted.
The report provides a variety of possible scenarios and estimates the probabilities of each.
It stressed that a “nuclear Iran” – which went undefined in the report but which one task force staffer described as the point at which Tehran’s neighbours, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel, were persuaded that it either had a weapon or its acquisition was imminent – would “significantly alter the geopolitical and strategic landscape of the Middle East, raising the likelihood of instability, terrorism, or conflict that could interrupt the region’s oil exports”.
“It’s hard to imagine Iran with a nuclear umbrella as behaving more responsibly than they do today,” said Ambassador Dennis Ross, a task force member who served as President Barack Obama’s top Iran adviser until late last year.
And while Washington would probably try to persuade Saudi Arabia not to go nuclear itself, that would prove unavailing, according to Ross, who quoted King Abdullah as telling him, “If they (the Iranians) get it, we get it.”
“Our analysis indicates that the expectation of instability and conflict that a nuclear Iran could generate in global energy markets could roughly increase the price of oil by between 10 and 25 percent,” according to the report.
If actual hostilities broke out between a nuclear Iran and Saudi Arabia or Israel, the price could far higher, particularly in the event of a nuclear exchange, the report found.
It rated the chances of an Iran-Israel and an Iran-Saudi nuclear exchange at 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively, within three years of the perception that Iran had become a nuclear state.
Whether these latest efforts by hawks to maintain the momentum toward confrontation with Iran will succeed remains to be seen.
While both presidential candidates have stressed that they are determined to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status, the emphasis for now should be placed on sanctions and that a military attack should only be considered as a last resort.
At the same time, a war-weary U.S. public shows little enthusiasm for the kind of resolution sought by Graham in support of an Israeli attack on Iran.
In a survey of more than 700 respondents concluded by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), a week ago, 29 percent said Washington should discourage Israel from taking such action, while 53 percent said the U.S. should stay neutral. Only 12 percent said the U.S. should encourage Israel to strike.
Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.