It has been said before: from any standpoint, Iran is among the most dangerous countries on the face of the earth. Now, in the October 8 edition of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reports that the Defense Department is preparing plans for a bombing campaign, principally targeting Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities. The article is a bit breathless and hyperbolic, and not surprisingly, it has generated some hysteria about a potential war with Iran. Nevertheless, Hersh isn’t the only one thinking about a strike on Iran.
Most people outside the Pentagon don’t realize that the Defense Department makes plans for every conceivable national security contingency — and quite a few that are almost inconceivable. And by law these plans are reviewed and re-certified every year. There are plans to defend the island of Taiwan if China attacks it. There are plans to attack North Korea in a wide variety of scenarios. What happens if Russia attacks Western Europe? Well, we have a plan for that.
So, it should come as no surprise that we have plans for Iran too.
Part of any plan is the use of combat aircraft. Extensive target lists are always developed and refined. So there is a menu of targets to attack in Iran, and there has been such a list since at least 1979. For quite a while, Iran’s nuclear facilities at ab-Ali, Natanz and al-Beshir were targeted, but after we went to Iraq, Iran’s nuclear development was geographically scattered and sited in underground facilities. These days, as Hersh reported, our intelligence about this is not very good, and in my judgment we missed our chance several years ago to slow Iran’s nuclear research. So a plan to hit Iran is not about nuclear proliferation.
The article suggests that the U.S. wants to strike to reduce Iran’s support of Iraq’s insurgents, who are killing Americans every day with sophisticated improvised explosive devices, and to get Iran’s attention in the hope that it will reform and stop its threatening behavior.
It’s hard to see how limited strikes against formations of Revolutionary Guards will motivate Iran to do anything positive. Reports are that Ahmedinejad is not well-liked among his own countrymen, and although he occupies a very public position, it is largely ceremonial. Originating inside Iran, blogs on the subject of Ahmedinejad’s recent visit to the United Nations were almost uniformly critical of him, but even so, one can’t expect that air strikes on troops or headquarters will cause a general uprising of Iranian moderates, who will then throw the mullahs to the wolves. Would that were so.
In the employment of combat power, as in any endeavor, one of the most significant questions is, “What can go wrong?” While it’s always possible that a strike on Iranian forces will result in Iran’s becoming more docile because it doesn’t want us to hit them again, we have demonstrated that we are not keen on escalation, and escalation is what we would likely get.
But Iran is behind many, perhaps even most, of the casualties we sustain in Iraq. IEDs produce the large majority of killed and wounded, and our armored vehicles are very vulnerable to the new family of explosively-formed penetrators that are manufactured in Iran. Furthermore, Iran produces huge 240-millimeter mortars that Shi’a insurgents can use with deadly effect against military and civilian targets. For the American military command in Iraq, getting these weapons off the battlefield is very important, and if there is to be any strike against targets in Iran, it will be against the facilities that manufacture them.
Can these targets be struck with little or no collateral damage? Yes. Is there some danger of an Iranian retaliation? Yes again.
We should never be averse to using the military instrument of power to achieve logical objectives, and we have done it successfully many times. And there are good military reasons to strike the facilities that produce Iranian weapons used against our forces. But if we’ve learned anything in the tragic adventure in Iraq, it’s this: we should think clearly about what happens after the strike — we’d better do a good job of it.
Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.
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