Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

Iran and the Military Option

Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

Iran and the Military Option

Article excerpt

When politicians, pundits, and prognosticators discuss the "military option" for Iran it is important to understand that it will in all likelihood result in a full scale international armed conflict. If the "military option" mission is to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities, there is no one target to destroy, bomb, or obliterate that will render Iran's nuclear program dead therefore making such an option unlikely to be quick or efficient. A conflict with Iran would involve an extensive air campaign and probably result in Iran launching missiles at Israel and Eastern Europe. The Persian Gulf would effectively be closed off as a result of maritime combat and the worldwide threat of terrorist attacks would have far reaching consequences. The cost of armed conflict with Iran is incalculable with the potential to further destabilize the region as well as the global economy.

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The purpose of this essay is not to analyze the agreed upon Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement of July 2015 between the E3/EU+3 (mainly China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America) with the Islamic Republic of Iran. (1) Other authors have taken on that task. The purpose of this essay is to understand what exactly the "military option" means in practice with regards to destroying Iran's nuclear program.

Let's be clear: when politicians, pundits, and prognosticators discuss the "military option" for Iran we are in fact discussing a full on war. If the mission is to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities, there is no one target to destroy, bomb, or obliterate that will render Iran's nuclear program dead. Iran deliberately and effectively spread its nuclear program throughout the country, as well as placed it deep underground, in order to avoid this very scenario. (2) Iran learned its lesson from the successful 1981 Israeli air strike on the Osirek nuclear reactor that was under construction in Iraq. (3) Not only will a single air mission not work, even with the Massive Ordinance Penetrator, capable of destroying underground facilities, it is highly unlikely that a sustained air campaign alone will succeed. (4) Instead, combat troops will be required on the ground, in a very inhospitable terrain, in order to achieve the mission of annihilating Iran's nuclear capability. In other words, the "military option" for Iran will consist of significant military action resembling in fact and in law--armed conflict and the invasion of a sovereign nation.

First and foremost, the United States possesses the most powerful and professional military in the history of the world and is far superior to Iran's military. (5) However, never underestimate the enemy-especially on its home soil. Facing an opposing force in a conventional military arena is not a problem for the United States military, but there are many ways countries may counter overwhelming force and Iran is no different.

Iran has an aging anti-aircraft capacity, but any air campaign would still require degrading its radar, anti-aircraft firepower, and air force. (6) This is not impossible by any means, as the US air power consisting of U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force assets are far superior to any other nations', including Iran's. (7) But success will come with a cost; Iranians possess the Russian manufactured S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile system and reportedly purchased and received shipment on five additional S-300 systems in December 2015/January 2016. (8) The S-300 is a sophisticated and effective weapon system that could be deployed to protect valuable targets and/or deny access to Iranian airspace. The fact of the matter is that there is always a "golden BB" out there somewhere--pilots and planes will be lost. As a result, additional forces will be needed on standby to rescue downed pilots and will also be immediately placed in harm's way.

The effort to eliminate Iran's anti-aircraft capacity is simply the prelude for the real target--Iran's powerful ballistic missile capability, featuring the mobile and quick to launch Sejjil I and II surface-to-surface ballistic missile. …

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