Expert Report: US Strikes on Iran Would Risk Major War
by Robert Burns
From Associated Press
September 12, 2012
U.S. military strikes on Iran would shake the regime's
political control and damage its ability to launch
counterstrikes, but the Iranians probably would manage to
retaliate, directly and through surrogates, in ways that
risked igniting all-out war in the Middle East, according to
an assessment of an attack's costs and benefits.
The assessment said extended U.S. strikes could destroy
Iran's most important nuclear facilities and damage its
military forces but would only delay - not stop - the
Islamic republic's pursuit of a nuclear bomb.
"You can't kill intellectual power," said retired Army Lt.
Gen. Frank Kearney, who endorsed the report. He is a former
deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center and
former deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
The report compiled by former government officials, national
security experts and retired military officers is to be
publicly released Thursday. It says achieving more than a
temporary setback in Iran's nuclear program would require a
military operation - including a land occupation - more
taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
An advance copy of the report was provided to The Associated
The assessment emerges against the backdrop of escalating
tensions between Israel and the U.S. over when a military
strike on Iran might be required. The Israelis worry that
Iran is moving more quickly toward a nuclear capability than
the United States believes. The U.S. has not ruled out
attacking but has sought to persuade Israel to give
diplomacy more time.
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat, citing
Iran's persistent calls for the destruction of the Jewish
state, its development of missiles capable of striking
Israel and Iranian support for Arab militant groups.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes
An oft-stated argument against striking Iran is that it
would add to a perception of the U.S. as anti-Muslim - a
perception linked to the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and
Afghanistan and hardened by Internet-based video excerpts of
an anti-Muslim film that may have fueled Tuesday's deadly
attack on a U.S. diplomatic office in Libya.
"Planners and pundits ought to consider that the riots and
unrest following a Web entry about an obscure film are
probably a fraction of what could happen following a strike
- by the Israelis or U.S. - on Iran," retired Lt. Gen.
Gregory Newbold, an endorser of the Iran report and a former
operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an
The report was compiled and endorsed by more than 30 former
diplomats, retired admirals and generals and others who said
their main purpose was to provide clarity about the
potential use of military force against Iran. They reached
no overall conclusion and offered no recommendations.
"The report is intended to have what we call an informing
influence and hopefully something of a calming influence,
but that's something readers will have to answer for
themselves," said Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations who has held informal contacts with
Iranian officials as recently as the past few months.
Kearney said the assessment was meant to stimulate thinking
in the U.S. about the objectives of a military attack on
Iran beyond the obvious goal of hitting key components of
Iran's nuclear program. "Clearly there is some (U.S.)
ability to do destruction, which will cause some delay, but
what occurs after that?" he said in an interview.
Other endorsers of the report include Brent Scowcroft, who
was President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser;
former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, former
Sens. Sam Nunn and Chuck Hagel and two retired chiefs of
U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and navy
Adm. William J. Fallon.
The analysis includes stark assertions about one of the most
volatile and complex issues facing the U.S. in a
presidential election year. President Barack Obama's failure
to get Iran to negotiate acceptable limits on its nuclear
program is cited by his opponents as emblematic of a
misguided and weak foreign policy.
The report said the Obama administration's stated objective
- shared by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney - of
preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb is unlikely to
be achieved through military force if action is limited to a
combination of airstrikes, cyberattacks, covert operations
and special operations strikes.
It says an extensive U.S. military assault could delay for
up to four years Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon.
It also could disrupt Iranian government control, deplete
its treasury and raise internal tensions.
"We do not believe it would lead to regime change, regime
collapse or capitulation," it said, adding that such an
attack would increase Iran's motivation to build a bomb, in
part because the Iranian leadership would see building a
bomb as a way to inhibit future U.S. attacks "and redress
the humiliation of being attacked."
A more ambitious military campaign designed to oust the
Iranian regime of hardline clerics or force an undermining
of Iran's influence in the Mideast would require the U.S. to
occupy part or all of the country, the report said.
"Given Iran's large size and population, and the strength of
Iranian nationalism, we estimate that the occupation of Iran
would require a commitment of resources and personnel
greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10
years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined," the report
The U.S. had as many as 170,000 troops in Iraq at the height
of the 2003-10 war, and U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan
peaked last year at 100,000. Eleven years into the Afghan
war the U.S. still has about 74,000 troops there.
Early drafts of the report were coordinated by the
nonpartisan Iran Project, a private group funded in part by
the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a philanthropy that promotes
peace and democracy. The final version includes
contributions from others with national security expertise.
It is based on publicly available documents, including
unclassified intelligence reports.
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