Attacking Iran won't stop the nukes

Iran's leaders might be provocative, but they are unlikely to be suicidal


Attacking Iran won't stop the nukes
by Matthew Fuhrmann & Sarah Kreps

The newest round of sanctions that prompted Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz has revived questions about the endgame: What happens if Iran does not give up its nuclear program?

For some of the Republican presidential candidates, the answer is a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Although their rhetoric is more heated, the Republicans' prescription is similar to that of the Obama administration: keep military strikes on the table when dealing with Iran. This threat raises the question of whether striking Iran's nuclear facilities would actually delay proliferation.

To answer this question, we examined all historical cases where countries bombed nuclear plants to stymie their enemy's ability to build nuclear weapons. We analyzed attacks that occurred during ongoing wars — such as the U.S. raids against Iraq's nuclear infrastructure during the 1991 Persian Gulf War — as well as raids that occurred during peacetime, such as Israel's 2007 attack against a nuclear reactor in Syria.

The challenges

Our analysis showed that several attacks have significantly delayed the target's ability to build the bomb. However, four observations gleaned from previous attacks suggest that history is unlikely to repeat itself when it comes to Iran:

• First, the targets have often possessed a small and geographically concentrated nuclear program. Attacks against Germany during World War II, Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 were successful, in part, because attacks were able to essentially eliminate the target's capacity to produce fissile material (weapons-grade highly enriched uranium or plutonium) by destroying one critical facility.

Iran's nuclear program, which dates to the 1950s, however, is relatively advanced and highly diffuse. A number of facilities would need to be destroyed to significantly curtail Iran's weapons program. At a minimum, the attacker — presumably the United States or Israel — would need to destroy the two known uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom. The target list would also probably include the heavy water production facility at Arak, the uranium conversion center at Isfahan, Iran's one operational nuclear power plant at Bushehr and its medical research reactor located outside Tehran.

The U.S. military has the capability to destroy these facilities. Yet the likelihood of operational success declines as the number of facilities that need to be destroyed increases.

• Second, the fairly advanced state of Iran's nuclear program also raises the likelihood that it has clandestine facilities that neither Israel nor the U.S. knows about. Advocates of attacking Iran suggest that this is unlikely, but history tells a different story.

Indeed, the track record of identifying all nuclear facilities in states of concern is far from perfect. During the Persian Gulf War, for example, the U.S. heavily bombed Iraqi nuclear installations, but some important facilities — including a centrifuge plant at Al Rashidiya — remained unscathed because their existence was unknown to the U.S. and its allies.

Iran is almost certainly aware that an attack against its nuclear facilities is possible, especially given that its nuclear program was targeted during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Why, then, should policymakers have confidence that Iran has not built secret nuclear facilities or taken other countermeasures to protect itself?

• Third, even if we assume that the U.S. could locate and destroy all of Iran's facilities, Tehran already possesses the knowledge required to produce enriched uranium — a critical ingredient for nuclear weapons. Any facilities that were destroyed could be rebuilt relatively quickly.

The same could not be said of Syria, a country that relied on North Korea for its nuclear development and lacked the indigenous knowledge necessary to rebuild its nuclear plant in short order after the Israelis destroyed the facility more than four years ago.

• Fourth, history suggests that multiple attacks are often necessary to significantly curtail a nuclear weapons program. Here, again, the case of Iraq is instructive. Baghdad terminated its nuclear weapons program after the Persian Gulf War. Yet this happened only after Iraq had its nuclear facilities attacked by three countries: Iran (1980), Israel (1981) and the U.S. (1991).

Even in a best-case scenario, an attack against Iran is unlikely to be a "smash and grab" job. Instead, success is likely to require sustained military pressure over several years and perhaps decades.


There is a long list of potential consequences of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, including the onset of a protracted war. Forget, for a moment, about these dangers. The main reason attacking Iran is unwise is that military force is far less likely to delay proliferation than advocates of striking Iranian nuclear facilities acknowledge.

Thus, if today's tougher sanctions do not succeed and Iran does acquire the bomb, a policy of deterrence — making it clear that the United States would respond to any use of nuclear weapons with overwhelming force of its own — could be the best option.

Iran's leaders might be provocative, but they are unlikely to be suicidal.

First published in
Matthew Fuhrmann is an assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University, and Sarah Kreps is an assistant professor of government at Cornell University.



The mere threat of war has made IRI to invite UN inspectors...

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

What the writers of this blog (presumably towards a PhD Thesis in some no good for no one topic...) fail to understand is that the highest priority for the leadership of the islamist regime is the preservation of their fascistic "nezam" (system) of the islamic Republic. A war with Nato would certainly be an end for IRI , and khamenei & ahmadinezhad know it darn well. IRI leadership would avoid a war at any cost, not due to any concern for loss of life on innocent Iranian civilians side- but in order to keep their regime of theft and murder in the name of God, continueing for as long as possible...

As a historical point of reference, It took US navy 3 to 4 Iranian navy boats to sink, for Khomeini to accepts UN resolution of a cease fire with Iraq in 1988, or as he put it, "drink the poison". 

Yes, IRI understands one language, and one language only. The language of  the barrel of a loaded gun pointed at their heads.

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Missing the point

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Most people miss the point of the problem. It is not nukes rather the Islamic Republic. Bombing the nuclear sites is a waste of time and won't help. The realistic option is regime change and that is it.

Because any attack that does not remove the Mollahs will backfire. You get a wounded angry creature willing to go nuts. My advise is get a regime change with Reza Pahlavi. He is the best and safest bet. It will be the optimal result for all parties.


Regime change is the point.

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

Regime needs to go, secular democracy needs support, how and when is what we need to focus on.  I say ASAP with RP.

G. Rahmanian

IR And Nuclear Bombs!

by G. Rahmanian on

IR's desire to acquire nuclear bombs is for real and is nothing new. For the west to use that against the mullahs is only natural. For Americans it is not in their interest to allow IR to acquire nuclear weapons while constantly threatening other states.

It isn't only the Neocons who are talking about a possible war with Iran. When Obama says "all options" he is including a military attack.

Also, it was none other than Hillary Clinton who talked about "obliterating" Iran.


Iranian Nuclear "bomb" program

by Abarmard on

Iran does have a weapon program. Their bombs are so advance that are invisible. I have no doubt that Iranian nuclear bombs seen by special detection device belonging to UN, is cloaked by technology stolen from the Romulans.

Perhaps gotten the idea from this source:



Esfand Aashena

باوفا جان نمی‌فهمه! نه اینکه نفهم باشه‌ها ...

Esfand Aashena

He was one of the Onion newspaper Writers!  You give him potato he turns it into mashed potatoes, give him lemon he squeezes it on a watermelon!

Everything is sacred


 Therefore by wrongly

by vildemose on

 Therefore by wrongly harping on the nuclear thing we are wasting time. Neither Iranians nor Americans will buy it. The only ones pushing this red herring are the NeoCon.

VPK: I couldn't agree more. However I would add the 'Iranian Neocons' to the list of warmongers with their myopic and false bravado (read, anti-imperialist ideologues)

A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


"Anti-imperialists" & "Champions of Palestine" cyber brigades

by AMIR1973 on

Have morphed themselves into super duper patriots and "lovers of the Iranian fatherland". How cute!! Some people will go to any lengths to shield the Islamist terrorist tyranny from its day of reckoning.


Esfand jaan: A well argued response, only on deaf ears…

by Bavafa on

Mr. Bahamani infatuation with strong jock (read military gravy) is well known thru his often times nicely (read long) written comments and blogs.  This time around he seems to suggest that a sort of devastation that has been brought to Iraqis were not good enough and only a “total annihilation accompanied by total occupation” should be the plan for Iran.

Here is another exchange that gives more insight to the readers to Mr. Bahamani way of thinking and infatuation. 

I only wonder if Mr. Bahamani would have been as impressed in 1939-40 when Hitler was at the height of power with the plan for “total annihilation accompanied by total occupation


Most of the time, nerds stay nerds, and the cool kids stay cool. Forever. Occasionally a nerd that befriends a jock, and buys beer for him, becomes cool.
Iran acts like it thinks it is cool, but in fact Iran is the uber-nerd of the world today. When that happens in high school, almost always the uber-nerd will get a wedgy.
So, if basic standard high school rules apply here, Iran (nerd) will be bombed (given a wedgy) by the jocks (US/Israel) if it doesn't back down soon.
I'm in the audio-visual club (or a friend to both) and am trying to avoid that. By asking NIAC to lobby Iran to retreat back to it's position as the nerd.
You're treading far dangerous waters insisting that the nerd-Iran should not back down and even rule the jock-US/Israel.
Ain't gonna happen my friend. It's almost 3:30, 7th period is about to end, and then the teachers and principal will be gone, and it will be just Iran and the US/Israel left alone in the playground


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


P.S. Is there any wonder why his often times nicely written blogs get so little attention?

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Please get back into perspective

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


As it happens various sides are exaggerating. This whole nuclear thing is pure garbage. The real issue is not nuclear but the suffering of people under Islamic Republic.

  • There is a spectrum of positions from normalize relations to immediate attack. Most people are somewhere in the middle.
  • People favoring military for most part do not advocated attacking "Iran". They want to attack the Mollahs and their forces. Now whether this is possible is a matter for strategists not me. But saying "Iranians pro attacking Iran" is wrong and deliberately misleading. 
  • On the other hand saying"IRI is suicidal" is also wrong. Mollahs running Iran have no intention suicide. They will not risk themselves. If Khamenei or anyone does risk the rest they will deal with it. The Mollahs on the other hand will gladly sacrifice others for their own gain.

Therefore by wrongly harping on the nuclear thing we are wasting time. Neither Iranians nor Americans will buy it. The only ones pushing this red herring are the NeoCon.

If we really want IRI gone we should focus on the true problems. Including their miserable human rights record; robbing of nation and wrecking of infrastructure and so on. Given so many faults why do we worry about nukes.


Iranians pro Attacking Iran

by Abarmard on

: دشمن دانا به از دوست نادان است

کودکی از جمله آزادگان

رفت برون با دو سه همزادگان

پایش ازان پویه درآمد ز دست

مهر دل و مهره پشتش شکست

شد نفس آن دو سه همسال او

تنگ‌تر از حادثه حال او

آنکه ورا دوسترین بود گفت

در بن چاهیش بباید نهفت

تا نشود راز چو روز آشکار

تا نشویم از پدرش شرمسار

عاقبت اندیش‌ترین کودکی

دشمن او بود در ایشان یکی

گفت همانا که در این همرهان

صورت این حال نماند نهان

چونکه مرا زین همه دشمن نهند

تهمت این واقعه بر من نهند

زی پدرش رفت وخبردار کرد

تا پدرش چاره آن کار کرد

هرکه در او جوهر دانایی است

بر همه چیزیش توانایی است

بند فلک را که تواند گشاد؟

آنکه بر او پای تواند نهاد

چون ز کم و بیش فلک درگذشت

کار نظامی ز فلک برگذشت

نظامی  مخزن الاسرار

Esfand Aashena

Bahmani, Germany and Japan were built upon their "ashes"!

by Esfand Aashena on

Germany was 90% destroyed and German citizens were forcefully marched to bury the dead and then lived on ruins for years before they saw any reconstruction.  Did you expect the beaten, humiliated and hungry Germans to "fight" more than they already had?

Japan received 2 atomic bombs after being defeated on all other fronts and the biggest human loss of life in 2 days that continued for months, years.  Their Emporer signed an unconditional surrender, what do you expect them to do other than bow?

Yes if US levels Iran to the extent Germany and Japan were leveled in WWII, we could see phoenix rising on the back of US constitution.

All other experiments with bringing democracy via military "option" has been a failure.  Or wait, there is the Korea which was broken down in North and South.  Perhaps we can have North and South Iran, with South Iran becoming the beacon of democracy and US Constitution in the Middle East, once and for all.

There is no short cut, no military solution.  Especially not for Iran, that we had our Arab Spring in 1979.  We are already one step, 33 years, ahead of Arabs in the Middle East.  We are on our way to the next step that will inevitably come, IF we're not screwed. 

Everything is sacred

G. Rahmanian

It's like inviting a suicide bomber to your party! 

by G. Rahmanian on

IR in its entirety has been suicidal since the day the Mullahs took over the state of Iran.

To allow IR to acquire a nuclear bomb is tantamount to inviting a suicide bomber to a party where you have invited all your relatives, friends and neighbors.

G. Rahmanian

It's like inviting a suicide bomber to your party! 

by G. Rahmanian on

IR in its entirety has been suicidal since the day the Mullahs took over the state of Iran.

To allow IR to acquire a nuclear bomb is tantamount to inviting a suicide bomber to a party where you have invited all your relatives, friends and neighbors.


Analyze This!

by bahmani on

First (and Last): If the US were willing to put in the hard work and effort of overwhelming destruction of the 4 facilities (and any other it finds along the way), followed by 12 years of direct day to day administration and governorship by a US military General that moves the country towards a US-based Constitution (not the fucked up Islamic one Condie Rice gave to Iraq and Afghanistan), Iran would become a Germany or a Japan, except instead of Schnapps and Sushi, we'd bring really good Caviar.

I do agree with you that Iran will not be a "smash and grab" operation. None of them have ever been. Every single failure has been when the US deviated from the post WWII Marshall Plan of total annihilation accompanied by total occupation and an intensive all encompassing 12 year + rebuilding, in the likeness and image of the US.

You are also correct in suggesting Iran's leaders are provocative but not suicidal. That's what is known as "Bluffing". Which we have been begging for someone inside or outside of Iran to call for 32 years.

Almost all Iranians would certainly prefer that an honest and sincere opposition rises up to change things in Iran in a nice peaceful and privately polite way.

But barring that ever happening, I also wonder how many Iranians would really mind that much if the US nudged us along that path with a total, complete utterly smothering of Thick Brown US Military Gravy.

With all of these Sweet Arab Springs slowly turning into a Sour Islamic Fall, someone needs to wake up and realize that Iran is the main puppet-master behind the fast shattering dreams of all those FaceBook and Twitter Arabs who in the end really only helped FaceBook and Twitter go IPO.

What Americans and especially academics like you need to understand, is that although the world certainly could look like Disneyland, it actually works like Disneyland. The big warm fuzzy characters pose with you when the cameras are rolling, but are in reality only slimy carnies who flick butts and curse at the customers from backstage during smoking breaks.

You know, just like Iraq and Afghanistan do when the US leaves or looks the other way.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //


two new lobbyists for the akhoonds...

by shushtari on

as always, no mention of the shear oppression and ruthlessness of the akhoonds- only credit is given to a bunch of idiot ragheads who have terrorized iran for 33 years...

of course we don't need a war----we need bunker buster bombs on khameneis head and on all the IRGC installations....that's it.....regime change over night.....

quit prolonging the suffering of our people 

Ahmed from Bahrain

I can vouch for mullah not being suicidal

by Ahmed from Bahrain on

i, they are moslty fat which means they love their lifestyles; money, women, status, real estate, control, etc. and will muse all sorts of cunningness to achieve that; but nuking others, nop.

ii, they've been around for centuries, so they have mastered the art of survival.

iii, they kill/imprison certain Iranians but dare not invade other countries. they are not lunatics.

iV, Bashar Assad is slim as was OBL. They are suicidal, they mostly speak from behind walls/caves and are not in public eye.

Sarnevisht har millati be daste mardomash hast. In the end it boild down to the Iranian people to decide their own fate, not Israel, America or Saudis.

Finally, the only thing that worries the mullahs is time; which is not on their side, given the demography of Iran and the tide of upcoming youth.

Finally, I say the only tool that would end them is the Persian culture, Persian Arts and music. It is like the cross to the Draculla.


Ahmed from Bahrain

Darius Kadivar

wondering if you feel the same about Syria's "secular" leaders ?

by Darius Kadivar on

Not that I advocate a military strike on Iran but Just wondering if you "experts" feel the same about Syria's "secular" leaders ? 

If I said:

Syrian Leaders might be provocative, but they are unlikely to be suicidal ...


Family reported slaughtered (cnn) 


If a man like Bachar Al Assad deemed not long ago as a "Good Father", "Civilized" and "Western educated" can end up displaying such levels of blind and insane Violence then what makes you think that Iranian Leaders reasoning with 13th Century mindsets could behave "responsibly" with such a technology ? ...