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Friday, May 23, 2008

Clawson: Iran attack not so scary

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2008/05/clawson-iran-attack-not-so-scary.html

In  Is an attack on Iran a big risk? Patrick Clawson tells Yossi Melman it might not be. Iran has generally not responded violently when attacked - for example when the US downed a airliner. Iran, of course, does not have a terrorist group with 20,000 missiles stationed on the border of the United States, and the US is not Israel.  
 
Clawson believes, for some reason that the Hezbollah might not respond to an Israeli attack on Iran:
 
There is no guarantee that Hezbollah will react automatically. They will make their considerations on the basis of their interests, as they understand them. In Hezbollah, they are very aware of Israel's strength, and of the harsh reaction that may result if Hezbollah attacks.
Hezbollah is Iran and their interests are identical. If Americans didn't understand that until now, they have a lot of catching up to do. In any case, attacks on Iran are a subject that benefits from less, rather than more, public discussion.
 
 
Here's the interview. Judge for yourself:
 
The standard assumption is that a military attack by the United States or Israel to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be disastrous for the attackers, and would threaten the stability of the entire Middle East.
 
Various experts outline doomsday scenarios for such an occurrence, and warn especially of Iran's harsh reaction. Fearing the reaction of the ayatollahs has a paralyzing effect. Even before the first shot has been fired, Iran can credit itself with a success. It created an image of an omnipotent country that will not hesitate to use its power to respond and avenge a military operation against it. This is an impressive psychological achievement.
 
But a new paper, to be published this month in the U.S. by two well-known experts on the subject, sketches a different and more complex picture. The paper is "The Last Resort," written by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The main point, notes Dr. Clawson in an interview with Haaretz, is that the success or failure of a military attack depends on many variables, and not just the degree of damage the attack would cause.
 
What are these variables?
 
The type of weapons chosen for the attack - will nuclear or conventional weapons be used? Who attacks - the U.S. or Israel? Will the attack cause serious collateral damage to the surroundings, that is causing a lot of civilian casualties? Will only the nuclear sites be attacked, or other regime targets? After the attack, will President Ahmadinejad announce Iran's departure from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? If the attack completely destroys Iran's nuclear program that is one thing, but if it does not, that is a different story. Then Iran will be able to continue to develop its nuclear program, and the world will no longer care about that. In short, this is subject that is dependent on many variables.
 
Nevertheless, what would be deemed a success?
 
If the attack does destroy the nuclear facilities, and it leads to a broad consensus in Iran that nuclear weapons are dangerous for the future of the regime or the nation. In other words, success or failure is determined by the political result of the military attack. The primary objective of the military option has to be to convince Iran to cease its nuclear program, that it's not worthwhile to continue. Destroying the nuclear facilities is not an end in and of itself; it is merely a means to an end. And therefore it is necessary to create the political conditions that will increase the chances for the success of the attack.
 
And what will be a possible result of an Israeli attack?
 
Again, my answer is that it depends. Israel has to create the circumstances in which world public opinion will understand Israel and its motives, even if it regrets the attack.
 
That's more or less what happened with the attack against the nuclear facility in Syria?
 
Yes, it is quite similar. Israel benefited from President Assad's hostile attitude to the world, and therefore the international community showed understanding of the Israeli air force's attack. Israel did not have to do much because Assad did the job for it. In this respect, Israel also benefits from Ahmadinejad and his statements. They help Israel present its position to the world and explain the threat it faces.
 
Do you share the sweeping assessment of most experts that Iran's reaction if attacked will be harsh and painful?
 
No. Iran's record when it comes to its reactions in the past to attacks against it, or its important interests, is mixed. When the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan and persecuted the Shi'ite minority there, Iran mobilized military forces on the border and threatened to respond, but in the end it did nothing. The same occurred when the U.S. shot down an Iranian passenger airline in 1988: Iran threatened to avenge the incident, but in the end the exact opposite happened. Not only did Iran not respond, but also the incident hastened its decision to agree to a cease-fire in the war with Iraq for fear that the U.S. was about to join the war on Saddam Hussein's side.
 
In another incident during the war, Iranian boats attacked an American naval force that set out to mine the Gulf. The U.S. did not expect Iran to react, and was surprised. This did not stop it from sinking half of the Iranian fleet in response.
 
Iran has lately been threatening that if it is attacked it will close the Straits of Hormuz and block the flow of oil, and thereby damage the world economy. But this is a problematic threat, since it would also affect Iran's friends and supporters, such as China and India. I have no doubt that in such a case, they would be angry at Iran.
 
But most experts estimate that in the event of an Israeli attack, the Iranians will respond with force and launch Shihab missiles at Israel.
 
It is possible, but first, the Shihab missiles are not considered particularly reliable. Iran deploys them without having done hardly any significant tests. Second, the Shihab's guidance system is not very accurate. The missile's range of accuracy is up to a kilometer. And finally, Israel's aerial defense system - the Arrow missiles would certainly intercept quite a few Shihab missiles. Moreover, Iran's firing missiles at Israel would enable Israel to respond in a decisive manner.
 
And what about Hezbollah? They will certainly mobilize to help Iran and respond against Israel.
 
There is no guarantee that Hezbollah will react automatically. They will make their considerations on the basis of their interests, as they understand them. In Hezbollah, they are very aware of Israel's strength, and of the harsh reaction that may result if Hezbollah attacks.
 
In other words, you're basically saying that things are not as they seem? That Iran is like a dog whose bark is worse than his bite?
 
There's something to that. My assessment is that contrary to the impression that has been formed, Iran's options for responding are limited and weak.


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